Tribute to bell hooks
Message from Gada Mahrouse, Principal, Simone de Beauvoir Institute
Dear students and friends of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute,
The Simone de Beauvoir Institute joins in mourning the loss of bell hooks, a beloved and revolutionary theorist, writer, teacher, and activist. hooks died on 15 December 2021.
As a black queer woman writing against the canon of feminism, bell hooks left an indelible mark on the field through paradigm-shifting texts including Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center and Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Her work transcended the confines of academic feminist theory, with path-breaking work on topics ranging from pedagogy to anti-capitalism, from anti-racism to spirituality. Through poetry, children's books, and scholarly prose that most people can read and understand, hooks touched hearts and opened minds across generations. You can read more about her life and work here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/17/bell-hooks-obituary
Below, faculty, staff, and students share their thoughts on hooks' legacy and her impact on our work at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute.
For many in our community, the loss of hooks represents the loss of a visionary leader, mentor, and elder. We recognize that this news comes in a context of difficulty and stress caused by the pandemic, the end of the term, and the holiday season. Please be sure to reach out to your peers and to your professors for support as needed.
One of bell hooks' most impactful contributions was to center love as a critical site of scholarly inquiry and liberatory praxis. Her transformative work studying and redefining love is but a small part of the countless groundbreaking interventions she made in cultural studies, feminist studies, Black studies, Black feminism, and pedagogy. Whether writing about domestic violence, cultural appropriation, self-love, BDSM, Beyoncé, or Frantz Fanon, what was always at the heart of each of bell hooks' analyses was the fundamental humanity of all beings, and especially of Black women, in fierce opposition and resistance to the "imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy."
bell hooks gave us critical, essential tools, but also modeled in so many ways how faced with oppression, we might live otherwise. In 2014, she shared that she identified as "queer past gay," offering the following as an alternative rubric for understanding queer experiences: "queer as not being about who you’re having sex with - that can be a dimension of it - but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live." bell hooks' writing created such a place "to speak and to thrive and to live" for many of us, and I hope our love for and commitment to her work did so for her as well, even if just a little."
For those who read French, I co-wrote this piece about hooks: https://ayibopost.com/comment-transformer-radicalement-la-societe-avec-bell-hooks/
bell hooks is literally the reason why I chose my field of studies. A CEGEP professor put a chapter of All About Love in our English class syllabus, and I devoured the whole book. I learned there existed this space called feminist theory where my lived experience would be validated and where I would feel welcomed despite academia’s mandates. It wasn’t a scary place like English literature was. bell hooks presented a space that embraced my ESL with an accent and that believed in the power of Love and education as a practice for liberation.
For me, hooks represents what putting theory into praxis looks like. She made theory accessible and dedicated her life to share her wisdom. She empowered me with the vocabulary to understand and cope with my lived experience. She gave me the blueprint to hope. She not only stood for women. She left no one behind. She made feminism for everybody. The care and love in her words will forever continue to allow folks to understand how the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy works to keep us oppressed and empowers us to be our own liberators. Rest in Power, bell hooks.
bell hooks was the first feminist author I read cover to cover. To say that she changed my life is an understatement since I became a feminist librarian at Simone de Beauvoir Institute. Fortunately, she left us an amazing legacy and many people will be able to read her books and maybe be transformed as well. Thank you!
One of the most valuable feminist lessons I’ve learned from bell hooks is about the true meaning and value of sisterhood. Specifically, that to do 'sisterhood' (i.e feminism) properly, we must first consider how racism is a barrier to solidarity.
The impact of bell hooks’ thinking on feminist solidarity as a collective project, one that requires us to reflect on our own relationship to power and our interconnected role in liberation, has helped so many of us build projects for justice that are transformative in both vision and practice.
bell hooks taught me that compassion begins with listening. I can only hope that my teaching, beginning from this standpoint, enacts this important lesson.
"Love helps us face betrayal without losing heart. And it renews our spirit so we can love again. ... When angels speak of love they tell us it is only by loving that we enter an earthly paradise. They tell us paradise is our home and love our true destiny." ~ bell hooks, All about Love
The Earth is burning as we speak. The state of the violence to nature, to peoples, animals and plants on land and in the sea is beyond comprehension. With her words of wisdom coming down to love, I am earnestly hoping that we share it, we feel for it and we enlighten others with our light. She left us a torch. We have to make it bigger torch as much as possible.
bell hooks was phenomenal. I used to show her videos in my classes. The idea I liked from her many works is about forgiveness.
Genevieve Renard Painter
"Let me begin by saying that I came to theory because I was hurting-the pain within me was so intense that I could not go on living. I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend-to grasp what was happening around and within me. Most importantly, I wanted to make the hurt go away." ~ bell hooks, "Theory as Liberatory Practice"
I still remember the feeling of my mind expanding when I read those words by bell hooks in an undergraduate course in political theory. After weeks of the "pale and male" canon, here at last was someone speaking to the injustice in the world, arming her readers with the tools to critique an unlivable world in order to change it. hooks wrote plainly about the most complicated of human problems, not just to make sure everyone felt included but to make sure everyone could be held accountable. I aspire in my writing to emulate her clarity and candor, and I strive in my classroom to heed her call for education as the practice of freedom. Her vision of justice was so animated by love that it continues to give me hope that we can build a better world.
It’s difficult for me to get my mind around the implications of the loss of bell hooks, whose influence cannot be overstated, and whose words and ideas, presence and being are still so sorely needed. Yet, hooks continues to offer and share love, solace and a profound hope that sparkles and effervesces through writings and video-talks that, for me, energetically reverberate with possibility. To re-conceive and situate what it means to learn for example: “There are times when personal experience keeps us from reaching the mountain top and so we let it go because the weight of it is too heavy. And sometimes the mountain top is difficult to reach with all our resources, factual and confessional, so we are just there, collectively grasping, feeling the limitations of knowledge, longing together, yearning for a way to reach that highest point. Even this yearning is a way to know.” A non-dogmatic pedagogy: "Even this yearning is a way to know.” To learn to see patriarchy in non-binary ways, a powerful lesson in those few words: “patriarchy has no gender.” With a sense of loss comes also gratitude. I know I will continue to grow in the spaces bell hooks created through texts that are multiphonic, words that come together and fall apart in unexpected ways, that I revisit, discover anew and appreciate as gateways into ways of knowing that don’t force certainties, but rather maintain multiple possibilities. hooks wrote, “This is the place where our spirits commune, where we can hear with shared delight the noises of the soul in play” a text that is not open ended, but has openings, through which spirits can enter, and perhaps play, in the ways a powerful pedagogue continues to show us.