Like many of you, I saw the news of bell hooks dying this week and felt all the waves of grief.
When I saw the news post on Twitter, I had a document open on my computer in which I was drafting a description of my writing, research, and teaching—and I was writing about how it was bell hooks who had modeled for me a critical pedagogy grounded in relationship, love, honesty, and connecting the political, the economic, the spiritual, the interpersonal, and the intra-psychic.
Her work on love and justice and healing made the connections. She saw the value of connecting the therapeutic to the political. She believed in intimacy—but also that for intimacy to be truthful, it needed an undoing of patriarchy and white supremacy and capitalism for all genders to thrive. She believed in Black feminist partnerships with white women, and she required open honest communication and accountability. She believed in healing heterosexuality as a historically oppressive system, but it could not be done unless men showed up for their own healing and accountability.
She wanted us to lead lives of abundant love, and she believed that our work of making justice on this planet was the work of love.
And so I was writing about her impact on my life when I saw the news of her death, and I burst into waves of tears and deep sadness and rage. My rage was because there was the feeling in her death that Black feminists still don't get to rest or enjoy their elder years. She was 69—she deserved so much in her elder years. I am angry that Black feminists are still dying young because I believe the impacts of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and class oppression are still a part of early death.
One of the scholars/writers who has most helped me feel/think through this rage is Grace Hong in her book Death Beyond Disavowal. I often assign this book when I teach K-12 educators Black feminist history. I especially need white educators to recognize the cost of the intellectual, creative, spiritual, psychic, and relational work of Black feminists. I need them not to read the texts of Black feminisms in a way that continues the consumption of their work without reciprocity at a material level for the care and well-being of Black feminists.
Bell hooks wrote about the psychosocial elements of her work—the ways in which we heal the structural and economic as we heal the interpersonal and the relational. It is all interconnected. And naming the interconnections and theorizing them and speaking about them across power dynamics is exhausting work. It is also critical work. It takes a toll.
One of my favorite bell hooks' books is her dialogue with Stuart Hall in Uncut Funk: A Contemplative Dialogue. This is the book I was writing on when I saw the news of her death. Her capacity to model love, honesty, and making the connections from the therapeutic to the political, to the economic and the epistemic and spiritual, is something she seemingly does with such ease. But it is not easy to do that work, and it is not easy to do it in a way in which she speaks in a language that is understood outside academic language and high theory.
She takes all her deep thinking and feeling and research, and she prioritized making her theory truly accessible beyond academic walls. She grounded a complex understanding of systems in the day-to-day understanding of what love means—love for ourselves, love for one another.
In the waves of sadness, in my rage of yet another Black feminist dying such an early death, I am imagining her homecoming with the ancestors—Louise Thompson Patterson, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Barbara Christian, Claudia Tate. She is gone in body, and I believe she is in other realms of power and Love. And my prayer is that we on earth, as we make love and justice together, would be worthy of the extraordinary gifts she gave us for what lies ahead for us to co-create here, now, together.
Kimberly B. George, Ph.D.
Writer. Scholar. Founder of Feminism School.