When author bell hooks died on Dec. 12, 2021, the world mourned the loss of an exceptional author whose words inspired people to open their minds and engage in meaningul discussions.
Born on Sept. 25, 1952 as Gloria Jean Watkins, hooks used a pseudonym as a means to honor female legacies, including her great-grandmother, whose name was Bell Blair Hooks. She also chose to write her pen name in lowercase letters as a statement — she wanted the focus to be on her message rather than on her as an individual.
While the author's work, which includes more than 30 published books, spanned across genres and themes, she is best known for her work on race, feminism, and intersectionality. She made a pivotal contribution to Black feminist thought in a world that was male-dominated or seen through the eyes of white feminists.
Through her work as an author, professor, and social activist, hooks showed that we are all dealing and coping with some sort of oppression — but that we can take action to transform the world for the better. This overarching idea — and the multiple individual lessons that can be taken from her books — will remain important for years to come in the ongoing fight for racial justice.
Here are seven key takeways from hooks' books for Global Citizens.
1. Oppression Can Be Defeated Through Solidarity
From: Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981)
hooks' first full-length book, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, introduced her as a cultural critic and an influential feminist. The title borrows a famous quote from human rights activist Sojourner Truth’s speech delivered at the 1851 Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.
The book explores the phenomenon of being impacted by double oppression which, in this case, means facing oppression due to race and gender. The author probes at the lack of feminist theory in the literary world that includes the Black female experience and emphasizes the need for societal change. The book provided a critical account of what the racial equality and women’s equality movements were lacking at the time – solidarity.
2. Teaching Should Encompass Mind, Body, and Soul
From: Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994)
hooks was a revolutionary in the world of thought, which would naturally make her a teacher to the next generation of thought leaders.
In Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, hooks explains that education should be exciting and empowering to both students and teachers. She maintains that every classroom should have a different voice because that will ensure diversity in perspective, background, and the individuals in that space.
Teaching to Transgress encourages students to be active participants in their learning through critical thinking and for teachers to be actively committed in their holistic well-being so as to serve their communities well.
“Striving not just for knowledge in books,” hooks wrote in her message to teachers and children alike. “But knowledge about how to live in the world.”
3. Hope for a Better Society Can Be a Catalyst for Social Change
From: Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995)
Killing Rage: Ending Racism is a collection of essays by the prolific writer that explores collective Black rage. Through her writing, hooks analyzes the everyday incidences of racial harassment that she and other Black people endure, and urges people to not be complicit.
She also questions public discourse about racial injustice and why it is that women have so little recognition in mainstream media when it comes to the subject. hooks uses case studies from incidents that occurred in the past to uncover the reality of neo-colonialism.
In Killing Rage: Ending Racism, hooks teaches readers to resist racism by not repressing their rage when encountering this injustice, so that it can be a catalyst for positive change and a healing source of love and strength. It may not initially sound like it, but it is a book about hope.
4. Love Belongs in Every Social Justice Movement
From: All About Love: New Visions (2000)
“The search for love continues even in the face of great odds,” was the declaration painted on a wall in graffiti that grabbed hooks’ attention while she was teaching at Yale University. In All About Love: New Visions, hooks shows her vulnerable side as she attempts to give the elusive topic of love a meaning, and urges readers to always think of love as an action, rather than a feeling.
All About Love: New Visions is a New York Times bestseller and arguably her most popular work. This book is true to its name and is an offering for people to return to love — but with a twist. hooks tells us that we cannot claim there is love if there is no justice. The biggest takeaway for Global Citizens from this book is that there is a place for love in any social justice movement.
5. Feminism Is a Social Movement That Benefits Everyone
From: Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000)
hooks spent years yearning and searching for a book of this nature before deciding that she would have to write it. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics is a modern-day manual for what the feminist movement actually is — a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was the definition she appreciated as it does not make men the enemy and it is one that acknowledged that women could be sexist too.
Even though hooks – and other feminists in their discussions about sisterhood – identified that all women were, to some degree, victimized by the patriarchy, these discussions acknowledged that some women also experienced discrimination through classism and racism, on top of sexism.
The key lesson from this book is that everyone, young or old, can be a feminist, but it emphasizes the need to recognize intersectionality in our existence — a concept that recognizes that all oppression is linked, be it by race, class, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation, and more.
6. Poverty Is a Social Injustice
From: Where We Stand: Class Matters (2000)
Where We Stand: Class Matters is a book that addresses the elephant in the room: classism. According to hooks, even though there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor that creates class segregation, society is very passive in matters regarding class.
hooks employs vulnerability by sharing personal experiences, almost like a memoir, of how she experienced classism in her family. Where We Stand: Class Matters is a reflection from a young Black woman who realizes that her social standing and her material possessions determine the quality of her life — and this is a reality for all people.
Where We Stand recounts her anguish in the face of a world of extremes, and how people living in poverty have no public voice. hooks teaches readers that we need to know where we stand so that we are able to work towards meaningful social change. We need to speak about all kinds of injustices, including poverty, and how it is identified in the class system.
7. We Need Each Other
From: The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (2004)
In this book, hooks criticizes the notion of “anti-male” feminism. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love reflects on the patriarchy’s effect on men and their ability, or rather inability, to express their emotions and love freely. She addresses the male will to change and embrace feminism in order to break free of the chains of patriarchal culture.
The Will to Change teaches us as Global Citizens that people of all genders belong together and that this togetherness is where our true power lies.