Remembering our sister-friend bell hooks
Bell hooks, the prominent feminist scholars and author, died Wednesday at 69 in Kentucky. Time’s 100 Women of the Year for 2020 called our sister-friend a “rare rock star of a public intellectual.” She was also a friend to everyone she met. hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins and later took the pen name “bell hooks” from her great grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks.
Hooks had legions of followers, especially among women and the LGBTQ+ community, because her body of works profoundly changed the lives of so many of us. Cox and hooks had a deep sister-friendship and admiration for each other. hooks called Cox a “goddess for justice,” and Cox has since returned tribute on Instagram:
“bell hooks has always been the truth. Now perhaps more than ever, it’s paramount that we lean into her work. On this day of her passing, let us celebrate the rich published legacy she leaves behind.”
Hooks was a huge inspiration for me, too. She identified as “queer-pas-gay” and paved the way for intersectional feminism, inspiring generations of women and LGBTQ+ people. Because of hooks, my life’s work is grounded in an intersectional anti-oppression activism and praxis.
Few have changed and challenged feminism like hooks. In “Teaching to Transgress,” she challenged the feminist movement to incorporate women beyond the educated and the academy. As an African lesbian minister, theologian and multimedia journalist, I take theology to the streets. hooks’ body of work has helped me shape an affirming public dialogue on religion and social justice issues about women and LGBTQ+ people.
In “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center,” hooks says she begins her analysis at the margin because it is a space of radical openness that provides an oppositional gaze from which to see the world, unknown to the oppressor. It is from the margin where you can see injustice being done. It is not only a site where you can honestly critique the oppressive structures in society that keeps us wounded as a people, but a site that can heal us as a people – the oppressed and the oppressor.
I’ve learned from hooks in “All About Love: New Visions” that love is a verb, not a noun, requiring action, responsibility and accountability to others. Love is about radical inclusion, and it must not be intellectualized but rather connected deeply with our need for personal healing, challenging us to heal our “isms.” We must address deep-seated biases that impede authentic, respectful and enriching relationships. And radical inclusion can begin to work only when those relegated to the fringes of society can begin to sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable right.
Hooks taught at several colleges and universities across the country. When she decided to return home to Kentucky, she opted to teach at Berea, a liberal arts college that offers free tuition and was the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. At Berea, hooks was the distinguished professor in residence in Appalachian studies and the founder of the bell hooks Institute, which will continue her life’s work and mission.
My favorite poem by hooks is “Appalachian Elegy.”
hear them cry
the long dead
the long gone
speak to us
from beyond the grave
that we may learn
all the ways
to hold tender this land
hard clay direct
rock upon rock
strong green growth
will rise here
trees back to life
pushing the fragrance of hope
the promise of resurrection
Like so many, I’ll miss hooks. I loved her unquiet intellectual energy, her revolutionizing spirit and her radical love for change. “Heartbreaking” doesn’t fully depict the enormity of her passing.
May our sister-friend rest in power!
- Bell hooks and author, philosopher and activist Cornel West spoke in 1996 at the Cambridge Forum.
The Rev. Irene Monroe is a speaker, theologian and syndicated columnist. She does a segment called “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM) on Boston Public Radio and a segment called “What’s Up?” Fridays on New England Channel News.