I owe bell hooks. I have owed bell hooks ever since my encounter with her writing in my final year in university, wherein we analyzed the importance of intersectionality and the potential problems of white feminism and how it has a tendency to be a form of cultural imperialism with the guise of ‘equality’. In other words, I have loved bell hooks ever since her words empowered me as a PoC feminist.
Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks contains 12 essays that centralize its focus and analysis on blackness and representation of blackness in the media. As an intersectional feminist, I think it is necessary praxis to listen, understand and broaden one’s awareness of a range of issues that affect different people of colour so that we can be good allies. And though this book is predominantly about blackness, the sentiment and Black Looks is accessible, educational and still relevant today, even though it was written in 1992.
Something that particularly stood out for me was hook’s observation that solidarity is often formed via shared pain – that we can develop connections with others through our experiences of pain, namely self-hatred, overt prejudice and issues of identity. However, hooks argues that it is equally important – or more important – that we, as people of colour, should also construct language that is positive, and about loving and affirming what makes us different in the realm of white supremacy.
Though critical consciousness is necessary, and it can be painful to confront and change our internalized racism and self-hatred, hooks asserts that self-affirmation, supporting one another and recognition that our experiences are not monolithic are important in resisting oppressive systems that privilege and favour whiteness. This particular point served as an important reminder for me to not only bring awareness and arouse consciousness in those around me, but to also actively support and affirm my PoC peers and encourage self-love.
To construct language that affirms our identities, to encourage self-love and acceptance in our ourselves and each other is so important, especially when most of us who grow up surrounded with images that elevate and celebrate whiteness and diminishes or reinforce stereotypes of non-whiteness will feel pain, confusion and alienation. Supporting each other, our brothers and sisters, is something vital to bridge those gaps of alienation and to heal those wounds.
hooks also talks a lot about representation of blackness in the media, and how sexism intersects with racism in such portrayals. She also shares her experiences with her discussions with other people of colour, especially black women, and also the white people she taught in her classes. A particular statement she makes, which I deeply agree with, asserts:
Within white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, forgetfulness is encouraged.
Too often have I heard people make calls to forget about history, that the past is the past, and to ‘move on’ from the past — never mind that the effects of the past, of history, of memories of violence enacted on people of colour, remain; still hurting us, and the very violence people abhor and discourage happen today. From that, bell hooks offers an important discussion on the importance of memory, solidarity and resisting erasure.
To those who are not black and do not know the struggles of blackness (and may struggle with this book), it is especially important for us to read, listen, absorb and understand. I took much from this book. I encourage people to read this book if they want to gain insight on perspectives and approaches on blackness, gender and sex, media and identity.
Book Name: Black Looks: Race and Representation
Author: bell hooks
Publisher: South End Press