Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Sudden Grief

When a public person you admire dies suddenly these days (or at least, the news appears suddenly), there can be an out-pouring of grief, especially on Twitter. The news of the death of bell hooks around midday today was like that. 

And rightly so. She was the very foundation of the intellectual world many of us came up within, and several decades later, she was still working and teaching, as far as I knew.

At not quite 70 years old, she was too young to die. Some Black women pointed to a larger pattern, such as Professor Ebony Thomas, who wrote,

How few, how few of our parents' generation reach 70 years old. I am alarmed by how many notables, but also, how many of our parents/aunts/uncles are slipping away. Our grandparents' generation lived longer. Or it seemed that way.... This is not a conversation I like to have outside of our community, but some of us have been watching Black life expectancy in America crash. Maybe the numbers say otherwise, can assuage this fear. Maybe it's my own misperception. I sincerely hope so.

A lot of quotes were shared from bell hooks' work today. I want to raise up her definition of feminism, which she set out in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984):

Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression. Therefore, it is necessarily a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels as well as a commitment to reorganizing society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires. Defined in that way, it is unlikely that women would join feminist movement simply because we are biologically the same (p. 24).

Two pages later, she reiterates:

Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression. Its aim is not to benefit solely any specific group of women, any particular race or class of women. It does not privilege women over men. It has the power to transform in a meaningful way all our lives (p. 26).

Defining feminism as ending sexist oppression, rather than as equality with men, was key because

Focus on social equality with men... led to an emphasis on discrimination, male attitudes, and legalistic reforms. Feminism as a movement to end sexist oppression directs our attention to systems of domination and the inter-relatedness of sex, race, and class oppression (p. 31, emphasis added). 

If that focus on systems sounds like the critique of racism as individual attitudes instead of racist systems and institutions, there's a reason for that.

 I can't believe she's gone.


Silk-screened image of bell hooks, printed by a local artist on an up-cycled shirt. I got it at the No Coast Craft-o-Rama around a dozen years ago.


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