Reflection: On the Importance of bell hooks for Critical Theory

My introduction to the possibility of taking academia seriously came from the reading of bell hooks’ Black Looks: Race and Representation. I was in my first couple years of university, disillusioned about the connection between what I was learning and how it would end up applying to the real world, and stumbled across one of her books in the library. I found it refreshing and potent. It cut through the presumptuousness of anti-black racism and patriarchy like a knife, and felt like a conviction.

hooksIn her books, hooks says what she means, means what she says, and is honest about her experiences. But what attracted me to her most was that she addressed the world in her writing. In her over thirty (!) books, no topic has been off-limits. From popular culture to black relationships, racism and segregation, love and masculinity, hooks has written about them all. But she has not written about them passively or haphazardly, she done it through a critical lens. In fact, the inspiration for this site (epedemia) came from my reading of Black Looks: Race and Representation, a collection of essays that includes chapters such as “Loving Blackness as Political Resistance,” “Eating the Other,” “Revolutionary Black Woman,” and “Selling Hot Pussy.” Since I am also interested in popular culture and contemporary issues of concern, I wanted to create a bridge between the work I was/am doing in academia and the things that were/are happening in the world.

Sometimes it seems as though academics only aspire to talk to ourselves. Doing so requires jumping through a lot of hoops. A couple of degrees to learn the jargon, and presentations made to peers to sharpen it. We develop great ideas that get disseminated in academic journals, books, conferences, and lecture halls. But what about the general public? How do we get them to access thoughts that have been refined through years of research, criticism, and dialogue? And how do we get them to participate in the dialogue, challenge our ideas and refine our thoughts?

Of course, this criticism does not apply to every academic. There are many who are doing just this: sharing their ideas and engaging with the public. There are also certain disciplines that make such an activity difficult, if not impossible. I am a philosophy major… Not all things people do apply directly “to the world.” Sometimes people study about the world, but in a very different way than the public may be interested in learning. Finally, not all academics’ goals are the same. People should be free to pursue whatever topics they are passionate about or concerned with, in the manner which they see fit. I suppose I make this comment only as a reminder to myself that the kind of academic I would like to become is one who is engaged in the world in the ways described above.

The world pulls at me. And as much as I would like to do only what is required of me as a student (writing essays, doing research, prepping for classes that I TA for, trying to get published, passing my comps and doing my dissertation), I cannot help but turn to address it. I also cannot help but share what I come across with others. When I doubt that the platform I am using to share my ideas is “appropriate,” because by academic standards it is extremely informal and does not “count” for anything, I remember the work that hooks did/does and continue to be encouraged.

For more info. on hooks, visit: http://www.bellhooksinstitute.com/

And for those who have not read her (yet), here is a list of books I recommend (to start with):

Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism (classic)

Black Looks: Race and Representation (favourite)

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

Happy to be Nappy (this is a children’s book! If you have kids, check it out)

Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-esteem

Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-recover

Teaching to Transgress: Education As the Practice of Freedom (great for teachers!)

We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (really good deconstruction of black masculinity)

 

Image Credit: http://www.bellhooksinstitute.com/

#StayReading, #StayLearning, and #StayWoke

T. M. G.