/ 4 February 2022

Remembering bell hooks: There is no way to be ‘everybody’

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‘Dominator culture’, bell hooks wrote, ‘has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity’. Photo: Margaret Thomas/The The Washington Post/Getty Images

In this edition, Kebotlhale Motseothata and Moshibudi Motimele engage bell hooks’s liberatory black feminist practice of freedom from a Southern perspective. The writers look into the ways hooks radicalised their understanding of care and inequality through her pedagogies on woundedness and radical love, as well as her careful considerations of the classroom within and beyond tertiary institutions.

  Motseothata delves into her engagements with hooks on Twitter and Tumblr, how hooks “pervaded our screens and gadgets” and, in so doing, provided an accessible pedagogy away from institutional learning. The plight of online learning galvanized by the enduring pandemic is a great reminder of those who spearheaded learning through and in the metaverse.

 Arguably, bell hooks was at the centre of digital feminism; a digital feminism that opened up space to such an extent that — as Motseothata reminds us — the personal, the familial and the institutional were championed through online mobilities that eventually influenced the Fees Must Fall movement. 

  In hooks’s own words: “Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, revelling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community”. 

To move away from dominator culture also means that we have to make meaningful attempts at straying from what Motimele terms as “pocket popularities”, a condition whereby “an intellectual’s work is compartmentalised into easily digestible themes and soundbites while obscuring the full representation of the whole person and their oeuvre”. 

So yes, feminism is for everybody, and yet this “everybody” has now become so convoluted by the diluted and digestible ways we think of feminism when we think with and of “everybody”. There are lots of everybodys. The “everybody” are those who learn and think in praxis with feminist ideals. The “everybody” are those who sit with the perturbation and the susceptibility that comes with feminist thought. The “everybody” are also those who can and do think away from feminist theoretical frameworks because feminism (in praxis especially) is not merely a theoretical solution to longstanding cultures of domination. 

Motimele takes us right into the heart of the “everybody” by engaging with hooks and her writing regarding the classroom and its collective liberatory agenda. Motimele focuses on hooks’s pedagogies of healing and self-actualisation; in doing this she writes back to her own encounters and awareness of South African tertiary institutions and their ongoing culture of keeping the classroom or lecture hall as a space of docility under the duress of that imperial white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy status quos that, despite processes and attempts at decolonisation, remain firmly intact. 

This edition has very little intention of eulogising hooks; rather, it is an attempt to read and engage her from a Southern perspective, considering she was at the forefront of teaching us about how to love black people in and away from the institution. The edition hopes to act as a reminder of her teachings; and, not only that, but also to remind the reader that it is okay to refuse, to be solitary, to be tired, to sit in that tiredness, to rest, to be confused, to not know, to be your own kind of feminist, because there is no one way to be “everybody”.