NSights Blog

Reflecting on Black History Month and bell hooks

University Diversity & Inclusion Officer Eloisa Gordon-Mora, Ph.D. remembers the trailblazing activist

The celebration of Black History Month, which owes its origins to historian Carter G. Woodson, born in Virginia in 1875 to enslaved parents, serves as a critical moment to celebrate, but also to reflect profoundly on the serious, historical, and ongoing challenges that racism epitomizes for our US democracy. History is the entry point of understanding and theory, so therefore, we need to ground ourselves in history when confronting racism and other forms of oppressions. Yet, at times, when facing the most recent events of racism and violence of the past two years, for example, one hears the phrase, “how did we get here?”, when that racism and violence are where we started. However, those historical foundations cannot only serve to identify historical subjugations, but significantly, to envision and act upon new ways of being in the world, as bell hooks taught us.

hooks (aka Gloria Jean Watkins), the trailblazing scholar, author, social activist, and feminist, who passed away last December in her home, in Berea, KY, viewed history and knowledge as crucial, but only if clearly connected to accessibility and relevance. hooks, who signed her name in lower case letters as a testimony of the importance of the work and not the individual author, as well as a challenged to the standards of traditional academic writing which traditionally have dismissed the work of scholars of color, particularly, black women and women of color, distanced herself from the type of academic writers who under the guise of “dispassionate and feigned objectivity” did not personally engage with the social topics that they write about.

In complete opposition to this, hooks invited us “to care, to feel, to experience the world”, as pointed out by Lisa Thompson, Professor of African & African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and with whom I had a wonderful recent conversation after hooks passing. Importantly, those feelings entail the gamut of the human experience, including its sorrows and frustrations. In parallel fashion to her friend and colleague, Cornel West, who makes a distinction between optimism and hope, hooks differentiated between sentimentality and love. For her, sentimentality, or shallow sentiment, and not unlike optimism, is superficial and trite, whereas what she describes as love represents the capacity to feel, or what actually makes us human, an understanding that hooks could only reach by working through her own pain and hurt. As many Black feminist scholars have pointed out, hooks demanded from us to be able to transgress and struggle, and this, as opposed to the paralyzing cynicism and in-action that often surrounds us, but to do so with love and fearlessness.

As we continue to celebrate this Black History Month, in the midst of crisis, hostility, violence and disease, in the nation and in the world, but also in our immediate surroundings, we can find both inspiration and direction in hooks’ legacy and work on how to love ourselves, while also seeking justice. As part of those learning encounters, this year, the Northern Nevada Diversity Summit is being dedicated to bell hooks, under a general theme of: Work, Study, Family and Life Balances in Higher Education: Advancing Best Practices in a Pandemic World. Our keynote speaker of the morning will be Dr. M. Shadee Malaklou (she/they), the Founding and Inaugural Director of the bell hooks Center at Berea College in Kentucky, hooks' hometown. 

We invite you consider submitting a proposal on the multiple dimensions of the theme and from various approaches, focuses, authors and experiences, as well as forms: panels, presentations, workshops, posters. The 2022 Northern Nevada Diversity Summit Proposal form includes further information about the proposal guidelines. Proposals must be submitted online before Tuesday, February 22, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. (PST).  

Questions about the Diversity Summit should be directed to Cheyenne Magpantay at cheyennem@unr.edu. 

University Diversity and Inclusion Officer Eloisa Gordon-Mora
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