Minor Literature #2: Feminist Theory from Margin to Center by: bell hooks

This is a far-fetch for me in categorizing feminism with Minor-Literature, but I will go forth in proving how this particular book could be defined as Minor-Literature.

I was exposed to feminism in high-school and found it empowering, but only to an extent. I was taught that feminism was a fight for women’s rights and for equality. It was a move to end sexism. However, the packaging of feminism at this point was geared towards White, upper-class women that were seeking to move outside of the home into the work-place. Unfortunately, this first-wave form of feminism didn’t speak or relate to all women. In putting this into perspective, bell hooks stated in “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center” that Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” “ignored the existence of all non-white women and poor White women. She did not tell readers whether it was more fulfilling to be a maid, a babysitter, a factory worker, a clerk, or a prostitute, than to be a leisure class housewife” (2). Additionally, hooks stated that “she made her plight and the plight of white women like herself synonymous with a condition affecting all American women. In so doing, she deflected attention away from her classism, her racism, her sexist attitudes towards the masses of American women” (2).

Additionally, hooks further breaks down the issue that many Americans have with in defining feminism. Hooks stated that “most people in the United States think of feminism or the more commonly used term “women’s lib” as a movement that aims to make women the social equals of men. This broad definition, popularized by the media and mainstream segments of the movement, raises problematic questions. Since men are not equals in white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to? Do women share a common vision of what equality means? Implicit in this simplistic definition of women’s liberation is a dismissal of race and class as factors that, in conjunction with sexism, determine the extent to which an individual will be discriminated against, exploited, or oppressed. Bourgeois white women interested in women’s rights issues have been satisfied with simple definitions for obvious reasons. Rhetorically placing themselves in the same social category as oppressed women, they were not anxious to call attention to race and class privilege” (18).

bell hooks described feminism as “the struggle to end sexist oppression. Its aim is not to benefit solely any specific group of women, any particular race or class of women. It does not privilege women over men. It has the power to transform in a meaningful way all of our lives. Most importantly, feminism is neither a lifestyle nor a ready-made identity or role one can step into” (26).

In reading this text, I was being told that my experience(s) as a Black American woman was just as relevant as a White woman’s experience(s). In high-school, I was only being taught about first-wave feminism that benefited upper-class White women. Unfortunately, my Women Studies’ teacher would seek to apply this one form of feminism to various cultures all across the world. She would have us watch documentaries over women-suffrage (which excluded women of color), women from the Middle East, and the roles of women throughout history. However, the class was purely centered around this Western, White upper-class form of feminism which excluded women of color and poor White-women.

Fortunately, I was exposed to Black feminist and writer, Dr. bell hooks. In a way, bell hooks is my favorite feminist of all times. She connects the dots and doesn’t just say that feminism is about sexism. No, she looks at feminism through various lenses in order for individuals to grasp the inter-connectedness of: racism, sexism, patriarchy, and imperialism. She looks at how all of these factors affects the topic of feminism and the way we think about it. It is not just about women/men fighting against sexism. It is much deeper. It is about seeing how various classes and various racial-groups are struggling/dealing with capitalism/colonialism/racism/sexism. So, bell hooks stated very bluntly that “we have to constantly critique imperialist white supremacist patriarchal culture because it is normalized by mass media and rendered unproblematic.”

She is unwrapping feminism in a way that it can no longer be packaged up with upper-class White women in mind. She is reconstructing feminism and forcing people to see the intersectionality of: race, sex, power, and money. For many people, feminism is simply about fighting sexism. However, bell hooks would argue that this isn’t good enough because every women will not have the same struggles. The upper-class White American woman will not have the same experiences as poor women living in rural Brazil. This is and will not be the case because there are factors affecting the experiences of these women’s lives.

So, the thing about bell hooks that I love is her complexity. She breaks down the way we view things and how mass-media influences us. Furthermore, she makes this complexity so easy to understand that you could quickly see how all of the dots connect to one another. I remember going to the Women Studies’ Department at my university and asking about Black feminism and being told that I should contact the Black Studies’ Department for information about this particular form of feminism. This really stirred something up in me. I didn’t understand why the Women Studies’ Department didn’t have various views/perspectives of feminism present within their department. They ARE responsible for educating women and men on women’s rights. However, there is still this one form of feminism that they insist on being most important. I guess the plight of women of color aren’t as important as a White woman’s plight towards equality. I still believe that Black feminism is marginalized and “to be in the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body”. So, I learned from that experience that there is still racism happening in feminism. I will not be okay with this nor tolerate it, so watch out because women of color are wanting their voices to be heard. Let me back up for a bit! When I was directed to go to the Black Studies’ department, I was in utter dismay. This was the one place that women on campus would totally believe could serve them. However, this institutionalize marginalization of women of color experiences is just ridiculous. I wanted to scream. I couldn’t believe my ears when I was told that a department that focuses on women didn’t have the resources available to help all women. As the title of hooks’ book reads “From Margin to Center,” she is truly trying to take the experiences of women of color and place it in the center. It isn’t about being marginalized anymore. No, it is about acknowledgement. It is about being heard.

In short, bell hooks is definitely a feminist that everyone should read on, see in person, and study. Her works will blow you away! It will definitely open your eyes up to feminism in a new and fresh way. You will not be disappointed!

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Upon the release of Amir Sulaiman’s “The Opening” (2013) I had to download it onto my
computer to put on repeat. Every since I’ve discovered spoken-word I’ve enjoyed
listening to Amir Sulaiman’s poetry. I had first saw Amir Sulaiman perform
“She’d Prefer A Broken Neck…” for Russel Simmon’s Def Jam Poetry. After
listening to his poetry online, I knew I had to keep myself updated on any new
poems from him. Sulaiman’s poetic-style is raw, spiritual, real, and truthful. I
personally believe that Sulaiman could carry a whole night of poetry alone
without anyone introducing him or closing the show. If I ever had the chance to
see Sulaiman live I would most definitely purchase a ticket. Sulaiman’s poetry
is very much in your face and without apologies. It penetrates you straight in
the heart. It makes you think about many issues within the world around you.

On his new album, “The Opening”, Sulaiman offers listeners with an uprising of words set aflame. The whole album is a favorite of mines, but there are certain tracks on the album that leaves me pressing repeat. One of the tracks I have enjoyed from day one is “Come To The Hills” feature Drea Nur. Actually, this is the last track to the album and it leaves you
questioning many things. It definitely stirs up a sense of uneasiness in your
soul. Sulaiman brings up Emmit Till and his death along with the emasculation of
great Black men in history. He compared and contrasted the realities of the past
with the realities of today. Sulaiman discussed the harsh-realities facing
Blacks and the mentalities of current Blacks in American-society. There is
definitely alot of testerone on this track. In listening to this track, I think
about the present music that many Black-artists produce in American-society and
I weep. Alot of the present mainstream music produced within rap and hip-hop is
demeaning, materialistic, and unrealistic. There is a removal of reality being
presented in alot of mainstream music. In listening to Sulaiman’s spoken-word
piece, I think about the Black female-presence and how it interacts with the
Black-male. The majority of the track centers around the emasculation of the
Black-male and the history of the past. Not only does the track center around
the emasculation of the Black-male, but Sulaiman looks at the climate of current
politics for Black-males in America. The track leaves the listener questioning
the current generation’s response to its past history along with generations to
follow. Of course, this is interpretive and just from my own analysis.

As you peruse your way through the album, you may find yourself sitting within your thoughts. It’s okay. There’s nothing to worry about…for right now. Sulaiman created an award’s praiseworthy album in my book. Every single track on the album discusses heart-wrenching truths and realities that many people shy away from. I will definitely say that the album is political and revolutionary.

So, what are the main topics throughout the album? I would have to list off a few topics:
*The place for race and its relevance in American-society
* What is masculinity
* Is the artist the same as his/her art?
* The role of death in our lives
* Faith
* Love
* Pain
* Identity
and more.

There’s alot to take away from the album and there’s more to be analyzed, but this is just a brief analysis on one of the tracks that I’ve enjoyed personally. The album will provoke many questions and will stir-up some unruly conversations in social-gatherings about many of the topics I listed above. The album is definitely an opening to something bigger than just words on Sulaiman’s notepad.

Here’s the link to the full-album: https://amirsulaiman.bandcamp.com/album/the-opening

If anyone is interested in discussing the album, let me know! It’s worth having dialogue about in the near future.

Finding Room for African/Black-ness in Eurocentric Educational-Systems

In looking at the whole human-experience, particularly the African-American-experience, I wanted to analyze how Esperanza Spalding’s song, “Black Gold” highlights the importance of self-awareness. In many of the classes I have taken throughout childhood and while in college, I can honestly say that African/African-American history has never really settled within the textbooks I have read. Many of the textbooks that I read from are Eurocentric and Western, thus lacking the experiences of the ‘other’. In having to grasp with this reality, I am very much concerned about the education of those that will come after me. Recently, I was quizzed by a friend over Africa and I was stunned that I couldn’t give much information about this continent. However, if I was quizzed over Europe I would’ve found myself spurting out knowledge left and right. So, why am I ignorant about Africa? Yes, mother Africa. Why am I ignorant about my beginnings? My family’s beginnings? It’s been deeply engrained within me from a young-age that Blacks were enslaved individuals coming from Africa that had to contend with the colonialization of Europeans. However, what about pre-colonial Africa? Why are the lectures we so commonly hear about dealing with post-colonial Africa and the enslavement of Africans in the 19th and 20th century? I am quite upset that I have relied so heavily on the education-system to teach me about me when it is very much Eurocentric in nature.

It is quite possible that I am simply over-exaggerating on these points, but I’m not quite sure if education-systems are getting better at implementing Africa into curriculums. America is still very much racialized. There is still this sense of ‘otherness’ from those that aren’t European or Anglo-Saxon. In this ‘otherness’, we find ourselves and educators romanticizing these ‘other’ countries that aren’t Western. One place in particular that I can think of when we discuss romanticism is India. India is a country that is continuously romanticized by many educators, writers, and intellectuals. However, this romanticism can prevent the neccessary dialogue that we need to break down this caste-system in which it has created. In many of own experiences, I have felt compelled to ask my professors aloud why we aren’t learning about non-Western countries. However, I felt that my question would impose a discord that would incite debate about the West vs. the East. In speaking with one of my professors within the English-department at my university about the implementation of African literary-works, she told me that African literary-works belong within the Foreign-Language department. I was quite stunned because African-history is very much American-history, if we were honest. We cannot isolate the cultural-context(s) of groups from a larger context. Africans came from various countries prior to their enslavement and in order for us to truly talk about Africans, we need to have prior knowledge of their way(s) of life. However, the discussions that we see nowadays is very much limited. We always find ourselves debating and arguing about the right-ness and the wrong-ness of slavery, but we never bring into the picture the lifestyle(s) of these enslaved Africans. Also, this is quite troubling for many African-American youths as well. As far as I can remember, I have always learnt about the enslavement of Africans and their progression in becoming apart of the American-framework. I learnt about the stereotypes and struggles of Africans becoming apart of the social/economical/cultural climate of America. However, where is the social/economical/cultural context of Africans prior to their enslavement? Why is this often left out of the conversation in most classes that aren’t centered in a Black/African-Studies’ deparment? As long as we only look at the second-half of an individual’s plight for success/inclusion/accomplishments then you’ll never quite understand their whole experience without looking at everything.

Recently, I stumbled upon a new type of criticism called “Africana Critical Theory” and it centers on looking at the experiences of Africans and Blacks from a critical standpoint in their social/economical/cultural context while applying new rules of engagement that will look at the circumstances of Blacks/Africans in their cultural context(s). In addition, the experiences of Blacks/Africans will no longer be told from a Eurocentric-standpoint that strips away Blacks/Africans from their actual contexts and realities. In being in a Literary-Criticism class, I have found myself becoming more analytical in my readings and not just taking what I read at face-value. However, if you’re just reading something as a leisurely activity….then fine. However, I am seeking to become critical of the different ideologies and agendas that are commonly placed within the books/articles/journals/magazines that we expose ourselves too. In being able to critically-examine the things you take in you will become aware of the subliminal messages you unconsciously taking in. This is really important when we think about the media and the things that younger children are exposed to throughout their daily lives. So, I am seeking to push the boundaries and find a new center in how we talk about the history of Blacks and Africans.

In looking at the different singers, musicians, authors, writers and intellectuals-past and present, I hope to immerse myself within the richness of Black/African-ness. For a good part of my life, I have found myself drowned in Eurocentrism and have found myself very distant from my own heritage(s) and this is disturbing to me. In addition, identity is extremely important and if a person doesn’t know themselves than how can they ever experience true peace. What do a young kid do when they look in the mirror and can’t recognize themselves because the only thing they find is shattered pieces of him/herself that isn’t really he/she? In many ways, we are socialized into our being from a young age, but it comes to a point in which we have to be okay with who we have become. So, in seeking to get to that point of accepting my identity I am striving to learn about me. I am wanting to know about me before colonialism and even after colonialism, if there is such thing. I haven’t decided if its possible to be post-colonial, but we will see. I have much research to do and many years of learning to catch up on due to my own inadequacies in learning about myself.

Nonetheless, I had ran across a song called “Gold Black” by Esperanza Spalding that is fantastic. I just love this song because of the message that it sends out identity and self-awareness. I personally find this song as being one of the most empowering currently in the music-industry. Yes, the song is geared towards African-American males, but it can be applied for males and females. I do not have a problem with applying or finding richness in what is being said.

Enjoy!