"Like Black feminist scholars before her, she fought against structural and institutional oppression."Esmé Kenney with permission for Varsity

bell hooks, the feminist thinker, the radical activist, the scholar, the teacher, the poet, died on the 15th December 2021, at the age of 69.

Best known for writing Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984) and All About Love: New Visions (2000), her works explored the intersections between white supremacy, the patriarchy and class domination. She argued that these concepts had to be understood through their interlinked ability to produce and perpetuate domination and privilege. Instead of ‘intersectionality’, hooks insisted on using the term “imperialist - white supremacist - capitalist - patriarchy”, because she believed there was power in naming the enemy.

“hooks believed in building a sense of unity among people who shared a common struggle”

“my writing is a form of activism”

Like the Black feminist scholars before her, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, she fought against structural and institutional oppression. However, hooks’ legacy is singular in the way she centred this fight around the importance of community and unity.

“One of the most vital ways we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone.”

hooks believed in building a sense of unity among black Americans, in creating a community out of people who shared a common struggle. In her short story Homeplace: a site of Resistance (1989), she described her mother’s ability to create a homeplace, a necessary space where she felt safe and accepted despite growing up in an overwhelmingly white world. But hooks’ homeplace had a radical political dimension because it was above all a place where “resistance was built out of recovery”.

She took female contribution in building the homeplace as her key focus and starting point to criticize the exclusive nature of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Women’s roles and achievements went on widely unrecognized, which she thought was symbolic of the overall devaluation of black women. Out of her critique, she made the case for a new movement, based on unity within black communities in order to voice issues the Civil Rights failed to address.

“hooks reconceptualized sisterhood, arguing women's solidarity was radical”

“Do we have to call every woman sister?”

hooks’ idea of community permeated her feminist framework, as she thought that a sense of sisterhood was fundamental in order to create an inclusive feminist movement.

She criticized second-wave feminism for advertising sisterhood while failing to include the voices of Black and working-class women, and consequently re-inscribing racial and classist hierarchies in their practices. The second-wave feminism definition of sisterhood was based on the idea of a “common oppression of women” which hooks argued hid the true nature of women’s varied and complex social realities.

In her text Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women, hooks reconceptualized sisterhood, arguing women's solidarity was radical. For her, sisterhood implied women had to unlearn all they had previously accepted, living in a society that disregarded meaningful relationships between women and taught them to see other women as enemies. Sisterhood was therefore not a choice but a revolutionary political commitment.

“She believed an ethic of love was key to shift from a “self-centered longing for change” to a collective liberation struggle”

“The moment we begin to love, we begin to move against domination”

hook’s idea of community centred around the transformative power of love. To choose love, she thought, was to go against the prevailing ideology of domination, which required violence to sustain itself. This systemic violence was, in turn, internalized by individuals, who were eventually unable to love themselves and others because they were not taught what love is. Love was therefore necessary because it was the only way to eradicate black self-hatred and women’s reliance on male validation.


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Love, or lack thereof, played an essential role in the achievements and failures of the Civil Rights Movements. Martin Luther King’s discourse on black self-love, on loving our enemies, was healing and a driving force of change. The Black Power Movements, “the new militancy of masculinist black power”, moving away from that love ethic, was interpreted by hooks as the beginning of the end of the movement. Patriarchal manhood became a norm among black political leaders, coercion and violence became the quintessential expression of freedom, love became a weakness. The black liberation struggle started following the masculinist rules of the system. Therefore, she believed an ethic of love was key to shift from a “self-centered longing for change” to a collective liberation struggle. Because Love, she said, was “the practice of Freedom”.

“Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation”

Today, as we remember bell hooks, we have to remember that solidarity is political, unity necessary and love a revolution.

All quotes used in this article are from bell hook's works Understanding Patriarchy and All About Love: New Visions.