Choosing Love in an Unloving Culture
“It makes sense that internalized racism and self-hate stand in the way of love.” — Bell Hooks
The article under review is “Living to Love”, written by Bell Hooks, an author who refers to herself as a “black woman intellectual” and a “revolutionary activist” (Hooks 1993). The piece demonstrates the importance of love and what it means to the black community and specifically to black women. As Hooks analyzes the definitions of love thought up by the bible and other writers, she creates an understanding of what love is and why it is essential. Light is shed on the factors that impede on our ability to love as the author brings the reader back in history, telling the story of a people who were and still are oppressed.
Hooks begins her piece by unveiling the reality of black women who are living in a culture in which there is nearly no love for them. A quote from her writing tells that it “is one of our private truths that is rarely a subject for public discussion” (Hooks 1993), private due to the immense pain that its reality brings upon black women. It’s explained that, while knowing love in this culture has not been easy for black people, it is not impossible. She acknowledges “it makes sense that internalized racism and self-hate stand in the way of love” (Hooks 1993). A world such as that leaves no room for love.
The mental domination that black people endured is what depresses Hooks the most; knowing that black people were deprived of the “capacity to experience our own agency and alter our ability to care and to love ourselves and others” (Hooks 1993). African Americans’ choice to love was an act of resistance against this oppression and it has not always been met with an ability to truly love and be loved.
Emerging from slavery, black people are wary of love, something that after years of oppression, separation, pain and suffering was not customary. Hooks mentions the story of another black woman who confronts her mother, questioning if real love between them was present in her upbringing. Understandably, a mother would be appalled and defensive at the accusation of not loving her child, responding by naming them ungrateful for what has been provided for them. But how does one know if a mother truly knows love that transforms and has experienced for herself what it means to love and be loved? Hooks explains that while making sure that your child has material necessities, “even in a context of material privilege, love may be absent” (Hooks 1993).
Love is essential. And when black people gained freedom from enslavement, they gained the freedom to love again. By no means did gaining the freedom to love suggest that they knew how to love one another well. In fact, the loss of love and the pain of love is what, to them, felt most familiar. In order to survive, black people repressed and contained emotion and failing to do so might have just meant that they wouldn’t. Foolishness was failing to deify those who held themselves back from emotion and from love.
Hooks states that the needs of black women will never be met until there is an ingrained belief that emotional well-being matters immensely. She teaches that “The art and practice of loving begins with our capacity to recognize and affirm ourselves” (Hooks 1993). Learning to replace negative critique of oneself with positive affirmations encourages a healthy love for oneself. Choosing to practice the art and act of loving requires unlearning the familiarity of not knowing love. It requires putting an end to denying inner needs and self-hate and demands an acceptance of the truth that black women deserve healing. People deserve healing and love is a tremendous healer.
Hooks’ article flawlessly bridged a history of African Americans to life today and composed an honest, black-centered piece. Too often there are black authors who write and speak for black people, but their output remains as white-centered as American society.
Many of us are aware of history and understand that a devastating slavery occurred. What people don’t as commonly know is how surviving through slavery affected people psychologically. Hooks touches on that uncommonly known aspect and does it ever so gracefully. Black people were enslaved at the hands of racist, prejudiced, white people and even today realize similar forms of oppression to those of the past. Not only must black people continue stand resilient to the reality of living without love, they must act in resistance against the system by living for love.
Reference: Hooks, Bell. “Living to Love.” 1993.
Learn about Bell Hooks: