Get Lit! - Critical Thinker

by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & Y & lt;/span & ou think bell hooks is just out to bash rich old white men? You're being simplistic. In fact, over-simplifying others and their ideas like that -- reducing them to caricature -- is the core of the kind of prejudice that hooks has spent her career fighting against.

As long as you're a white man who's reasonable -- as long as you believe that society has an obligation to fight poverty, as long as you acknowledge the power of the feminine and don't insist on patriarchy or the supposed superiority of those with white skin -- well, then, not only will hooks accept you, but in addition, you might just find yourself accepting the ideas of one of America's most influential educational theorists.

When she appears at the Met on April 19, hooks will discuss the nexus of class, race and gender. To be blunt: Poor black women are widely assumed to be inarticulate, aesthetically disenfranchised, and unlikely to be creators of art. Wealthy white men, on the other hand -- as we all think we know -- are best positioned to create art for the ages.

But it ain't necessarily so, just as hooks' first book, Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981) -- with a title borrowed from Sojourner Truth -- maintains. Back in 1851, Sojourner retorted to arguments justifying patriarchy because Christ had chosen to be male and because the first sinner, Eve, was female: "Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they're asking to do it, and the men better let them."

In the spirit of Sojourner Truth, bell hooks questions the gender relativism that privileges male perspectives. She's asking men to let women do some of the heavy lifting, too.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & G & lt;/span & loria Jean Watkins was born in 1950s small-town Kentucky, where she was stifled by segregation outside the home and her father's rigid paternalism inside it. In the late '70s, she adopted her great-grandmother's name, putting it in lowercase letters to underscore how the content of her work was more significant than the author herself.

Having written more than 30 books on feminism, racism, masculinity, sexuality, black intellectual pursuits, the politics of representations of culture and gender in visual media and more, why has so much of hooks' focus been on educational theory? Because she believes that the ability to think critically is key to overcoming the kind of stereotyped assumptions about race, gender and class that undermine our personal relationships and our communities.

Her thinking on educational theory has been influenced by Paolo Freire, the Brazilian educator who criticized the banking concept of learning, in which an all-knowing teacher deposits facts into the empty piggy-bank of a student's head. Instead, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed -- and following in the footsteps of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Dewey -- Freire seeks to create genuinely democratic classrooms in which the students are doing a lot of the teaching and the teachers are doing a lot of the learning.

Throughout her career, hooks has emphasized that discrimination occurs at the junctures between different preconceptions about gender, race, culture and economic class. Where we perceive difference, we begin to engage in rating exercises. Why? It's one way of making sense of the world.

As a light-skinned black woman with relatively straight hair -- the middle child among seven siblings, some of them darker-skinned -- hooks has experienced firsthand what "internalized racism" (discrimination based on skin color amid the black community itself) can do to one's self-image. Her career has been one long struggle to rid students -- and those who ought to know better, their parents and their teachers -- of hurtful assumptions.

Newport Rodeo & Festival @ Newport Rodeo Grounds

Fri., June 25, 1-9 p.m. and Sat., June 26, 12-9 p.m.
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