What was the bell hook and why read it again today

smallI have signed in lowercase initials with the aim of reducing himself to the background and drawing attention to his ideas: bell hookshis nickname Gloria Jean Watkinsshe was – and continues to be through her writings – one prolific and revolutionary feminist. It is with his reflections that the intersectional approach enters the debate on identity, even outside the academy. Read it again today Praise of the margin offers a new interpretation for understanding current affairs: here’s why

Who is bell hooks

Gloria Jean Watkins, that was the name of bell hooks, was born in 1952 in Kentucky, specifically in the city of Hopkinsville where the racial discriminationwhile her mother worked as a maid in a white family.

“I wouldn’t be here writing,” said the author Maria Nadotti In the 1996I’m referring to “Praise of the margin“, “if my mother, Rosa Bell, daughter of Sarah Olden, granddaughter of Bell Hooks, had not created a home as a place of resistance and struggle for freedom in societies of white supremacy, despite the contradictions of poverty and sexism.”

hooks studied at Stanford University, dedicating his thesis to the work of Toni Morrison. At the age of just 24, she wrote a decisive book that changed everything, for her and for gender studies: Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminismpublished in 1981. The title answers the same question that Sojourner Truthanti-slavery activist, posed at a women’s convention in 1851: “Am I not human too?”.

With his first essay, Hooks invited us to take an interest once and for all in the condition of women because, until then, if an African-American was considered a social intellectual, he was always a man. By chronicling and witnessing how black women from the seventeenth century to the present are oppressed by both men (white and otherwise) and white middle-class women, Hooks conceptualized the feminist struggle as a transversal and contemporary struggle against racism and sexism , recognizing the two phenomena as if they were interrelated.

Racism and sexismAs such, they are seen by hooks as systemic problems that only a political feminism can combat: “I have absolutely no interest in a feminism reduced to Lifestyle. What interests me is feminist politics, the definition of feminist agendas for the nation and the state, cultural transformation,” writes Hooks, who continues:

I think it’s important to keep in mind that feminism is politics

“To choose feminist politics you have to have experience mental conversionbecause we are all conditioned to be sexist. Those with a broad and well-articulated vision of capitalism know full well that the problem is sexism, not men.».

How Hooks undermined the feminism of her time

Hooks’ reflection leaves its mark and undermines the feminism of her time, focusing on the needs and problems of white upper-middle-class women who did not adequately consider the needs and existence of ethnic minority women in their demands, thus reinforcing them. stereotypes they set out to fight. The same happened with African-American men:

the black nationalism of leaders like Malcolm; or its leader Black Panthers Stokely Carmichael sought to combat racial stereotypes while reinforcing sexist ones

An example of this is the opposition of African American leaders to granting women the right to vote immediately after the Civil War. Hooks’ writing narrates this submissiveness and does so in a revolutionary way, speaking to all people.

The book “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism”, in fact, did not use academic formatting. No notes, no bibliography: hooks aimed to reach a much wider audience than would normally read a similar text.

hooks, over time, has been able to speak to all people, offering reflections on extremely current events that also pertain to pop culture. An example is his Beyoncé review: In 2014, participating in a discussion about black body representation, Hooks discussed the pop star’s cover for YEAR with Janet Mock, a transgender writer known as the writer, director, and producer of the TV series Pose, stating, “You’re saying, from my deconstructive point of view, that she’s participating in the construction of herself as a slave. (…). I see a part of Beyoncé that is anti-feminist, aggressive and terroristic, especially because of the impact she has on young girls.”

Hooks didn’t ask Beyoncé to stop being considered feminine, but wanted to highlight how the artist was doing exactly what the music industry asks of women every day.

Hooks made no concessions: the subjects dealt with in her books made her an ideal interlocutor for reading current affairs in a new way, just as it happened with the idea of ​​masculinity that Hooks analyzed after research related to #Me toonamely the scandal about harassment in the world of work that exploded in 2017 with the accusations of several women against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Hooks had talked about it with a radio show host from New YorkerDavid Remnick, stating:

“My father, who was a very violent, very patriarchal man, was in the infantry during World War II. He was a boxer. He was a basketball player. He was all these things that we associate with masculinity, and he actually looked down on my brother a lot, because actually my brother was a much softer, warmer person. And my father looked down on him. He felt it was not manly.”

Exploring the nuances, the reasons behind things, the deeper roots: the hooks knew how to read the present, looking to the future.

Decolonize the gaze

Having a transversal perspective, giving value to autobiographical experience that cannot be flattened into simple generalizations. If today we talk more and more about the need to decolonize images are due to scholars such as Hookes.

In Praise of the margin. Race, sex and the cultural marketpublished by Feltrinelli in 1998, Hooks suggests that we should not view what is considered “high” culture in a dichotomous way compared to what is considered “low”, but asks us to be interested in both, to abandon the center/periphery dichotomy. As the author states:

“To be on the margin is to belong, despite being outside, to the main body. For us black Americans living in a small town in Kentucky, railroad tracks were the tangible and everyday sign of our marginality. Beyond those tracks were paved roads, shops we couldn’t go to, restaurants we couldn’t eat at, and people we couldn’t look in the eye. Beyond these tracks was a world where we could work as maids, janitors, prostitutes, as long as we could serve. We were allowed access to this world, but not to live in it. Every afternoon we had to go back to the edge, cross the railway to reach abandoned shacks and houses on the edge of town. There were laws governing our movements throughout the country. Not coming back meant you risked punishment. By living this way – to the extreme – we have developed a particular view of the world.’ The margin becomes a place of existence and resistance that displaces the center: who defines the center? Hook wonders.

Precisely because she has learned to see what others do not, Hooks develops a theory of the gaze: the specific position from which black women observe social reality allows them to become critical spectators.

An everyday experience like going to the movies bears witness to this: for black women, Hooks says, “the encounter with the screen is a wound.” However, the inability to identify with dominant representations opens up the opportunity to develop an opposing gaze, a possibility.

Thus, the concept of the margin becomes “a site of radical possibility, a space of resistance”: a subversive theory that breaks the rhetorical link between marginalization and victimization, between oppression and resignation

A reading lens that is particularly relevant today: learning to interpret synchronicity, overcoming reductive simplifications, serves to avoid polarizing the debate and to learn look beyond our “center”.

Leave a Comment