Feminist author, activist and academic bell hooks died of kidney failure at her Berea, Kentucky home on Wednesday, Dec. 16. She was 69.
A history-making trailblazer, hooks inspired many through her body of work, which spanned more than five decades. She focused on race, class, gender, love, the patriarchy, sexuality and more. hooks is credited with heavily influencing feminism to include the Black woman’s voice, which she said had been ignored and marginalized.
“A devaluation of Black womanhood occurred as a result of the sexual exploitation of Black women during slavery that has not altered in the course of hundreds of years,” hooks wrote.
hooks was also a major proponent of women loving themselves. “The one person who will never leave us, whom we will never lose, is ourself. Learning to love our female selves is where our search for love must begin,” Hooks wrote in “Communion: The Search for Female Love,” according to The Guardian.
She also ascribed to the belief that “feminism is for everybody.”
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Born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952, hooks came from a working-class family. Her mother, Rosa Bell Watkins, was a maid who cleaned white families’ homes, and her father, Veodia Watkins, was a janitor. She was one of six children.
An avid reader, hooks went on to earn her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in English and publish more than 30 books and numerous scholarly writings. She adopted her pen name to pay homage to her maternal grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. She intentionally lowercased her name in her work in an effort to deviate the focus from “who I am” to what she was saying, hooks said of the decision.
One of her earliest and most popular books, “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism,” was published in 1981, but hooks began writing it when she was just 19. After dedicating her life to teaching and scholarship, hooks founded the bell hooks Institute in 2014 at Berea College
The immense impact hooks had on society continues to show up in the array of memorial tributes for the celebrated poet, professor and cultural critic. Here are some of the things Black America said in remembrance of bell hooks.
“If you’re just learning about bell hooks, there’s no shame. You can always read her words and meet her on the page,” writer and activist Raquel Willis tweeted.
“bell hooks made it clear that men also die from patriarchy. Tht patriarchy leaves men emotionally unequipped to deal with themselves or the world,” Twitter user AMichaelTheStdnt wrote. “She taught me that patriarchy is not innate, bt LEARNED & TAUGHT, sadly sometimes by mothers and sisters to their sons and brothers.”
“bell hooks made it all seem clear & uncomplicatedly possible. by ‘it’ i mean those very basic components of liberation: care, attention, change, love. in a world of “it’s all very nuanced/in need of a 87 point plan/ committee” mother said “not really, just act right, here’s how,” @AngelNafis wrote.
“When bell hooks sat down with Laverne Cox and later invited her to the bell hooks Institute, it was the first time I ever saw a black scholar or intellectual of any stripe extend an arm of acknowledgement and solidarity to Black trans women,” @naomiedu tweeted. “That was a defining moment for me.”
“The passing of bell hooks hurts, deeply. At the same time, as a human being I feel so grateful she gave humanity so many gifts,” writer Ibram Kendi tweeted. “AIN’T I A WOMAN: BLACK WOMEN AND FEMINISM is one of her many classics. And ALL ABOUT LOVE changed me. Thank you, bell hooks. Rest in our love.”
“bell hooks was the first Black woman I ever heard refer to herself as a genius, and to declare it as a fact without needing anyone hearing,” @nrookie chimed in.
“Our nation lost a prolific author, activist, and trailblazer. bell hooks’ profound and positive influence will be with us for generations to come. May she rest in power,” U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted.
“bell hooks was an extraordinary writer, thinker, and scholar who gave us new language with which to make sense of the world around us,” writer Clint Smith tweeted. “Her work was imbued with a deep commitment to truth-telling, but also with a profound sense of care and love for community. She was a treasure.”
“bell hooks wrote directly for and to Black women, and it is a beautiful thing that everyone can learn from her, but her soul-filled love for us was so apparent in her work,” pop culture critic Bolu Babalola tweeted.
“As a first generation college student, bell hooks was the first writer I encountered via academia whose work I was able to enthusiastically discuss with friends and fam *outside* academia,” Saeed Jones wrote. “My mom and I read bell hooks together. I’ll always cherish the way her work bridged shores.”
“bell hooks is to my mind the mother of much of the current black feminist theory we see today online and beyond. She is endlessly complex and her work is vast in scope. She is simply everything,” Twitter user @M_Lamar wrote.
While she was an unapologetic proud Black woman who greatly resonated with and fought for her Black brothers and sisters, bell hooks’ work and legacy transcended to the global stage and was celebrated by people from all walks of life.
May she rest.
Bell Hooks Photo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2bmnwehlpA
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