There have been numerous, beautiful in memoriams for bell hooks. I, like so many others, was transformed by how she described love in All About Love. I also read Feminism is for Everybody. I have so many more words of hers to read, and I’m so glad I can. A legacy of love and feminism and interdependence.
While I never read Teaching to Transgress, I started it, only to be sidetracked by grad school reading. However, I did devour Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, who hooks cites on the dedication page for Teaching to Transgress:
" ... to begin always anew, to make, to reconstruct, and to not spoil, to refuse to bureaucratize the mind, to understand and to live life as a process—live to become ... " -Paulo Freire
I’ve often felt like I was educator adjacent. I worked as a speech-language pathologist in a couple of school systems. I worked as a librarian, doing instruction in higher education. While I was an educator, it wasn’t in the “traditional” sense, and that is even more reason why bell hooks’ work felt like home to me.
When I read what she wrote, even if it was a quote, that adjacency diminished. I felt loved for how I wanted to teach, how I wanted to bring people together, how I wanted to pay attention to the humanity in an educational setting…and outside of it.
And that’s what I loved about bell hooks, how love and teaching were in the same sentence, the same curriculum. As tweets poured out the day she died, full of quotes from her many books, I saw two common themes: love and teaching. While, for some, combining these concepts makes sense, colonization has taught us otherwise. And, the bureaucracy of educational systems embody this colonization, even if they intend to embody love. After all, impact always overrides intent. When love and teaching are together, students are less intimidated to ask for help. Educators learn from students as much as students learn from them. It’s a cycle, a circle, it’s reciprocity.
When I found out bell hooks died last week, I was in a brunch spot in Joshua Tree. I was floored and held back tears, thinking of how I read All About Love right after my divorce. Perhaps this sounds cliché, but this book was an opening for me. She depicted love in expansive ways I hadn’t thought about. It was raw, interdependent, beautiful, and not a fairy tale - which I needed to read. I may have known this intellectually, but she helped me to begin embodying how love could be available for me and how I could be available for it.
I remember how she wrote about a relationship that felt so perfect for her, but the other individual wasn’t available. This broke my heart, yet, the way she spoke about it was full of hope and gratitude for what it was. Acceptance. This was radical for me to read after being in a codependent, abusive relationship. Though, I’ve never regretted my marriage because, to regret it, would be to deny who I was coming into it and my becoming after it. And reading All About Love helped me see beyond the shame society wants to cast on divorce, as if marriage was a destination, a completion, a settling. In fact, relationships, marital or not, are usually the opposite - they are a point in your journey, and they can often be unsettling in ways that can be regenerative or degenerative or both. Either way, relationships reveal to us who we are, whether we want to know it or not.
When I commented to my boyfriend how I couldn’t understand how she died so young, 69, the same age as my dad’s early death which has its own jarring parallel, he said, “Well she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders.” Indeed, Black women usually do, as we cannot forget.
So I will not forget, and I’m grateful her legacy of words, honesty, and the love she exchanged with so many of us, whether she knew it or not, remains.
Thank you, bell hooks, for opening my eyes, for your warmth, for leading me to love in ways that defied the rom-com fairy tale my subconscious yearned for. My life is so much better for it.