Finding Home: Cultivating a Culture of Belonging
Author(s): Kristy Liles Crawley
Dr. Kristy Liles Crawley is a Professor in the English Department at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Her research on pedagogy and rhetorical studies appears in Prose Studies;Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition;Teaching English in the Two-Year College; Routledge Companion to Literature and Class; PARS in Practice: More Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors; and Teachers, Tea
bell hooks’s enduring contributions to feminist spatial studies highlight the connections between space and identity. In “Kentucky is My Fate,” the second chapter of Belonging: A Culture of Place, bell hooks maps the territories of her life as she recounts her experiences of living in Kentucky, California, and New York. Through telling the story of her life in various places, hooks’ recognizes her deep connection to her home state of Kentucky and realizes that moving away from home has allowed her to understand her identity as a Kentuckian. For hooks, homeplace is not just a physical place; it is a place where one belongs. She cites Carol Lee Flinders definition of the culture of belonging to clarify her feelings of home: A culture of belonging is “one in which there is ‘intimate connection with the land to which one belongs, empathic relationship to animals, self-restraint, custodial conservation, deliberateness, balance, expressiveness, generosity, egalitarianism, mutuality, affinity for alternative modes of knowing, playfulness, inclusiveness, nonviolent resolution, and openness to spirit’”( Flinders13). hooks applies Flinders’ definition of a culture of belonging when she describes the freedom she experiences when she roams the hills of the “racially integrated” Kentucky of her childhood (8). Kentucky serves as the birthplace of her values, a place where she learned to be self-reliant and honest. Her identity as a Kentuckian and her feelings of belonging intensify as she moves to other states and reaffirms her decision to return.
As hooks acknowledges, when we return home, we find only remnants of home:
My decision to make my home in Kentucky did not emerge from any sentimental assumption that I would find an uncorrupted world in my native place. Rather I knew I would find there living remnants of all that was wonderful in the world of my growing up. During my time away I would return to Kentucky and feel again a sense of belonging that I never felt elsewhere, experiencing unbroken ties to the land, to homefolk, to our vernacular speech. (24)
Home provides a sense of identity and comfort. hooks’s work sheds light on the connection between homeplace and identity. As a child in Kentucky, hooks establishes a sense of self through the language, values, land, and beliefs that surround her in the place she calls home. The sense of self as well as sense of home follows her throughout her life. Moving beyond the boundaries of home allowed hooks to recognize the “serious dysfunctional aspect of the southern world” while providing her with “strategies for resistance” (hooks 19). In finding home, hooks’ lays the groundwork for her writings exploring the marginalization and resistance that will be studied by future generations.
hooks’s landmark writing maintains its relevance in today’s classrooms as home and classroom become closely intertwined. As an online educator, each week I am invited into students’ homes. hooks’ emphasis on home and identity reverberates as I capture glimpses of students’ identities as I observe scurrying children, barking dogs, colorful artworks, kaki military uniforms, and musical instruments. Their material objects rhetorically communicate their resistance to containerization as their multifaceted identities become clearer with each class period.
Students’ identities entwined in home provide fuel for meaningful writing. Like hooks’s “unbroken ties to the land, to homefolk,” and “vernacular speech,” students’ literacies communicated through multimodal projects convey their ties to their home (24). hooks’s words often echo in my mind as I reflect on a student demonstrating how to make cuy, a famous Peruvian dish, or another student showcasing an Appalachian quilt pattern as part of a technical writing presentation. Through sharing foods, preparation, quilting materials, techniques, and language, students created meaningful connections between their education, homeplace, and identity. hooks’s writings remain timeless as they continue to prompt educators to create a culture of belonging by linking the classroom with students’ homes.
hooks, bell. Belonging: A Culture of Place. Routledge, 2009.