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Celebrating Black History Month: bell hooks

By: Jada Jinks | February 20, 2023

bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins on September 15th, 1952. She was a famous activist, scholar, and author that challenged people’s thinking on life and culture. hooks famously wrote about how capitalism and modern society disadvantaged women, people of color, and people who had lower economic status, aiming to free them from their struggles through education, theory, and community. hooks is one of the most famous feminist scholars of all time and her legacy continues on even after her death in 2021, including at UAlbany.

Janell Hobson is a University at Albany professor and chair of the Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies department. She regularly assigns hooks’ articles in her classes and has also been personally affected by hooks' work.

“It’s been over a year since she died…it’s still hard to imagine a world without her,” Hobson said.

Hobson describes bell hooks’ influence in the field of Black feminism, stating that she created the idea that "it could be exciting to learn about black feminism." She forged a way to move through the movement and focus on areas of media and culture to explore what Black feminism could be. Using theory to heal, to criticize, to be creative, and to promote democracy are the forms of Black feminism hooks helped create.

Another feature of hooks’ legacy was the accessibility of her work. Hobson said, “Whenever I assign her work for my classes, they are easily the students' favorite.” hooks wanted theory to be shared everywhere and for everyone to participate, rather than for it to be circulated solely among academic institutions.

When asked what was bell hooks' greatest contribution, Hobson responded that her greatest contribution was the creation of the "oppositional gaze." The oppositional gaze is a way for Black women and other women of color to reclaim and reframe popular culture to affirm themselves. One of bell hooks’ most famous articles, naked without shame: a counter hegemonic body politic, talks about how she was always taught to be ashamed of her own body growing up.

The long history of violence and domination of the Black female body leads Black women to be seen as both “less desirable” and “more sexual” than their white female counterparts in popular culture. These women are often exploited because of it. bell hooks' idea for changing that was to replace sexist depictions of black women with affirming images that embrace pride instead of shame. For instance, a movie like Nappily Ever After, involves a Black woman learning to accept herself and her worth. bell hooks wanted to create that reality for other women of color too.

Finally, Hobson talked about how bell hooks had personally influenced her and her own work. “She was the blueprint…she was the blueprint for how I criticize and engage with the media and popular culture.” hooks paved the way for many Black feminist scholars to do the work of examining and challenging dominant structures in society. Hobson regularly does that both in the classroom, and through her books. Her most recent book, When God Lost her Tongue: Historical Consciousness and the Black Feminist Imagination, goes over history's perceptions of Black women and how limiting those perceptions really are. She invites book readers to expand their views and see the pain as well as the accomplishments of Black women.

bell hooks was and will always be a legendary figure with unmatched influence in the field of Black feminism.

Rest in Power, bell hooks.


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