Teacher took her place at the front of the room and stood poised and eager to share all that life had endowed to her during their journey together thus far. She did not stand behind a podium. She did not center her body in alignment with the other spatial elements of the room. She stood off a bit to the left, confident that she was right and affirmed in the ways the world had unfolded itself before her, revealing the truth even though everyone else was convinced they already knew it. She did not ascribe to the norms and conventions that so often box us in as we try with all our might to define ourselves by a system that was never meant to accommodate or even hold us. That is what her lessons are often about; how to position ourselves to think and how to activate our way out of said systems by dismantling them.
She opens her lecture with the statement, “Patriarchy has no gender”, putting everyone on notice and positioning us all to pick up mirrors and turn them on ourselves– in order that we may see clearly how we have upheld and participated in the measures of oppression–before we pick up picket signs in peaceful protest perpetuating tyrannical “ideals” by only marking time, but never truly gaining any ground in the march for change. There is no room for presumption here. Teacher implores us to dig deeper in order to dismantle.
Born Gloria Jean Watkins but known best by her pen name, derived from her maternal great grandmother, bell hooks is a wonder and a champion. Teacher, writer, social activist, feminist theorist, poet, thinker, this woman is a living monument, an example of the change we can inspire if we dare to be bold and educate ourselves about the world we live in and then put our hand to the plow to uproot the wild weeds characteristic of a culture of domination.
I want to sit in awe of her, and admire her. I want to stay at her feet and assume the position of learner for all my days because she tells the truth and she tells it plain. It has always been her goal to make her truth available to everyone who dared tune in, to not belabor her audience with the conventions of academia which often perpetuate their own systems of oppression. But she doesn’t want to be pedestaled. She does not want emblems of her glory blazing in our skies. She wants us to link arms with her and her colleagues and do the work. She wants us to experience true freedom but is so keenly aware that we will never enjoy that feast unless and until we get real about the society in which we live and the pillars of sexism, patriarchy, imperialism, white supremacy and classicism upon which it is built, which creates a hierarchy that reduces to the bottom everyone who “doesn’t fit” its ideals. She makes me want to ask another question, think past the surface, be bold in my anger and search for its roots, disrupt, theorize, start conversations and never settle. I just believe that she has seen some things and she possesses a knowing that if we listen to her closely, we can actually get us closer to the reality we seek. And although closer is not the goal, closer will be the start our daughters, little nieces, little cousins, and little sisters will begin with. The distance we put between them and the goal has been shortened for us because of the work of the great mind of bell hooks. So, what are we going to do now?
To truly be free, we must choose beyond simply surviving adversity, we must dare to create lives of sustained optimal well-being and joy. In that world, the making and drinking of lemonade will be a fresh and zestful delight, a real life mixture of the bitter and the sweet, and not a measure of our capacity to endure pain, but rather a celebration of our moving beyond pain.