Even though we mourn the hooks of the bells, let’s celebrate his legacy

Years ago, during a visit to England, and long before I became aware of black feminism, I bought Bell Hooks’ first book, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Written, at least partially, when she was 19 and published 10 years later, the book has become one of the most widely read feminist works in many parts of the world.

Choosing the title of her book, Hooks proudly claimed her feminist heritage and built on an 1851 speech given by fellow black activist, Sojourner Truth at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. Years later, this title, like that of another deeply important book for black feminism, This Bridge Called My Back, would become like talismans for black feminists.

hooks was to go on to write numerous other books on a range of subjects and lead a full, wealthy, feminist life that ended with her untimely death last week at the age of 69.

Although we have never met, but for me, as someone who came to feminism in 1970s India, Bell Hooks has become a distant yet close travel companion and it is thanks to her work, so much than that of writers like Angela Davis. , Audre Lorde, Toni Morison, Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, Ellen Kuzwayo and others that I became aware of black feminism and how it differs from white feminism.

At the time, in what was called the Global North, black women’s groups rallied to challenge and criticize what they saw as the hegemony of white feminists.

Bell Hooks made her voice heard in her critique of white feminism which she said had deliberately ignored the plight of black women.

The connections she made between race, class, and gender foreshadowed what another black feminist, Kimberle Crenshaw, would later call the intersectionality of feminism. At the same time, Hooks warned that a criticism of white feminism did not mean a rejection of feminism – which she called a “movement to end sexism and sexual exploitation.”

Sexism, she continued in speeches and writings, was something that women had internalized so much that they often did not even realize its presence, but racism was something you felt on the skin, in the body. , in the heart. In many ways, the evocation of the subject of race and gender resonates with the debates Indian feminism faces today on the subject of caste and gender.

As Bell Hooks grew from college student to black teacher, thinker, theorist, activist, educator and more, her interests broadened. She wrote with emotion, passion and simplicity, to communicate on all the issues that concerned her: love, freedom, pedagogy, the classroom as a space for revolutionary thought and transgression, patriarchy, masculinity, children, poetry and much more.

In a speech a few years ago, she said that there was “no more important historical moment to talk about men and patriarchy” than the present, pointing to a state (it was at the present time). era of Trump) who vowed to re-institutionalize patriarchy at a deep level while pretending to want its removal publicly. His words have a strange resonance with so many of our realities.

Thinkers and activists like hooks are rare, and for that, they are also precious. One of Hooks’ strengths was his methods of communication – straightforward, non-threatening, funny, personal, and story-filled which, in a wonderful sleight of hand, tied into the larger questions that preoccupy us all: what did to like ? How to transcend anger? Why was there such strong resistance to the patriarchy? What did it mean to talk about family values? What should education be? What was it like to be a black man, a black boy, in America and why weren’t we talking about men, to men?

Like other black feminist thinkers, Hooks was also deeply connected to her community. Her travels through the halls of so many elite academic institutions eventually brought her home to Berera, Ky., Where she continued to read, write, educate, and spread her words and wisdom.

The sixties and seventies were times of great political turmoil and student movements around the world. For the feminists who came to feminism over the years, the presence of such movements offered a space ready to enter, a model of resistance that they could adapt and transform into their own. With their commitment and their passion, they have created movements rich in theoretical and practical questions, in harsh criticism and in deep emotional ties, in friendships and solidarities beyond borders.

In the death of the Bell Hooks, we have lost yet another of these precious thinkers and actors. But even as we mourn her death (for she had so much more to give), we must celebrate the abundance she left us – as food for thought and action.

As a hero, Sojourner Truth said in his address, “If the first woman God created was strong enough to turn the world upside down on her own, these women together should be able to turn it around and make it right. And now they’re asking to do it, the men better let them do it.

This column first appeared in the paper edition on December 22, 2021 under the title “The woman she was”. The writer is the publisher, Zubaan.

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