During the month of February, BRTW ensemble members are selecting personal Black heroes to highlight everyday. These heroes may have spoken the magic words that first made them see their Black beauty, the people who inspired them to become artists, or even the person who taught them how to make proper mixed greens.
Gloria Jean Watkins, or bell hooks (sic) as you and I are more likely to know her, is an author, feminist, and social activist. I’m sure many can identify with the experience of devouring her work in college, sparking the critical consciousness of forthcoming work. I like to credit bell hooks amongst those who are responsible for getting me ‘woke.’
Hooks’s work dealt not only with the privileges and disadvantages of race, gender, and socioeconomic status but also with the intersectionality thereof. Her work does not merely ask us to be aware of the systems of marginalization that exist but also how systems created by privilege can, in turn, produce and propagate further disadvantage. She doesn’t shy away from discussions of responsibility, nor does she ignore the rage justly felt in marginalized communities. I remember reading Ain’t I a Woman in college and feeling like the social criticism had met the reality of experience in something of a tornado.
I’ve also always respected hooks for another reason: her work isn’t static. I had the opportunity to meet her my sophomore year of college. I hadn’t finished reading all of her work, but I’d fallen in love with much of it. The woman before me was calm, critical, and logical. As she spoke of complicity in oppressive systems, she painted a picture of privilege that was far more nuanced than I had considered by that point. She, and her work, changes to consider the sociopolitical landscape, identities, and systems that come into focus around her.
Hooks models a system of social criticism and critical awareness that requires us to continually stay informed to stay woke. Her work reminds us that as injustice evolves, so too, must the fight against it.
– Heather Harvey,
Co-founder and Ensemble Member