Yearning by bell hooks
Bell hooks’ Yearning is a call for the general public to re-conceptualize black cultural identities. She is concerned with transforming the oppressive structures present in the context of white supremacy. Her main target is media which reproduce stereotypes of blackness. She criticizes the consumption of these commodified images by public and urges her readers to join the creation of a “liberatory space to construct radical black subjectivity” (36) in order to attain awareness or a critical eye when they are exposed to such images. Hooks includes twenty essays and three interviews in her study to be effective in the postmodern practice. Her essays range from childhood anecdotes to film criticism in a polyphonic sense. Anglade and her colleagues commented positively on hooks’ adaptation of postmodern elements in her study for being creative and they have even made their book review in the form of dialogue rather than an essay. I also call her book a study because I do not think that “Anyreader,” as Staples puts it, will be able to follow the academic jargon such as “radical black subjectivity” or “counter-hegemonic practice”. Anglade et al. point to the weaknesses of Yearning such as having a vague audience and being insufficient in connecting class, race and sexual orientation issues properly. They assert that she does not discuss issues affecting the urban poor, aesthetics and politics being not connected, race being confined to a black and white context and no reference to interracial tensions (1991, 264). Staples, as a white male reader, thinks of hooks’ articulations are emancipatory because they helped him to break away from his prejudices but he still finds her ideas revolutionary as a negative feature. This is because he knows from his own standpoint that it is not easy to change general public’s way of seeing social and cultural differences only with a book of ideas. In other words, an enduring critical consciousness does not flourish immediately.
In her twenty-three chapters, hooks mainly argues for constructing a consciousness by people from all ages, sexes, classes and races against media dominated reproduction of African-American peoples’ images. Yet it remains problematic if she is addressing black females, black people or everybody. She refers to this unclear solidarity as “an oppositional worldview, consciousness, an identity, a standpoint … which enables creative, expansive self-actualization” (15). There needs to be a dialogue between people for liberation to occur. She makes “yearning” a concept of marginality because it reveals “a shared space and feeling” (13) by the African-Americans. In her words, marginality is a site of transformation in the case of “politics of difference.” She criticizes essentialist view on the black experience because there is a multiplicity of experiences in the American society. She puts forward that, most basically, there are blacks with different incomes and this affects their lifestyles and experiences differently. The dialogue between these diverse groups will bring self-recovery to the black identity. She praises feminism in re-conceptualizing black masculinity because she believes that black liberation was to emerge from a feminist standpoint (64). After the chapter on Malcolm X, she continues with the commodified female black images in popular culture and how they are shown either as “bitches” or “super-mamas.” Later hooks, most interestingly, tries to connect black aesthetics, space and belonging together. She tells the anecdote of her grandmother, a quilt-maker, who gave her the idea that objects around us shaped the way of living (103). If she argues that marginality is a space to be claimed, the art made in this area should be capable of addressing intercultural diversity. She bridges Black Arts Movement to her “yearning” concepts as follows: “power of art resides in its potential to transgress boundaries” (109). She deliberately announces that she had chosen the margin as a space of radical openness and repeats the sentences “Language is also a place of struggle” (146) six times in one paragraph. She focuses very much on space at this point and criticizes the lingual capacity she is tied to. Afterwards she makes film criticisms based on challenge against white ethnicity and racial identities as stereotypes. In her interviews with herself, she again urges the need for a critical eye to oppose the “feeling of powerlessness learned from media” (220) and a “politicized mental care” (227) for the public in order not to fall into the traps created by the media. Hooks’ work is relevant to the non-white feminist scholars’ focus on identity formation at the end of 1980’s. They are struggling to define their place in the society in a poststructuralist approach. Hooks follows the same trend in her own cultural background and tries to bring forward a critical consciousness based on attacking the images represented by the media.
It is possible to situate hooks as a non-white feminist in the larger context of liberal multiculturalist metropolitan academics’ debate on identity issues. Her significance lays in her adoption of postmodern style of writing creative arguments. On the other hand, this is not so new either. Because what most stroke me was the similarity between her “yearning” concept (1990) and Anzaldúa’s borderland identity (1987) in which she claims the borderland as a mestiza: a Mexican-American, lesbian scholar from working class descent. Mestiza consciousness is the term she comes up with in constructing her new identity in the American society. She also makes use of the postmodern multi-vocal text with stories, anecdotes, critical essays and poems. Hooks makes no single reference to this consciousness of another racial background. When hooks says,
This is a response from the radical space of my marginality. It is a space of resistance. It is a space I chose …Marginality as a site of resistance. Enter that space. Let us meet there. Enter that space. We greet you as liberators. Spaces can be real and imagined. Spaces can tell stories and unfold histories. Spaces can be interrupted, appropriated, and transformed through artistic and literary practice (151-2)
she makes me directly think of Anzaldúa’s description of claiming the “borderland” which is a marginal space to create an identity:
What I want is an accounting with all three cultures – white, Mexican, Indian. I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, … if going home is denied me then I will have to stand and claim my space, making a new culture – una cultura mestiza- with my own lumber, my own bricks and mortar and my own feminist architecture. (44)
Hooks’ expression is a call, a warning, to attain a critical gaze towards the images media shows, whereas Anzaldúa has already taken a step forward to create an identity anew. However her creative rhetoric seeks active participation in constructing a new identity. Hooks’ aim is much applicable though sounds relatively passive. To conclude with, I think that there is a relation between these two academics when their ethnic backgrounds are taken into account. Blacks and Hispanics are the most oppressed groups in United States and being educated females just adds up to the level of consciousness they have developed.
Anglade, Michelle et al. “Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics.” Harvard Women’s
Law Journal 14 (1991): 255-265.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderland/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute
hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. Boston, MA: South End Express,
Staples, Clifford L. “White Male Ways of Knowing.” Postmodern Culture 2.2 (1992): 7.