bell hooks
Born 1952 

Hopkinsville, Kentucky

Relevant Work "Postmodern Blackness"


(NATC, 2nd ed.)

Biography Edit

  • Gloria Jean Walkins was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952.
  • She was born into a rural black working-class family and suffered a turbulent childhood finding inspiration through books and solace in imagination.
  • To honor her outspoken great-grandmother's legacy, Walkins took the name of "bell hooks."
  • In 1976, hooks received a B.A. from Stanford University, an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1976, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1983.
  • From 2004 until now, she has been a distinguished professor at Berea College in Kentucky.

"Postmodern Blackness" (1990) Edit

Background and Historical Context Edit

In this essay, bell hooks explores the lack of interest African American intellectuals have with postmodernism. She believes that the abstract philosophical discourse of postmodernism is dominated by white male intellectuals and that the academic elites, including African-American academics, are oblivious to the concerns of black people. hooks discusses issues of identity as they intersect with postmodernist thinking, most notably the notion of "essential blackness" which characterizes all experiences of African Americans into one universal experience.

Key Words and Terms Edit

Essentialism - The belief that things have a set of intrinsic characteristics that make them what they are. bell hooks speak in "critique of essentialism," using this phrase several times throughout the text and most prominently on page 2514, in which she says: "Postmodern critiques of essentialism which challenge notions of universality and static over-determined identity within mass culture and mass consciousness can open up new possibilities for the construction of self and the assertion of agency."

Black experience - white intellectuals write about black experiences as subjects of white narratives

Essential blackness -

Master narratives - major themes (myths) involving literacy experiences. One major narrative is literacy success--conforming to literacy standards established by institutions.

Otherness -

Key Quotations Edit

"Postmodernist discourses are often exclusionary even as they call attention to, appropriate even, the experience of 'difference' and 'Otherness' to provide oppositional political meaning, legitimacy, and immediacy when they are accused of lacking concrete relevance." (2509)

"...racism is perpetuated when blackness is associated solely with concrete gut level experience conceived as either opposing or having no connection to abstract thinking and the production of critical theory." (2510)

"The idea that there is no meaningful connection between black experience and critical thinking about aesthetics or culture must be continually interrogated." (2510)

"Postmodern theory that is not seeking to simply appropriate the experience of 'Otherness' to enhance the discourse or to be radically chic should not separate the 'politics of difference' from the politics of racism." (2512)

"Postmodern critiques of essentialism which challenge notions of universality and static over-determined identity within mass culture and mass consciousness can open up new possibilities for the construction of self and the assertion of agency." (2514)

"Theoretical ideas and critical thinking need not be transmitted solely in written work or solely in the academy." (2515)

"Postmodern culture with its decentered subject can be the space where ties are severed or it can provide the occasion for new and varied forms of bonding." (2516)

Discussion Edit

Postmodernism Edit

In the text, hooks is questioning African Americans in their interest in "postmodern theory." She applies this label to philosophic critique of modernity that celebrates difference and otherness, advocates radical liberation and political equality, finds fault with rigid concepts of identity, and criticizes master narratives. hooks believes that the abstract philosophical discourse of postmodernism - as defined by various French theorists - is dominated by white male intellectuals. She argues that despite its invocation of "difference," postmodernism is exclusionary. Expounding this idea, she goes on to say that even though postmodernism uses notions of difference and marginality to legitimate itself in the face of accusations of irrelevance, it seems to fall short in engaging experiences or writings of a truly marginalized people group like black women.

Authority of Experience Edit

hooks is "suspicious that the postmodern call to dismantle identity comes at a historical moment when subjugated peoples are beginning to assert their own identity and to act collectively in its name" (NATC 2505). As marginalized communities begin to speak up, it seems that white intellectuals want to do away with labels. These elites write about the black experience as subjects to white narratives. It is ironic that these white intellectuals write about diversity by using white/colonial language to separate and exclude. hooks stresses "authority of experience" to allow blacks and African Americans contribute to the black experience. hooks herself begin with an anecdote with this essay.

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

Related Works Edit

  • Black Looks: Race and Representation by Bell Hooks
  • Killing Rage: Ending Racism by Bell Hooks
  • Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by Bell Hooks
  • Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by Bell Hooks
  • Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life by Bell Hooks (with Cornel West)

References Edit

Leitch, Vincent B., editor. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.