Watkins was a celebrated author and feminist cultural critic who published her books and scholarly articles under her chosen pen name to honour her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. Watkins spelled the name with lowercase letters as a way to direct attention towards her ideas rather than her identity.
It was those perceptive ideas, clarified by her eloquent voice, which made her an essential writer. Her work focused on the intersection of capitalism, race and gender, and she published more than 30 books during her lifetime.
Here are just some of the quotes and ideas for which bell hooks will be best remembered:
“Only love can heal the wounds of the past. However, the intensity of our woundedness often leads to a closing of the heart, making it impossible for us to give or receive the love that is given to us.” – All About Love: New Visions, 1999
“To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.” – Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, 2014
“When we face pain in relationships our first response is often to sever bonds rather than to maintain commitment.” – All About Love: New Visions, 1999
“I think we have to remember constantly that shaming is one of the deepest tools of Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist patriarchy because shame produces trauma and trauma often produces paralysis.” – Speaking at The New School, 2013
“One of the most important social myths we must debunk if we are to become a more loving culture is the one that teaches parents that abuse and neglect can coexist with love. Abuse and neglect negate love. Care and affirmation, the opposite of abuse and humiliation, are the foundation of love. No one can rightfully claim to be loving when behaving abusively. Yet parents do this all the time in our culture. Children are told that they are loved even though they are being abused.” – All About Love: New Visions, 1999
“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power – not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” – Quoted in Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, 2014
“There will be no mass-based feminist movement as long as feminist ideas are understood only by a well-educated few.” – Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 1984.
“The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.” – Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, 1994.
“Cultures of domination rely on the cultivation of fear as a way to ensure obedience. In our society we make much of love and say little about fear. Yet we are all terribly afraid most of the time. As a culture we are obsessed with the notion of safety. Yet we do not question why we live in states of extreme anxiety and dread. Fear is the primary force upholding systems of domination. It promotes the desire for separation, the desire not to be known. When we are taught that safety always lies in 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 the choice to connect – to find ourselves in the other.” – All About Love: New Visions, 1999