A Sacrament of Love: Black Catholic Reflections on the Life and Legacy of Bell Hooks


Bell hooks, author and social activist (Newscom/KRT/Donna Dietrich)

One of our country’s leading public intellectuals, black feminist author and social activist bell hooks has inspired many generations of scholars and non-scholars alike, not only because of his commitment to creating and producing pedagogy grounded in anti-racist and anti-patriarchal practices, but also because of his down-to-earth approach to “n anyone can do it”. also” approach to social justice work.

Hooks died in 2021 aged 69an immense loss both for the African-American community and for those who knew her personally and were deeply touched by her life’s work.

And for so many black Catholics, who have fought time and time again to be visible in a church that has continually benefited from our marginality and our status as “other”, the liberating practices of Hooks rooted in intersectional concerns of inequality of race, class and gender continue to inspire those with their own charisms of teaching, preaching, healing and prophetic witness to use their vocations as clergy, laity and theological educators to further transgress the systems of oppression.

“The teachings of Bell Hooks have influenced me as a Black Catholic woman by helping me to understand and embrace a freer, broader and intentionally intersectional embodiment of my identities,” said Sydney Curtis, PhD student in higher education at Loyola University Chicago. “Through her intersectional feminism, Hooks taught me to name myself and embrace myself as an ‘outsider within’ institutions like academia and the church. Her work helps me understand that a person who occupies these spaces and benefits from the proximity of their power and privilege, as we do as Catholics in a Christian-dominated society, can also bear the responsibility of criticizing and demanding their transformation to be more fair and inclusive.

bell hooks in 2014 (Wikimedia Commons/Alex Lozupone (Tduk), CC BY-SA 4.0)

bell hooks in 2014 (Wikimedia Commons/Alex Lozupone (Tduk), CC BY-SA 4.0)

Hooks’ work as a writer and social activist has primarily focused on feminism and its interconnection with issues of race, gender and capitalism, and how these continue to influence, shape and to structure systems of oppression and inequality. As Clay Risen wrote in The New York Times, Hooks “argued that feminism’s claim to speak for all women has pushed the unique experiences of working-class and black women to the margins.” .

Diana L. Hayes, professor emeritus of systematic theology at Georgetown University, said Hooks’ work has helped black women break into academia and society. Hayes first encountered hooks in the 1990s and although the two shared similar interests, they disagreed on one major thing.

“As a black feminist, Hooks saw no need for the emergence of a term specifically for black women, womanist,” Hayes said. “Like many black feminists, she saw feminism as sufficient to describe the roles, meanings and understandings of black women. I disagreed then and now. I believe it was also because, in its early days, feminism was a term coined by black women theologians who were interested in exploring their roles and responses as well as their contributions to the study of theology…. We basically agreed to disagree, not allowing the matter of denying our friendship.

While still a student at Stanford University, Hooks began writing her seminal 1981 classic Am I Not a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, which explored racism on black women, media roles and representations, the degradation of black women, the impact of sexism from a historical perspective, the education system, and the disregard for issues of race and class within feminism and a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. For the brackets, the devaluation of black femininity occurred “as a result of the sexual exploitation of black women during slavery that has not changed for hundreds of years.”

“When I was in my thirties and taught theology in the high school sponsored by my religious community, I co-hosted the Afro Club for students and immersed myself in all kinds of issues related to race. and racism,” said Notre Dame Sr. LaReine-Marie Mosely, professor of religious studies at St. Mary’s University. “Sometimes I found myself overwhelmed and physically exhausted. Bell Hooks came to my rescue. I searched through his book, Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Healing where I learned my need to take care of myself. I had encountered the challenges of working for racial justice as so many others had done before me. I wanted action and I wanted it yesterday. Hooks taught me that black people “come from a long line of ancestors who knew how to heal the wounded black psyche when assaulted by white supremacist beliefs.” “

However, Hooks’ work did not just focus on the plight of black women, but all people. His book Feminism is for everyone (2000) and subsequent essays and books on masculinity, including We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004) demonstrated that much of the work of anti-black racism, while rooted in patriarchal worldviews that excluded the experiences of black women, was also the direct result of centuries of oppression and exclusion. black men.

“I was deeply influenced by bell hooks’ assertion that ‘feminism is for everyone,'” said Andrew L. Prevot, associate professor of systematic theology at Boston College. “It’s the title of a book she first published in 2000, and it’s also a challenge to anyone who might act as if the fight to end patriarchal oppression is optional for them or something they can support from a distance. It’s a temptation for male theologians, including black male theologians like me – but the great black feminist author holds me and all of us accountable. She helped me to understand the close relationship between sexism, racism and other systems of domination.

“Bell Hooks challenged me to raise my awareness of how patriarchy affects me as a man,” added Byron Wratee, doctoral candidate in systematic theology at Boston College. “She taught me that patriarchy oppresses everyone. Bell Hooks was the first person to help me see the connection between war and patriarchy. She was the first to help me understand how young people men and boys are the greatest victims of war and warmongering.She had a deep concern for the spiritual and psychological well-being of young boys that made me question my own solidarity with other young men and boys around the world who are indoctrinated into toxic masculinity in the name of patriarchy.”

In a 2015 interview with The New York TimesHooks said the main goal throughout his career has been to “produce a theory that people could use”.

A woman prays during a Black History Month thanksgiving mass at the Immaculate Conception Church in the Jamaica Estates section of the New York borough of Queens on February 20.  (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

A woman prays during a Black History Month thanksgiving mass at the Immaculate Conception Church in the Jamaica Estates section of the New York borough of Queens on February 20. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“I have this phrase I use, ‘work with work,'” Hooks said. “So if somebody comes to me and they have one of those hook books that’s abused and beaten up, and every page is underlined, I know they’ve worked with the work. And that’s where what happens to me.”

In other interview with Bomb MagazineHooks notes that it’s crucial to think of writing as a form of activism, saying “it doesn’t matter if we write eloquently about decolonization if it’s just privileged white kids reading our eloquent theory about it. ? Masses of black people suffer from internalized racism, our intellectual work will never impact their lives if we don’t take it out of the academy. That’s why I think mass media is so important.

In the Times interview, Hooks comments that his life’s work was to demonstrate that the only way out of systems of marginalization is through love: “I wholeheartedly believe that the only way out of domination is love. love, and the only way to truly be able to connect with others, and know how to be, is to participate in all aspects of one’s life as a sacrament of love.”

Those familiar with Alice Walker’s work may recall her assertion in the Literary Collection In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Women’s Prose that a woman is a “black feminist or feminist of color” who is “committed to [the] survival and integrity of whole people, men and women.” More importantly, she is a lover of music, dance, food and plumpness; a lover of struggle, of the Spirit, folk and herself. Regardless of.

Hooks, with his work, embodied these principles and taught usquoting Mr. Scott Peck, that “love is like love… [it] is an act of [the] will – that is, both an intention and an action. “Like our Catholic faith, Bell’s philosophy on love is that it is a gracious gift given to mankind to be used to nurture not only our own but the spiritual growth of another. so love and abuse cannot coexist; true love is never devoid of justice.

The bell hooks life legacy is that genuine faith gives birth to works: works of advocacy, dismantling systems of power, undoing internalized self-hatred and eliminating hierarchies that seek to kill, divide and destroy. Hooks understood action, with love, as a sacrament —”[a] visible form of an invisible spirit, an outward manifestation of an inner power. She believed that spirituality and spiritual life were the centers from which we gather the strength to love and, in turn, give us the power to protest and resist.

For her, a commitment to the spiritual life required more than reading books; it requires a conscious effort where we are ready to unite our ways of thinking with our ways of acting. Only then can we embrace love as our true destiny.

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