Honoring bell hooks: A reflection on bell hooks and her legacy.

On Dec. 15 2021, the world lost a powerful social activist, author, feminist and professor,  a woman known prominently by her pen name, bell hooks. After a long health battle, she passed at 69 from end-stage renal failure. 

In 1952, Gloria Jean Watkins was born in the segregated town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She gave herself the name bell hooks, honoring her maternal grandmother Bell Blair Hooks. To differentiate herself, she purposely spelled it in lowercase letters to represent her individuality and way of thinking. Reading was one of her passions from a very young age; she described books as providing “visions of new worlds”. hook’s earliest influences included James Baldwin, Kentucky author Wendell Berry and Martin Luther King Jr. 

Her major impact on history and feminism is  often left out history books. She played a major role in influencing academic and popular debates over the past 40 years. Beginning in the 1970s, hooks became a prominent figure both on pages and in the classroom.  Her influences were in professional scholarship and personal history, leading to the completion of dozens of books with a significant impact on countless peers. In addition, these books provided a foundation for the relevant discussions on the topics of race, class and feminism. Some of hook’s most well known works are “Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism,” “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center” and “All About Love: New Visions.” hooks received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, known for supporting diversity in literature. 

hooks taught at Oberlin, Yale and City College of New York before coming back to Kentucky to teach at Berea College. She was under the impression that the American education system held the primary purpose of developing young individuals to become productive workers, so in her classes, she took a different approach, teaching students to use knowledge to oppose norms. hooks taught her students to visual critical thinking and reading as liberating acts. 

She held a unique perspective denying the isolation of feminism, civil rights and economics into distinct categories. As a strong believer of community and connectivity, hooks argued that racism, sexism and economic disparity supported one another.  She defined feminism as  “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” hooks believed that feminism held a strong claim to speak for all women yet minority women were not being heard.  Her writing on the topics of gender and race inspired the concept of feminism to expand to include not only the voices of white, middle class women but also Black and working-class women’s voices and perspectives.

“I think of bell hooks as being pivotal to an entire generation of Black feminists who saw that for the first time they had license to call themselves Black feminists. She was utterly courageous in terms of putting on paper thoughts that many of us might have had in private,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia,  in an interview. 

I am ashamed to admit that before last year I had never read a book by bell hooks. I had heard her name mentioned a few times in reference to the feminist movement but never taken the opportunity to discover her work. Last semester, in a leadership class, we read “All About Love: New Vision”. Initially, after reading the summary on the back of the book, I was very excited to read hooks unique perspective on the topic of love, and she did not disappoint. I can truly say that this was one of the most impactful books I have ever read. hooks has an incredible way of being extremely open and honest with the reader. The rawness of her words was refreshing, as is not common in current literature. hooks shared her own personal experiences and observations, drawing me in with her brutal honesty and opening my eyes to the ways that society has truly lost the essence of love. I truly recommend this book to anyone who does not mind having their heart and mind deeply touched and impacted. It will truly open your eyes to so many incredible topics related to love. And that was always hooks’ goal: to change the narrative by offering a new perspective. 

Sources: nytimes.com, abc7.com 

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