October 2006 Interview: bell hooks

Download the interview in mp3 format


bell hooks is one of the most influential intellectuals, feminists and social activists of the 20th and 21st centuries. She has published over thirty books, written numerous scholarly and mainstream articles and appeared in several documentary films. Her work focuses on the crossroads between race, class and gender. I could go on all day about how dope bell hooks is. She is a role model and an inspiration.

On the day I interviewed bell, I got to kick it with her the whole day, we went shopping at the Salvation Army and she picked me out a nice hat. We went to an art exhibit at the Community arts center here in Syracuse and grabbed some Thai food. And seriously, y’all-this woman down to earth. This has been my favorite interview yet; I can’t wait to share with the Blackademics community. So let’s go!

bell hooks: It’s a pleasure to be sitting here with you my brother.

Pierce Freelon: Aww, thank you. Okay, few questions. What are some of the issues you’ve faced (as a female) in the academy and perhaps advice for other sisters out there and techniques for overcoming some of the struggles you’ve faced?

bh: Any woman who wishes to be an intellectual, to write non-fiction, to deal with theory, faces a lot of discrimination coming her way and perhaps even self-doubt because there aren’t that many who’ve gone before you. And I think that the most powerful tool we can have is to be clear about our intent. To know what it is we want to do rather than going into institutions thinking that the institution is going to frame for us, like advisors or what we should do because often those institutions have not been places that have given thought to the role of black women in academia. I think it’s really important to have life strategies and part of that is sort of knowing where you want to go so you can have a map that helps you to get there. And the traditional way tells us oh we get into school and someone else advises us, helps us, but that often I think does not work for African Americans female and male and it is often important for us to have our sense of our map prior to entering into graduate school or you know even as assistant professors. Because what works for the dominant culture often does not work for us.

PF: Mmm. Okay. Um another question. I was wondering if you could talk about the development of black feminism and what are the new issues for black women to address?

bh: Well I think that feminism as a theoretical enterprise is approached differently by Black women depending on where we are. There are more reformist Black women who tend to use the phrase “Black feminism” it’s not a phrase I use that much because I’m much more of a radical militant feminist who believes that women of color and Black women in particular have written the cutting edge theory and really were the individuals who exploded feminist theory into the directions that has made it more powerful. So I see us as the leaders not just of Black people and Black women in terms of feminism but in terms of the movement as a whole. So I would like us much more to claim feminism and then be specific about when we’re relating it to Black people.

PF: Okay, okay going off of my question was a question from one of our contributors, Danielle, she wanted to know “as an African American female activist, how are you able to balance the African American female cause (with the) the African American cause, which is predominantly male dominated.”

bh: I think that first of all, like when I talk again about being clear about your intent. My cause is the cause of justice it has no race no gender no class because my mission as a thinker as an activist is to be part of the struggle to end domination wherever it arises. And so I think that if Black women stand strong and our commitment is to ending domination I know that I’m supporting Black males, Black children male and female Black elderly because the bottom line is the struggle to end domination in all its forms.

PF: Okay, so we’re going to switch gears a little bit. Weusi Baraka, another one of our writers was curious as to what if any Hip-Hop you’re checking out.

bh: I don’t tend to listen to a lot of Hip-Hop I have very eclectic musical taste but I mean, I listen to-oh I’m gonna forget his name now, Ja…

PF: Ja… don’t say Rule.

bh: Yes, no, no, no not that… Jah. He has the thing like, “you’re playing yourself” that’s one of my favorite songs. Jah-Way? I mean, it’s like.

PF: Do you know where he’s from?

No but I like really listen to him a lot and I don’t know why I can’t think of his name. Because he has very politicized songs about, you know that are talking about how we have to respect ourselves and so, when I do listen to hip-hop it’s much more the visionary hip-hop. And one of the things that I try to tell people all the time is Hip-Hop is diverse. But the white, capitalist producers and distributors of Hip-Hop are most interested in the Hip-Hip that is misogynist, that is Black-hating, that is pugilistic, that is to say all about fighting and war and killing and gangsterism. But as we know there are all kinds of Hip-Hop and there’s Hip-Hop against rape against racism, but it’s not my number one kind of music.

PF: what is your number one, then?

bh: Well, you know, cause I live in Kentucky and I’m a country girl I listen to a lot of Folk, Country, and then I listen to a lot of R&B I’m like a nostalgia music person. Like I don’t know for some reason, I’ve been hung up recently on re-listening to the tape from the Big Chill and I listen to Lauryn Hill I’m a big Lauryn Hill fan.

PF: Me too, aren’t we all.

bh: I’m a big- you know, I still listen to old Fugees stuff because,

PF: oh yes, The Score

bh: They are my group, you know? And so, I listen of course to western classical music stuff.

PF: Alright, I want to go through a list of questions where I’ll shout out two things and you can pick one and expound upon it if you want but just looking for really brief answers. Diana Ross or Beyonce?

bh: Diana Ross.

Bush or Nixon?

bh: Two uglies, it’s impossible, they should both be.. you know, go to a peaceful death.

PF: Haha, okay. Drive-in or DVD, like the movie- a drive in movie or DVD?

bh: DVD.

PF: Temptations of the Four Tops?

bh: Temptations.

PF: Okay, work at a desk or work in the streets?

bh: Work in the streets.

PF: Carter or Clinton?

bh: Carter.

PF: Okay, now another question-Shawn Carter or George Clinton? Shawn Carter being Jay-Z, the rapper.

bh: Shawn Carter without a doubt.

PF: Biggie or Tupac?

bh: Tupac. Tupac had more vision I think than Biggie had.

PF: John McWhorter or Alan Keyes.

bh: Another, like, strike.

PF: Haha. Okay, attack or be attacked.

bh: What’s that? Attack or be attacked… I think that’s another strike because I’m not violent.

PF: Okay, Cornel West or bell hooks

bh: Cornell West and bell you can’t separate the two that’s like the others are a strikeout that’s like you want them together cause then you have more power.

PF: Yes, alright, well that pretty much concludes I wanted to keep it brief and also if there’s any projects that you’re working on that you wanted to talk about,

bh: Well what I’m working on now is a book about Kentucky that focuses a lot on the role of Black people in farming and the Black farmer and environmentalism. We spoke, you and I earlier about, you know, just our diet and the number of diseases that are killing Black people that are diet related. So I’m interested in Black people and organic farming, and taking what we eat seriously as part of self-determination.

PF: That sounds great. We’re actually discussing that on Blackademics, one of the big things my brother brought to my attention was just that, what we were talking about earlier, so that really important work. Okay thank you, thank you so much for your time.

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