African Americans died in 2021. Each one left an indelible mark on
American society. One who touched me personally was bell hooks.
hooks died in Kentucky on December 15, 2021, at 69. As an
Affrilachian (Black Appalachian), bell hooks was inarguably one of
the nation's prominent feminist scholars and authors. Time's
100 Women of the Year for 2020 called our sister-friend a "rare
rock star of a public intellectual." 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 women and the LGBTQ+
community, because her body of works profoundly changed the lives of
so many of us. Laverne Cox is one. Laverne Cox and hooks had a deep
sister-friendship and admiration for each other. hooks called Cox a
"goddess for justice." A tribute to bell hooks, Cox wrote
on Instagram the following:
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 to me, too. bell hooks identified as
"queer-pas-gay" and paved the way for "Intersectional
Feminism," inspiring generations of women and LGBTQ+ people.
Because of bell hooks, my life's work is grounded in an
intersectional anti-oppression activism and praxis.
met bell in 1994 while I was a doctoral student at Harvard Divinity
School when she came to Cambridge promoting her book "Outlaw
Culture." She was engaging, relatable, and was an instant
sister-friend you could lollygag with for hours. We kept in touch
through the years because she thought it was bold of me to be an
openly black lesbian in the church and at HDS. I shared with her that
I wanted to do a public theology, meeting the unchurched LGBTQ+
community on the pages of gay weeklies. Before the internet, I would
send her a few of my columns.
have changed and challenged feminism like bell hooks. In "Teaching
to Transgress," bell hooks 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. bell hooks' body of work has assisted me in
shaping both a local and national affirming public dialogue on
religion and social justice issues about women and LGBTQ+ people.
Theory: From Margin to Center,"
bell hooks states that she begins her analysis at the margin because
it is a space of radical openness, and it gives you an oppositional
gaze from which to see the world, unknown to the oppressor. It is at
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 keep us wounded as a people, but it is also a site that
can heal us as a people - both the oppressed and the oppressor.
learned from bell 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; thus, challenging us to heal our "isms."
We must address deep-seated biases that impede authentic, respectful,
and enriching relationships. And radical inclusion can only begin to
work when those relegated to the fringes of society can begin to
sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable
was a controversial person. Among her peers in the academy, she was
charming and challenging, admired and envied. Among students,
friends, and fans, bell was simply loved. However, bell was equally
as profound as she was provocative. For example, bell didn't use
footnotes in her writings, attributing her ideas to no one. She
called Beyonce a "terrorist" because of Bey's depiction of
feminism and black women in her 2016 studio album "Lemonade."
And bell penned some pieces many feminists still are scratching
their heads about-"Penis
All in all, however, bell's body of work is impressive.
hooks taught at several colleges and universities across the country.
However, when hooks decided to return home to Kentucky, she opted to
teach at Berea College. This liberal arts college offers free tuition
and is 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 that
will continue her life's work and mission.
favorite poem by hooks is "Appalachian Elegy."
beyond the grave
we may learn
hold tender this land
back to life
the fragrance of hope
promise of resurrection
so many, I'll miss bell hooks. I loved bell hooks' unquiet
intellectual energy, her revolutionizing spirit, and her radical love
for change. Heartbroken doesn't aptly depict the enormity of bell
our sister-friend rest in peace and power!