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Honoring bell hooks

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Author, professor, feminist, and social activist Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name bell hooks, took her last breath on December 15, 2021, at the age of 69. Her pen name was in tribute to her maternal great-grandmother named Bell Blair Hook. Unlike how names are usually capitalized, she chose lowercase letters to emphasize that what is most important to focus on are her works, not her personal qualities: the "substance of books, not who I am."


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Watkins grew up in a segregated American South community. She began writing her first full-length book published in 1981, “Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism”, when she was 19 years old. She earned a bachelor's, a master and a doctorate degree in English literature. She wrote over 30 books and published other works including essays, poetry and books for children. Gloria Jean Watkins left a legacy of powerful words on pain, love, equality, and many more.


Watkins, a radical feminist who wanted people to understand feminism, defined the term as “...a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” This was first offered in her book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. There she stated that feminism is not about being anti-male but about sexism. The acclaimed intersectional feminist dreamt of a world where there was no domination, where females and males were neither alike not always equal. She concluded that it was the vision of mutuality that shaped interactions that lead to a world of peace and possibility. She also believed that if people adopted her definition, and knew more about feminism and feminist history, they would no longer be fearing it.


In, “Feminism is for Everybody”, she provides an introduction to the popular feminist theory and cultural criticism.


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And, in her book: “The Female Search for Love”, she describes love as a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust. Many of her books also talk about self-love. In the book ‘‘All about the love’’ she strongly advises her readers 'Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself.'


The Kentucky native was convinced that true liberation needed to reckon with how class, race, and gender are facets of our identities and are inextricably linked. We are all of these things at once. Her books also explain that language, disability, race, gender, and sexuality are embodied realities that affect how people speak, see themselves, and learn in the classroom in profound ways. They provide a sharp and forewarning account of the early days of inclusion and diversity rhetoric before it was subsumed beneath a swift and confused backlash.


During her time here, bell hooks strived to educate and accomplish key transformative goals. So in order to honor her, we can cite her, and take into account many of her lessons. We can also be more careful as to not discriminate against scholars or any persons of color. We must be intentional to look around our homes and workplaces and ask ourselves who we are harming with our words, alliances, and silences, and how we can do much better in dismantling structures of injustice in the here and now.


“What we do is more important than what we say or what we say we believe.”

- Bell Hooks

Extra: Watch here her inspirational speech on Moving from Pain to Power.


Written by Kalash Pandey

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