The African American Folklorist: bell hooks

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Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Gloria Jean Watkins Bell Hooks is considered one of the leading critics of culture, structure and racism. As an author, educator, and feminist, Hook has written books such as Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, and many more. Hooks deliberately chose the name of her maternal great-grandmother as a pseudonym in her voice, as she is quoted as saying that her great-grandmother “was known for her biting and bold tongue, which I greatly admired”. To promote the honor Hooks had for her lineage and gift, she insisted that her name be lowercase to honor her great-grandmother and to express what matters most, her works as quoted , “Substance of books, not who I am.”

From 2004 until her death on December 15, 2021, Bell Hooks was Professor in Residence at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. In 2014, the Bell Hooks Institution was founded at the college. To draw attention to her significant contributions, I spoke to musician, broadcaster, and folklorist Amanda Lynn Stubley.

Bell Hooks: I started using the term White Supremacist, Capitalist, and Patriarchy in my work because I wanted language that would actually constantly remind us of the interlocking systems of domination that define our reality.

Lamont Jack Pearley: That was an excerpt from the author, social activist, professor, and feminist Bell Hooks. Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Gloria Jean Watkins made key contributions as a critic of an oppressive culture and system. Musician, broadcaster and folklorist Amanda Lynn Stubley says she was introduced to working with hooks as an adult while earning a bachelor’s degree.

Amanda Lynn Stubley: at a Canadian university in London, Ontario where I live at the University of Western Ontario. It was a feminist theory class that I took. And her readings were in a section about black feminist thought, which is an important part of post-structural feminism.

Lamont Jack Pearley: Bell Hooks is actually the name of her maternal great-grandmother. Haken say she and many of her colleagues took the names of their female ancestors. In terms of her voice, Stubley says, many dominant feminist texts at a given time before her as a scholar had a very unique perspective.

Amanda Lynn Stubley: And so came a bunch of black feminist writers who said, ‘Well, who are we when you say we’re sitting at home? And all we do is wait for a husband to come home and clean our dishes and our houses. And it’s like, well, that’s not the experience of very many people, and certainly not very many black people in the United States.” So I was like, wow, these people are honest.

Lamont Jack Pearley: Hook’s perspective, also comes from her place of origin, a place some people don’t know about, black people, come from.

Amanda Lynn Stubley: I love that she brought her own situation to her work. I love that. She was from the Black Appalachians. And she said so directly. My interest, especially at the time, was the Appalachian Study. So I was thrilled to hear someone say that. To be blunt, there are black people in Appalachia, I don’t need to tell you, but some people need to hear.

Lamont Jack Pearley: Bell Hook’s words transcended race, her actions inspired many. And even after writing many books and teaching in Ivy League schools, she never forgot black Kentucky.

Amanda Lynn Stubley: There aren’t very many people who know about the role in the community that she had in Berea. And her generosity in dealing with people in and around Berea and [its] college community.

Lamont Jack Pearley: Bell Hooks was an intellectual force who educated many through her writings. From books like Black Looks to Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, Hooks encouraged critical thinking and observation of how others were treated.

Amanda Lynn Stubley: And I think when we remember her legacy, we really have to say that the dominant culture really wants to portray her as the angry black woman. It so easily fits the narrative to take a few quotes because she spoke so boldly and directly about the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Like what’s wrong with it. On the other hand, she also said very generously to my understanding in Kentucky: Let’s talk!