- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Routledge (23 Nov. 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415539153
- ISBN-13: 978-0415539159
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 20.8 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 518,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice Paperback – 23 Nov 2012
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About the Author
A cultural critic, an intellectual, and a feminist writer, bell hooks is best known for classic books including Ain’t I a Woman, Bone Black, All About Love, Rock My Soul, Belonging, We Real Cool, Where We Stand, Teaching to Transgress, Teaching Community, Outlaw Culture, and Reel to Real. hooks is Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies at Berea College, and resides in her home state of Kentucky.
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Over 30 years, hooks' copious output has spanned feminist theory, cultural criticism, memoir, reflections on teaching, self-help. This book has a little bit of all of that. Bizarrely titled "Writing Beyond Race," the 18 essays in this book are very short and have very little to do with writing beyond race.
The titular chapter is 6 1/2 pages and shoved in the back of the book as the penultimate essay. Its lack of cohesion is symptomatic of the book as a whole. In the essay, hooks tells us that "Home is the only place where there is no race." She tells us she gets up in the morning and looks in a mirror. She sees a pimple. Details pile up. White supremacy diminishes the spirit. She lives in a predominately white community but stays inside to avoid racist whites. She quotes various writers on how to deal with write supremacy (none, unfortunately, work in real estate). With a page to go, hooks tells us she writes at home in a space "beyond race." One of her favorite books is Remembered Rapture. And that's it.
Did you catch that? She "writes beyond race." Me neither.
None of the other essays are any more interesting. hooks indulges in her Kardashian instinct for oversharing, letting us know that she calls her house the "sugar shack," that she met a white male who is nice, that her mother has suffered memory loss.
The cultural criticism isn't any more better. Chapter 6 is purportedly a book review of Manning Marable's biography on Malcolm X. Criticizing it severely--it's a "tabloid expose"--hooks accuses Marable of trying to "assassinate" Malcolm, in large part because Marable conveys the anecdote that Malcolm had had a gay experience once, which had been first reported by a white writer, Bruce Perry, in 1991. The essay totally falls apart at this point--just like it did in 1994, in hooks' Outlaw Culture, when she first wrote about Malcolm in relation to Spike Lee's film. The careful reader will note the differential treatment hooks gives the Perry rumor in the two books. In 1994, it was "the height of white supremacist patriarchal arrogance" for Perry to expose Malcolm's gay experience because "it should have been obvious to anyone familiar with street culture" that Malcolm had committed "unspeakable acts" (163). In other words, if you knew anything about Malcolm you knew he had probably taken a cock; and only an arrogant white male would think he was telling you something you didn't already know. But now, almost 20 years later, although Perry has been "discredited" (based on what, hooks doesn't say, other than Betty's denials!), hooks alleges that mentioning Malcolm might be gay is an effective attack to "depoliticize" him. Which is it? If it was obvious that "street culture" included gay sex (as it apparently was in 1994 when criticizing white male patriarch Perry), then how can Marable's making explicit what hooks claims is already implicit in Malcolm's autobiography be an effective way to depoliticize him?
I was disturbed by the Marable essay. Although hooks claims that calling Malcolm gay "creates havoc," she doesn't take the next step: clarify that homophobia and racism are overlapping systems of domination and that fighting homophobia therefore becomes necessary anti-racist work. Even if the Perry rumor is false (and it no doubt is), it nevertheless shows how effective homophobic attacks can be. The way to resist them is to fight homophobia. I would have expected an "intersectionality" theorist like hooks to have pointed that out. Instead her take-away is "we must rigorously interrogate sources of information."
The book's low points, however, are the two "dialogues" hooks has--not with herself, thankfully--but with filmmaker Gilda Sheppard about the movies Crash and Precious. For those of us who don't agree with Routledge that hooks' collection of film criticism, Real to Reel (1996), is a "classic," these dialogues are particularly painful. First, both hooks and Sheppard speak in the same jargon ("reinscribed into a plantation economy" etc.). They also speak in block quotes that sometimes run over a page in length. I hope an oxygen tank was available. At this point in her career, hooks should dialogue with someone whose politics are different than hers, so actual knowledge might be created from the friction.
These "dialogues," however, make manifest a perennial problem with hooks' writing: namely, her focus on ephemera. That dissertation on Toni Morrison never made it to a publisher; instead, hooks has dedicated her career as a cultural critic mostly to pop, trash, and sleaze, much of it instantly forgettable. You have to wonder why she is offering now, in 2013, a review of the movie Crash, which came out almost a decade ago. Although it won an Academy Award, no one talks about it. It isn't a new classic.
Almost 15 years ago Michele Wallace warned hooks that she was wasting her talents on trash; and the intervening years have definitely proven Wallace right. Since the mid-1990s, the web has grown up so that it now provides the instant pop cultural analysis of the kind hooks made her name with, thus rendering her irrelevant. Also, technological innovation (such as the rise of digital film and Netflix) has allowed new, exciting filmmakers to create work and distribute it. Perhaps now, in her twilight, hooks could use some of her remaining name recognition to bring these young artists to the public's attention instead of trashing crappy Hollywood movies no one cares about. hooks always claimed she was looking for new and better representations; maybe she can get out of the sugar shack and go find them.
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