bell hooks on anti-racist community
Feb 15, 2022
bell hooks, September 25, 1951 - December 15, 2021
Written by Jack Holloway, St. Lydia's
Books on racism filled bestseller lists in 2020, and publishers took notice, filling new release shelves with more and more books on the topic. Since the killing of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, white people all over the world have been awakened to the realities of systemic racism in the United States. However, long before this awakening and publishing boom, bell hooks published Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1996). The book begins as a reflection on overcoming desperate rage in the face of pervasive discrimination and hate and becomes nothing less than a primer on antiracism.
“Why is it so difficult for many white folks to understand that racism is oppressive not because white folks have prejudicial feelings about blacks (they could have such feelings and leave us alone) but because it is a system that promotes domination and subjugation?”
hooks makes clear that racism is not just personal dislike of people of another race. It is a complex web of oppressive practices, ideologies, and policies, which hooks names "white supremacist capitalist patriarchy" – and wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to it, but small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to anti-racism, and only a few find it.
While it might be comforting to imagine that we can just ignore race and forget what happened in the past, hooks says, “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation.”
Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 Kentucky, she grew up in segregated environments. It was only when she attended Stanford University in California that she experienced an “integrated” environment. For the first time, she was living around and interacting with white people. Concurrently, the campus women's movement was raising people's consciousness of sexism, and Watkins started to question the patriarchal values she had known all her life. Yet at the same time, she noticed a distinct absence of African-American women and other women of color in the women's movement of the 60s & 70s. Women's studies were usually white women's studies. Equally confounding to Watkins was the fact that Black studies were usually Black-male studies.
In Killing Rage, hooks offers a black feminist vision that addresses the complexities and intersections of oppression. In chapters like, “Challenging Sexism in Black Life,” and, “Revolutionary Feminism: An Anti-Racist Agenda,” hooks pushes back against visions of social justice that single out one zone of oppression to the exclusion of others, and she points beyond to the promise of a beloved community. Feminists must be anti-racist, anti-racists must be anti-sexist. Feminists and anti-racists must be anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.
Racism did not just arrive in a vacuum, but has been the calculated result of a political and economic system designed to serve white men, establish white power, and secure white private property. The white men who designed the system did not just want white people to be in power, they wanted white men to be in power, and not just white men but strictly defined "masculine" men. So we oppress people for being black or brown, women for being too assertive, men for being too feminine, children for being too independent, and so on. Unreflectively, we are groomed and shaped for white supremacist capitalist patriarchy by a whole interlocking network of gender roles, codes of conduct, and eligibility requirements.
This oppressive network is the source of racism, sexism, classism, queerphobia, and ableism, because it all traces back to a racist, misogynist, capitalist dream of plantations for every property-owning, able-bodied, straight white man. To resist racism, then, hooks highlights our collective need for a thorough-going resistance to all forms of oppression.
“To live in anti-racist society we must collectively renew our commitment to a democratic vision of racial justice and equality.”
Ending racism does not mean ignoring or forgetting about race, but rather confronting racism in our history, in the structures of our society, and in our hearts and minds. We divest ourselves of racism, hooks says, by then committing to the anti-racist struggle–“by concrete action, by anti-racist living and being.”
Jack Holloway is a member of the MNYS Anti-Racism Committee, as well as the leadership table of St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, NY. He earned a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor’s in Biblical and Theological Studies from Regent University.