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  • Writer's pictureMalini

happy birthday, bell hooks

The moment we choose to love, we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love, we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.

In the world of academia and activism, there are individuals whose voices resonate across generations, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of thought and social change. One such human was bell hooks (1952–2021), whose wisdom and unwavering commitment to the betterment of humanity continue to inspire and enlighten.

Source: Wisconsin Alumni Association

Who Was bell hooks?

Without community, there is no liberation.

bell hooks, born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952, was a renowned scholar, cultural critic, and author. Her decision to use lowercase letters for her pen name, “bell hooks,” was not a mere quirk but a deliberate choice to focus on her ideas rather than herself. As a practicing Buddhist, this humble approach was reflective of her deep commitment to reducing the ego and emphasizing the importance of ideas and collective progress over individual recognition.

The Buddhist Path

At the heart of bell hooks’ philosophy was her deep engagement with Buddhism. Her practice was rooted in principles of mindfulness, compassion, and the reduction of ego.

  1. Embracing Mindfulness: hooks’ writing and activism were steeped in mindfulness. She emphasized the importance of being present in the moment, whether it was in challenging systemic inequalities or fostering healthy relationships. Mindfulness, in her view, was a powerful tool for personal growth and social change.

  2. Compassion and Empathy: bell hooks’ work exuded compassion and empathy. These qualities, central to Buddhist teachings, guided her in advocating for social justice, gender equality, and racial equity. Her writings, such as “Ain’t I a Woman?” and “The Will to Change,” are powerful expressions of her commitment to ending oppression and suffering.

  3. Name in Lowercase Letters: The decision to write her name in lowercase was an embodiment of her belief in humility and the reduction of self-importance. It signaled her commitment to decenter the ego, a core tenet of her practice. By choosing lowercase letters, she invited readers to focus on her ideas, not her persona.

Perspective on Art

The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is — it’s to imagine what is possible.

bell hooks’ believed that art had a profound role to play in not just reflecting the world as it is but also in envisioning and inspiring what could be. To encapsulate her perspective:

  1. Art as a Tool for Liberation: bell hooks saw art as a tool for liberation and empowerment. She believed that artists had the capacity to challenge dominant narratives, question oppressive systems, and offer alternative visions of the world. Through art, individuals could confront and dismantle the structures of inequality and injustice.

  2. The Importance of Imagination: For bell hooks, imagination was a central aspect of art. She encouraged artists to use their creative capacities to envision new possibilities and challenge the status quo. By imagining alternatives, art could inspire viewers or readers to see the world through a different lens and motivate them to work towards positive change.

  3. Critical Engagement with Art: hooks emphasized the importance of critically engaging with art. She encouraged audiences to approach art with a discerning eye, recognizing that it could both reinforce and challenge societal norms. Art, in her view, should provoke thought, dialogue, and reflection.

  4. Art as a Platform for Marginalized Voices: Throughout her work, bell hooks championed the voices of marginalized and underrepresented groups in the world of art. She highlighted the importance of amplifying voices that had historically been silenced or ignored, allowing their stories and experiences to be heard and understood.

  5. Intersectionality in Art: hooks brought an intersectional perspective to her discussions of art, recognizing that art could address complex and interconnected issues of race, caste, gender, class, and more. She believed that art had the potential to shed light on the intersecting forms of oppression that individuals often faced.

  6. Education through Art: As an educator, hooks used art as a means of education and critical thinking. She incorporated literature, film, and other forms of art into her teaching, believing that they could serve as powerful tools for learning and fostering empathy.

  7. Art as a Form of Love: In her book “All About Love,” bell hooks wrote about the connection between love and art. She saw love as an essential element of art, believing that art created with love had the power to touch people’s hearts and inspire change.

In essence, bell hooks’ discussions of art revolved around its potential to challenge, inspire, and uplift humanity. She saw art as a vehicle for social change and a means of imagining and creating a more just and equitable world. Her writings and teachings continue to encourage artists and audiences alike to engage with art in a thoughtful and transformative way, recognizing its capacity to shape our understanding of the world and our role in it.

bell hooks’ legacy is a testament to the power of humility, mindfulness, and compassion in effecting positive change in the world. Her works continue to be a source of inspiration for those dedicated to creating a more just and equitable society.

Happy birthday, bell hooks. Rest in power.


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