A beating heart might dare encapsulate Dr. bell hooks’ indelible imprint on feminism, pedagogy, and activism, for hooks led with love. She reiterated the complexity of human existence, valuing compassion alongside conflict. In her copious writings on the intersectional nature of oppression, hooks stressed personal connection, of reaching beyond academic spaces to uplift marginalized communities – for in the effort lies the promise of progress. The usefulness of knowledge demands supplemental action on its behalf. The academy stands to sophisticate the next generation of difference makers. bell hooks believed in the purpose of the academy, while criticizing it relentlessly to improve its function. Constructive criticism is foremost an act of love, she argued.
hooks’ feminist philosophies captured my attention during graduate school. While acquiring feminist theory familiarity, I stumbled across hooks’ blistering critique of Spike Lee’s representation of black women in “Male Heroes and Female Sex Objects: Sexism in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.” While the article asserted Lee’s sacrifice of whole black female characters to appease a predominantly white, potentially blockbuster, audience, hooks’ objection to the art arose from respect for the artist. In acknowledging the work, hooks extended love to Spike Lee. In sharing her truth, she potentially broadened his space for truth telling.
As a composition instructor, I frequently lean into hooks’ feminist pedagogies. In Teaching to Transgress, hooks binds feminist philosophy to classroom practice. Eschewing the archaic concept of authoritative educators, she espouses classrooms as freedom frontiers. The quest for knowledge involves the input of everyone, students and teachers alike. hooks advocates diversified ways of knowing, insists that acumen is enriched by multiple sources of seemingly contradictory information. Opposing ideologies stand in opposition because we resist complexity. The sticky tension of conflict often rewards one with enlightenment, broadening the scope of understanding. The classroom exists as an invitational space, one in which we admit to unknowing and collectively move toward mutual awareness of one another’s lived experiences and vantage points.
Feminism’s spotlight on the collective depends upon cooperation. hooks understood the necessity of conflict for potential resolution. As human beings, we most desire to be heard. The loudest voices require the most love. hooks believed in love without caveat, without boundaries, without conditions for transfer. As educators, we must lean into the principle of love and knowledge coexisting. We must use our liberating spaces for their intended purpose, to build connections and give back to humanity future generations unafraid to interact, to conflict, to challenge one another for society’s betterment. To exist in such spaces and not continually grow alongside our students, to not challenge our own beliefs, would be to waste a sacred space and responsibility. From Dr. bell hooks, I learned that authority absent love and compassion emulates colonizing impulses. Only intentional acts of love breed the human connections that fortify education and cultivate progress.