Distinguished Professor of English at City College in New York
“It is difficult not to hear in standard English always the sound of slaughter and conquest.”
“My commitment to engaged pedagogy is an expression of political activism.”
Used commencement address to call for “resistance” to America’s “terrorist regime”
Born in September 1952, Gloria Watkins, better known by her revolutionary nom de guerre, “bell hooks,” is a Distinguished Professor of English at City College in New York. Characterizing herself as an “insurgent Black intellectual voice” committed to “renewed liberation struggle,” hooks is a tenured member of the academic elite, with teaching credits that include Yale University, Oberlin College, and Southwestern University in Texas.
Professor hooks' written work is virtually never about literature as such, but rather about the “patriarchy” and the race and class “hierarchies” that in her view dominate every aspect of the social order and its culture. Some of her numerous titles include Killing Rage: Ending Racism; Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representation; Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom; Art On My Mind: Visual Politics; We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity; and Reel to Real: Race, Sex and Class at the Movies.
Her book Killing Rage begins with this sentence: “I am writing this essay sitting beside an anonymous white male that I long to murder.” The man’s offense was to have been given the first-class airplane seat next to Professor hooks, evicting her female friend whose upgrade was found faulty by the stewardess. To Professor hooks this event was emblematic of the “institutional racism” and “sexism” at the heart of American society.
Professor hooks’ views on education, advanced in her 1994 polemic, Teaching to Transgress, run from the prosaically radical to the forthrightly revolutionary. The book—an extended fusillade against “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”—mounts the claim that an educator has a “right as a subject in resistance to define reality.”
Teaching, hooks contends, “is a performative act ... that offers the space for change, invention, spontaneous shifts, that can serve as a catalyst drawing out the unique elements in each classroom.” Calling for an “engaged pedagogy,” she exhorts educators “to teach in a manner that empowers students” by converting their classrooms into incubators of “progressive” politics. “My commitment to engaged pedagogy is an expression of political activism,” says hooks. Of English, a subject she has long taught, hooks claims that the language projects the tones of brutal colonialism: “It is difficult not to hear in standard English always the sound of slaughter and conquest,” hooks explains.
With satisfaction, hooks writes of the effect that her “engaged pedagogy” has had on her students: “I have not forgotten the day a student came to class and told me: ‘We take your class. We learn to look at the world from a critical standpoint, one that considers race, sex, and class. And we can't enjoy life anymore.’”
Professor hooks’ courses overtly aim to radicalize a new generation of black activists. “My concern is to enlarge that audience, particularly to reach young Black people between the ages of 15 and 25 who are the reading population but who are least likely, maybe, to hear of a bell hooks,” she once told Z Magazine.
Professor hooks teaches her students that the problems faced by blacks in American society are largely due to a lingering “white supremacy,” wherein “white folks have colonized black Americans.” She exhorts blacks never to "surrender our rage" over this alleged state of affairs.
In her 2000 book, Feminism Is for Everyone, hooks writes that "feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression."(p. 1) She contends that "[m]ales as a group ... benefit the most from patriarchy, from the assumption that they are superior to females and should rule over us"; and that men seek "to dominate women, to exploit and oppress us, using violence if they must to keep the patriarchy intact."(p. ix) Because "our society continues to be primarily a 'Christian' culture," hooks adds, "masses of people continue to believe that godhas ordained that women be subordinate to men in the domestic household."(p. 2)
Professor hooks’ great popularity in the academic world has won her many invitations to give commencement speeches at collegiate graduation ceremonies. In 2002, she told the graduating class at Southwestern University: “The radical, dissident voices among you have learned here at Southwestern how to form communities of resistance that have helped you find your way in the midst of life-threatening conservatism, loneliness, and the powerful forces of everyday fascism which use the politics of exclusion and ostracism to maintain the status quo.” In an unmistakable reference to the U.S. government, hooks added: “Every terrorist regime in the world uses isolation to break people’s spirits.”
In the same breath, hooks explained that “our nation’s call for violence in the aftermath of 9/11 was an expression of widespread hopelessness, the cynicism that has been at the heart of our nation’s ongoing fascination with death.” Inveighing against the U.S. military response to the terrorist attacks, hooks lamented that although Americans had initially decided to “stand against violence [and] choose peace,” that “moment of collective clarity was soon obscured by the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal hunger to show the planet our nation’s force, to show that this nation would commit absolute acts of violence that will wipe out whole nations and worlds.” Even as she carefully avoided passing judgment on the terrorists who had carried out the attack, hooks decried “our government’s declaration of its commitment to violence, to death.”
Also in 2002, hooks was one of many prominent leftists to endorse the Not In Our Name (NION) "Statement of Conscience," which condemned not only the Bush administration's "stark new measures of repression," but also its "unjust, immoral, illegitimate, [and] openly imperial policy towards the world."
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