bell hooks, one of America’s most provocative writers has died and it feels like there’s one less giant woman roaming the earth this morning. hooks was the intellectual heavyweight as highly regarded as Kentucky’s other famed philosopher, Muhammed Ali. Where Ali danced like a butterfly and stung like a bee, bell hooks dispensed with the dancing part and just did the stinging with her writing.
By the tail end of the 20th century when there was room and reverence for such, bell hooks established a profile as a public intellectual for her massively influential writing on feminism and intersectionality (as it is now known) and a plethora of other subjects she so effortlessly turned her pen to. She was one of the most significant American thinkers from an age when, as we look back at it now, it seems like maybe people thought a lot, more.
“A devaluation of Black womanhood occurred as a result of the sexual exploitation of Black women during slavery that has not altered in the course of hundreds of years.” bell hooks
Famed for critiquing the lack of diversity or acknowledgment of class in second wave feminism with her book, Ain’t I A Woman? bell hooks literally changed how people saw themselves, she changed how people thought and as that ripples through the years her impact on the world we live in now is simply immense. hooks published over 30 books, including some of the most incisive of cultural criticism that continues to resonate long after its initial publication. She taught at many US colleges but ultimately joined Berea in Kentucky, a tuition fee free school that was the first integrated co-ed university in the American South.
In 1999, (1999!) Time Magazine broke with their 72 year tradition of honouring the Man of The Year. The coveted Man of the Year edition became… (drumbeats) Person of the Year. Okay well whatever, maybe most people reading this are probably not too concerned about what Time Mag does or doesn’t do. Who owns Time now anyways? Then in 2020 when another shoe dropped on Time Squares, they retrospectively drew up 72 new covers for the women that for 72 years they’d routinely not considered at all. What they’ve come up with is admittedly beautiful to look at, and not the very worst, after all, down your street we’re still waiting for many companies to offer equal pay for equal work (oh how they just can’t resist baking discriminatory practices into their culture). Gender, hair, teeth, weight, past schools, all the things they’re intent on utilising in prejudicial ways. Whatever, Time has a nice little retrospective woman website and if you scroll back to 1984, there’s a nice little piece of hindsight on bell hooks.
Of course we always love to bite the hand that feeds us. And we love anyone else that does that too. What else is there? hooks must be one of the few public intellectuals to be jeered when giving a commencement speech for merely suggesting that some of those graduating might actually be part of the same problem created by those who had graduated before… I don’t even know how that is even controversial. It’s the law. It’s what people do.
Gloria Jean Watkins pen might be stilled, the bell has finally and sadly tolled for her, but her ideas, her vision, her pushback against the imperialist white supremacy capitalist patriarchy will fuel the imaginations of many generations to come.
There’s a better appraisal of the astonishing bell hooks than this, in the NYT