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A Conversation with bell hooks

A self described “Black woman intellectual, revolutionary activist,” bell hooks continues to spread her knowledge throughout Berea College’s campus. Serving as a Distinguished Professor in Residence, hooks shares her views on the impact of racism, sexism and class on the black feminist movement. With the numerous books and essays to her name, hooks has raised awareness on issues plaguing the African American community, while also lending her voice to the debate on the media’s impact within the black community. As a strong voice for feminist and African American rights, hooks strives to expand the minds of Berea’s faculty and students by sharing her experiences, her literature and her passion.

bell hooks

BCnow: Where were you educated?

hooks: I grew up in Hopkinsville, Kentucky and went to Hopkinsville High school. Afterwards, I attended Columbia, a woman’s college in Missouri. I got my B.A at Stanford University and then I received M.A. at the University of Wisconsin and later my Ph.D. at UC Santa Cruz.

BCnow: What brought you to Berea College?

hooks: Well, I came to Berea to give a talk and I really liked the students here. I lived in New York at the time and I was looking to move to a more southern location. I had looked at Atlanta and Florida, but neither appealed to me. I didn’t really know much about Berea, which was odd considering I grew up not too far from here. I didn’t know much about the commitments, but when I came here, I liked the faculty, the students and the town. I said to myself, “Geee! This is the place for me!”

BCnow: What inspired you to take up a career in writing?

hooks: I think what inspired me the most was seeing how much reading can change your life. A lot of my life has been changed through reading.

BCnow: What is your favorite book and what do you enjoy doing on your down time?

hooks: Well, I have so many favorite books; it depends on what category. Like right now, I’ve been reading a book by David Richo, who is a Buddhist. The book is named “The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them.” Frequently, I’ll get a different favorite book and I’ll stay with a book for months just re-reading it and sharing it with others, but on my down time, I go to thrift stores like the Goodwill.

BCnow: In your book, “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” (1981), you address the role of black women in the past as well as present and how the idea of patriarchy amongst black males has impacted women. How would you define patriarchy? And do you believe that black women are still strongly affected by it today?

hooks: I would define it as a system in which you believe that a man is superior and as a result they have the right to dominate others. However, I think black women are also affected by the triple system of racism, sexism and class. I believe too that by having black women and men looking at how sexism affects our lives, it will help in the movement towards black self determination.

BCnow: What is one main idea you wish readers to grasp when reading your writings on African American woman in society?

hooks: The primary idea I want readers to grasp is that by ending domination (racism, sexism, class) it will lead to well being within our lives.

BCnow: Since the early 80s, you have taught writing courses as well as courses directed towards the African American experience. Since coming to Berea College, what have you learned about the College’s history that has touched you?

hooks: I’m especially fond of the college’s commitments. The two that particularly stand out is the college’s commitment to impartial love and to living a simpler life. We will all have to live simpler lives in a world where there is no domination.

BCnow: In your book, “Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics” (1990), you address the issues surrounding the current impact of films, rap songs and advertisements on women and the black community. Do you see media outlets as a positive or negative contributor to the African American and feminist movement?

hooks: Media can be an amazing tool for any movement as well as a liberating tool. Yet, frequently it’s not, and people use it as a conservatizing force. If we were to look at MTV or sitcoms that feature black people, we would see something that resembles minstrel shows. It doesn’t mean that all media is bad or negative, it’s how people use media. We can point to Spike Lee’s new documentary on [Hurricane] Katrina. Here is an example of media being used to educate people, to make them aware of the emotional pain of underclass people. This is an example of constructive and radical use of media.

BCnow: What advancements for African American woman do you see in the later part of the 20th century and early 21st?

hooks: One of the major advancements for African American woman has been breaking away from racial sexism that has viewed us as whores. Through education we have shown ourselves to be capable of any task put before us. Through our own efforts, we have broken down stereotypes concerning black women that have resulted from racial sexism.

BCnow: What would you like to convey to African American woman in their 20s and those that are pursuing a higher education?

hooks: I think that if I could give one gift to African American woman in their 20s, I would tell them to have a strong foundation of self-love that allows them to know what they really want to do. If we have our intentionality clear, it’s like having a road map to where you want to go. So, I would give all my sisters and their sisters a map that begins with self-love and moves on to what they want in life. Once we realize what we want, then we will be able take part in things that will allow us to be fulfilled and self-actualized.

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