Bell Hooks is an American author, social activist, and feminist. She was born in 1952 in a segregationist society (Otto, 2011). As a black female writer, most of Bell Hooks writings focus on a range of thematic concerns such as gender, capitalism, history, mass media, sexuality, and the intersectionality of race (Florence, 2016). Bell Hooks has authored numerous scholarly articles and, well, over thirty books. One of her most interesting books is her memoirs, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood. In this autography, Bell Hooks gives a vivid description of the journey of a determined black child in a racist society. In her early life, she learns that children, men and women play different roles in the society. Following her research later in life, Bell realizes that historically, African-American women often find themselves in a dilemma of whether to support the Suffrage Movement thus ignoring the racial element of womanhood or support the Civil Rights Movement and experience the similar patriarchal order that afflicts them (Florence, 2016). In this respect, Bell Hooks uses her book, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood, to shed light on the racism that often characterizes most current feminist movements. This paper provides a reflection of Bell Hooks' book and insight into the historical social construction of racism. Racism is a social construction that seems to have become unwittingly ingrained in the American society in different proportions during the various historical eras.
Long after the abolishment of the slave trade, African-Americans have continued to be subjected to racism. The definition of racism primarily depends on when and where the term is being used because it seems to have evolved over time(Guess, 2006). Historically, the blacks came into America either as indentured servants or slaves to work on the farms of whites (Otto, 2011). Although there have been efforts to end racism by giving equal rights to all Americans, such as voting rights, irrespective of race, the American minority group still faces racial segregation in the society. It becomes particularly worse for a black woman because not only is she segregated on the basis of gender but also her race (Hooks, 2000). Bell Hooks explicitly tackles this issue in her book Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood in so unique a method that many feminists are said to have found the book unorthodox and divisive although she maintained that her unique writing style was intended to make the book accessible to all despite their gender, class or race (Shockley, 1997). Bell Hooks starts her memoirs by talking about a quilt which has been given to her by her mother. She then goes on to describe how her siblings and other children of her class grew up, oblivious of the opinion that they were poor since neither did they have any problem with the food they ate nor the dolls they played with (Hooks, 1996). They thought that was enough and never craved for what their white counterparts had. As innocent as they were, they just accepted themselves unconditionally. Bell Hooks explains that even when the white kids were taken to school on the school bus while they walked, she considered her family as normal. Such is the innocence of a child before they grow up, become enlightened and realize that all is not well. This aspect helps to build up the idea of racism in a very intelligent manner that Bell Hooks uses to hammer her point.
Historically, racism has been more of a social construction whereby different social groups agree, impose and accept particular opinions and personal ideas concerning life affairs. Racism has no biological reality (Guess, 2006). It exists because some people believe that some races are superior to others. According to Florence (2016), race is a subject that the daily lives of Americans to a large extent. As a result of their social orientations, many Americans mostly see the world through the lenses of race that color their world as a minority, Mexican, white, Asian, black or other. Florence (2016) emphasizes that, in the process, the segregationist lens affects the lives of people in terms of the schools they attend, what they eat, the places they live, the kind of friends they make and keep, the types of jobs they do, and even the amount of money they make. In her book, Bell Hooks makes it clear that she is not affected by the racial lens until, well, during her teenage years when she realizes that life in a segregationist society is not as rosy as she thought. As an African-American girl, Hooks becomes angry when, during a wedding practice, she is told that she is only allowed to participate because she is lucky. Lucky that she is lighter-skinned, not black black, not dark brown, lucky to have hair that is almost straight (9). Although this may not have struck as hard as intended, the statement exposes the outright racism that seems to dictate the direction of everyday lives of many Americans. As aforementioned, racism is only a social construction, and it even becomes worse for black women who are segregated on both the basis of gender and race. One thing that Hooks learns is that even the church is no better; women are not supposed to preach (74), leave alone Black women. As she grows up, Hooks is faced with various injustices such as classism, sexism, and racism both in her community and family. She badly needs the privacy to write, and explore her sexuality without having to worry about what others will think of her. Unfortunately, such a platform is not available. This makes Hooks realize that she wants something better for the female gender, and it may have been one of the things that lay the foundation for her activism and advocacy in the field of feminism. Just like the gradual growth of racism in the different historical eras, Hooks awareness of racism and sexism grows gradually.
As a social construction, racism has far-reaching consequences. Guess (2006) states that the fact that racism is not ontologically objective shapes the way people view themselves and others. Through the different eras in history, the meaning tagged to racism has faced much instability, some of which is due to geographical differences (Otto, 2011). Nevertheless, it is possible to decipher what race is and the way it works. Historically, it is the dominant group in the society that seems to define and impose the boundaries of race. After completing their terms, the Africans who had been brought to America as indentured servants were freed, and at the time, the color line had not been determined hence segregation was at its bare minimum (Guess, 2006). However, as more and more Africans became free, the white population began fearing that they may lose their hegemonic control due to the threat posed by the growing black population (Guess, 2006). People started being discriminated on the basis of their skin color. Bell Hooks presents this development very creatively in her book. Her experiences as an African American point to the notion that the primary indicator of race in the American society is ones skin color. As aforementioned, she is told that she is only lucky because her skin color is lighter. This implies that she may have escaped too much discrimination as compared to her darker counterparts due to her lighter skin tone. At one point, Hooks is not only rewarded, supported and encouraged, especially by one of the founders of her local church, Miss Erma, but also showered with the love of Big Mama, her great-grandmother, and Saru, her grandmother. Although such actions may be considered obvious and dictated by the setting, the reader of Hooks book, Bone Black: Girlhood Memories cannot fail to notice the many veils behind this treatment. Florence (2016) argues that most perpetrators of racism try to cover up their unacceptable practice by being good to the victims. It seems to be more out of sympathy than genuine assistance. Despite all the nice treatment that Hooks gets from her local church and family, she does not get convinced enough that all is well. Otto (2011) points out that as she grows up, Hooks feels increasingly isolated from her family and community. She refuses to accept the message she is pounded with: that she, as a black girl, is unable or unworthy to have any substantial control over her life, that it is wrong to want something different for herself than what other black girls want or what her family wants for her(194). Ironically, Hooks wants more than what an ordinary black woman wants to pursue.
In her book, Bell Hooks implies that we must rethink racism and feminism. Racism seems to have thrived intermittently during the history of mankind. Although emancipation efforts have bore fruit at times, it has become exceedingly difficult to wipe out the vice. The black woman is particularly affected. As a young woman, Bell Hooks feels like an outsider in her own community. She feels so lonely and desperately longs for a sense of belonging that she says:
I never say out loud that I could die in this space of loneliness, of outsiderness. I never say out loud I want to kill myself to go away from all this. I never tell anyone how much I want to belong (181).
As an African-American woman, Hooks feels as if her life is tumbling down. It is not until Rilke talks to her that she is able to realize the potential in her. She can now recognize herself as a young writer and poet who can use the power of words to emancipate her fellow African-American women. Feminist theories do not seem to have done much in the emancipation process. In one of her books entitled Feminist Theory from Margin to Center,' Hooks bases her philosophy on African-American feminist thought. She believes in the philosophy of articulating and recognizing practical feminist theories of empowerment that are easily accessible to African-American women. According to Hooks, a practical feminist theory should be able to create political solidarity with different women who belong to different socioeconomic classes and ethnicities. Only then can we have transformative politics and which is not entrenched in the western ideology. I think Hooks is right on point. She has always advocated for a kind of feminism that promotes solidarity between classes, races, and genders. A poor African-American woman, for instance, goes through a lot of suffering as she is discriminated on the basis of her class, gender, and race. These black women have been silenced in various forums in history and Hooks feels that if they have to be liberated, men should also be incorporated since they, too, have to play a role in confronting, exposing, opposing and transforming the aspect of sexism (Hooks, 2000). True liberation can only come from within, not without. Bell Hooks wraps up her book Bone Black by declaring that she has realized that it is her work to find out where she belong(183). It is useless to complain forever about segregation while doing nothing about it.
Although critics have accused Hooks of being rather confrontational in tackling segregation issues, she has remained firm since she believes that change is a disconcerting and painful process. Many people tend to resist change, mainly because they are not ready to risk with what lurks ahead. As a black female writer, Hooks believes that language has the power to transform. It has the power to transform the way people view themselves and others. In her book, Bone Black Hooks has managed to use the power of language to turn personal pain into public energy. She has used personal experiences to explore the social construction of racism, sexism and class differences. Her main interest is to bridge the gap between the private and public views on various issues of concern.
In conclusion, it is clear that Bell Hooks has chosen a su...
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