//choice to connect: living with a love ethic//
::This essay was written for a presentation during the Fall semester of 2001. Before offering it up to read, a few things may need to be explained. The author's name is not a typo; it is meant to be lower-case. The three bell hooks essays I have quoted can be found in her books "Killing Rage" and "All About Love".
My particular interest in the subject of racism is in partly due to parenting a bicultural child. "Bicultural" is a term used in place of "biracial" or "minority" in order to define a person by what they have instead of what they lack by virtue of their skin color. My son is bicultural in the sense that he will learn how to function as a white person in the larger context of society, then will retreat to his home where he may function as himself. In this sense, he will learn to live in two cultures. This effect is different for people who would traditionally be labeled a "minority". For example, a bilingual Hispanic child would attend a school in which white Protestant values are the norm and will be socialized to abide by these values while in the white world. Yet at home, the same child might return to a home where only Spanish is spoken, and Hispanic and Catholic values are exalted. This child is truly bicultural. Bicultural communities exist in all sorts of ways, from the gay community to the Asian community to the African-American community.
The essay is meant to show an example of how racism (and hatred in general) may be abolished. And as unlikely as the proposed solution actually is, it is a restatement of all the values that Americans already claim to hold. The hypocrisy lies in Americans' unwillingness to follow through on these value systems. We have approached an era in which political correctness (i.e., respecting others and their differences) has become contemptible. I have yet to understand the backlash against political correctness. In general, there seems to be an overall inconsistency between thought, language, and action.
One thing to which I tried to pay attention is the notion that there is a true "White Experience" or "Black Experience". As bell hooks explores the Black experience in White society, I have tried to explore the white supremacist experience in a white supremacist society.
NOTE: I too am guilty of some of these racist thoughts used in the essay. I myself have expressed them. I have heard others express them, which is why I can attest that these ideas are true. I am glad that social critics like bell hooks have been able to open my mind so I can see the injustice toward bicultural American society.
In conclusion, I will leave the reader with two questions to ponder: 1) What will white people have to sacrifice for the good of a multicultural society? and 2) Why haven't we done it yet?
The Choice to Connect: Living with a Love Ethic
Within American society we tend to accept the notion that love is a romantic emotion, necessary and active within the framework of our society despite the obvious lack of love in social policy and personal interaction. The media showers us with various images of love – true love, dysfunctional love, sexual love, maternal love -- although the message generally endorses an anonymous interaction implying “that it is ignorance that gives love its erotic and transgressive edge.”
Perhaps what is most intriguing about love is that it can exist outside a familial or romantic context. Begin by defining love, not as a noun, but as the active implementation of “care, commitment, trust, responsibility, respect, and knowledge” as bell hooks does in her essay “Values: Living By a Love Ethic”. Applying a love ethic as a socio-political phenomenon is a radical act that requires the individual to act upon the values that he or she claims to hold. No longer may liberal politicians wax intellectual about the plight of the urban single mother on welfare. Rather, hooks would require such politicians to volunteer money or time to said issue for more than a public relations strategy.
Within hooks’ definition of love, our politicians would be expected to carry out their political promises in ways that would benefit those who would benefit the most. Too often we see a political environment that claims to support the sectors of society whose resources are repeatedly diminished in the name of reform and fiscal responsibility. Hooks believes that the cultural adoption of the love ethic “would mean that we would all oppose much of the public policy that conservatives condone and support.”
The “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”, as hooks has dubbed North American society, denies love within its name. The term “white supremacist” gives two allusions, one to the white supremacy movement that believes in the superiority of those individuals of European descent, and secondly to those individuals who might not claim the “white supremacy” rap, but who certainly believe that other ethnicities lay lower in the pecking order than themselves, including those who endorse common stereotypes and those who insist on perpetuating racist joke-telling. “Capitalism” can be construed as a cuss word coming from hooks’ pen. The common belief conveys that within capitalism lies a dog-eat-dog policy where the bottom line is money and the “strong” devour the “weak”. While the truism contains some fact, an opposing perception of capitalism is that capitalism occurs when those without a conscious devour those with a conscience for the sake of money and power. A “patriarchy” relies on socializing everyone to think that “in all human relations there us an inferior and a superior party” and “it is therefore natural for the powerful to rule over the powerless”. Altogether, the phrase “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” implies that our rule-makers are rich, white, business-minded men who believe that their power is enough to override our collective voice, and completely denies all six aspects of a love ethic. Operating within the love ethic, societal power would no longer be the motivating factor or the litmus test for success.
In “Black Womanhood”, hooks notes that the supposed restoration of societal morality depends on the subjugation of women. The same rhetoric dictates that the restoration of black masculinity requires the passivity of black women, thus ousting any black woman who believes in equal right and authority with the excuse that she does not work for racial uplift. Hooks remarks on the theory of mass emasculation in black men. Because she vies for racial uplift as well as female equality, hooks wonders how to restore the black man’s societal authority without granting him the position of patriarch above black women. The love ethic requires that personal interaction is based on trust and respect among other things, and with such an expectation the old rules of patriarchy cannot apply.
In “Black Womanhood”, hooks remarks on the bigotry of the black men who degrade and devalue black womanhood. Whites who value the “endangered” black man’s pain over the pain of the black woman do no more than pit black men and women against one another. Essentially this type of thinking indulges a sexist agenda with a racist twist, first by undervaluing women and distinct women’s issues and then by viewing an unfortunate scenario from a place of white privilege and white power.
While white America has no tangible white culture, white people are eager to describe a convoluted stereotype of black people and then dub it the black community. The white notion is nothing like the “black community” envisioned and represented by black leaders –- individuals from a particular ethic background coming together to rise with a collective voice. The white notion of the black community is of an actual community -- the Cabrini Green of society -- who better to slave on that proverbial “plantation” than the stereotype of black people. Hooks exposes a great irony when she states in “Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination” that her white students have “a deep emotional investment in the myth of ‘sameness’.” The white pluralistic sentiment does not assume that we are actually all alike, but rather that deep down everyone is white at heart. Simultaneously, whites hold the belief that blackness is nothing we can overcome, that the aesthetic differences are far too great to be bridged.
Instead of having an open public discussion regarding race and racism, the public insists that racism does not exist. As hooks reveals in “Representations of Whiteness”, the same people that ignore the issues of racism are upholding the structures that make racism possible. Such people must assume that racial discrimination, terror, and harassment no longer occur.
This is where the love ethic comes to play. Nowhere does hooks suggest that our differences are inherent or that our multicultural goals are unattainable. If fear and anger are the appropriate responses to phenomena that we cannot understand, then what is the remedy for misunderstanding? Hooks begins to expose a solution when she quotes the first epistle of John, saying, “There is no fear in love.” She continues, “Fear is the primary force upholding structures of domination…When we are taught that safety lies always with sameness, then difference, of any kind, will appear as a threat. When we choose to love we choose to move against fear – against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect – to find ourselves in one another.”
As long as we remain uneducated about the differences in our daily lives, the more foreign and remarkable those differences may seem. Thus knowledge and respect become one of the most important factors in the love ethic because awareness allows us to “critically examine our actions, to see what is needed so we can give care, be responsible, show respect, and indicate a willingness to learn” more about one another and the differences that have separated us.
All people are accountable for an end to oppression. The oppressed must give up the stance of victimhood and obtain power for themselves. The oppressors must sacrifice whatever privilege gives them undue advantage. The oppressed, complicated and taxing as it may be, are required to educate their sometimes-ignorant oppressors. However difficult, the oppressors are required to reject the rhetoric and behavior that grant them unfair privileges on unearned criteria.
bell hooks: A Biographical Note
Gloria Watkins was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky on September 25, 1952, to a family that believed girl children should remain quiet. The reluctance and occasional refusal to the imposed silence later urged Watkins to take the name of her great-great-grandmother bell hooks [lowercase], a local legend known as an opinionated and outspoken woman. It is speculated that the use of lowercase text in “bell hooks” is to draw more attention to her words than her fame.
I believe hooks’ primary goal as a social critic is to give a political voice to black women (the social sector to which hooks belongs and arguably the most disenfranchised portion of society) by examining the two major attributes by which black women are differentiated: race and gender. What sets hooks apart from other critics is how she “talks back” to the “white supremacist capitalist” society, itself a radical movement for a woman, and then refuses to pander to the usual pluralistic liberal sentiment. One famous example of hooks’ talking back is when she told Vibe magazine that Oprah Winfrey was evidence that “black people get to the top and stay on top only by sucking the [expletive] of white culture.”
Hooks is the author to over fifteen books, including two autobiographical works and a book of poetry.
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