embracing the erotic
Author(s): Sherri Craig
Dr. Sherri Craig, an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at Virginia Tech University, researches how universities and English departments implement diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives, particularly for the recruitment and retention of Black women. She also considers the ways in which diversity programming can be located in writing across the curriculum. Her published work can be found at sparkactivism [dot] com and in the WPA: Writing Program Administration journal.Tags: bell hooks, Black feminism, erotic, in memoriam
I first engaged with bell hooks at the end of my Master’s program when I was given Teaching to Transgress and Teaching Community from my longtime mentor. It would take me three additional years to crack open the pages but it was an experience nearly ten years later that would challenge and change me.
Being a Black woman in the academy has yet to be easy. The daily challenges of microaggressions and hidden Ivory Tower blockages force me to accept that the university will never love me, despite the great ardor I have for it. I liken it to an abusive relationship – I give and it takes, until I hurt, until I bleed with the desire to be worshiped and embraced. To be handled with tenderness and care. Without these intense feelings being acknowledged, I have learned to turn towards my students. I give them the love I so desperately seek from higher ed, from writing studies. To do so, I use hooks’ pedagogical practice of eros and the erotic in an attempt to teach the whole bodies of my students.
Reading “Eros, eroticism, and the pedagogical process” and “Ecstasy: Teaching and learning without limits” changed my association to the academy and provided me with the tools I needed to build powerful relationships with my Black students, who were also not well loved by the university. hooks tells us, “To call attention to the body is to betray the legacy of repression and denial that has been handed down to us by our professional elders, who have been usually white and male” (1993, p.58). I work hard to acknowledge the Black bodies, to tell them that I love having them in my classrooms and that I love the energy that they bring each day. To tell them that their smiles and melanin give me strength and hope, that I am impassioned when teaching them and being in the space with them. That I love them. Over the course of the semester, we shake hands, laugh, and sometimes hug. Educating them in this way is an act of love. My love is critical pedagogy. My love is Black feminist critical pedagogy.
When I taught a graduate seminar on critical pedagogy in 2020, I knew Teaching to Transgress was a must. In the virtual classroom of white faces and black boxes, hooks’ exploration of the erotic and ecstasy was met with anger and confusion. I distinctly recall two comments, “She loves her students? That is disgusting and illegal!” and “She is in love with a student. Everything until this essay was so inspirational and now I don’t care for hooks at all.” Shook to my core, I found myself in the unexpected position of defending hooks’ words and fighting to articulate why and how love is the answer to radically challenging the institution as change agents. Couldn’t they see that love is so much more than affection? It is personal. It is expansive. It is collective. Love, eros, the erotic, the ecstasy of teaching is how we all get the pleasure of overcoming oppression. hooks knew.
hooks, bell. “Eros, Eroticism, and the Pedagogical Process.” Cultural Studies, vol. 7, no. 1, 2003, pp. 58-63, DOI:10.1080/