VIDEO: bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry Talk About Dismantling The Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy

Wow, just imagine a conversation between renowned author and intellectual bell hooks and professor, author and MSNBC show host Melissa Harris-Perry, two of our favorite humans. I’m here to tell you it just happened and it fucking blew my mind and my heart grew three sizes. The were invited to speak at The New School called “Black Female Voices: Who is Listening,” to have a public dialogue about “race, black womanhood, politics, media, and love” which means they extensively and articulately discussed dismantling — in hooks words — “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Fuck yeah, I felt empowered by the end of watching an hour and a half conversation between two incredible, intellectual women of color. Topics ranged from talking about Michelle Obama’s image in the media as a black woman in power, the sentimental slave narrative in movies, being a low-income, single mother, and so much more.

Check out some of the tweets from the #nerdland and #bellhooksTNS hashtags for snippets of the conversation.

If you missed the livestream, don’t worry, you can watch it here and also right here:

What was your favorite part of their conversation?

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Associate Editor at Autostraddle. Dallas-based freelance writer with a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. Former Associate Editor at L Style G Style magazine, published by the Dallas Morning News and The Alcalde. Passionate about Mexican food, Selena and breakfast tacos.

Yvonne has written 31 articles for us.

25 Comments

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          I watched it in three different modes: first time magic mode, I had some wine mode, doing thesis research and just listening mode.

          It was all good but in wine mode I found myself talking back to my computer screen and might have texted a few choice people on their complicity in upholding the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

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    Starting out at 37:56 ending at 39:42 “…he really believes that there is a whiteness that will protect him”. Wow wow wow. The whole video is great, but that particular segment really stood out to me as something I have been trying to articulate to myself since the Trayvon case.

    What an amazing way to enrich my consciousness on a Friday night.

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    I think people ought to be aware that bell hooks has made some rather odd comments before that are not really great for queer and trans people. For example, she’s said:

    “While many feminists as a political act have chosen lesbianism or celibacy as a way to resist sexist sexual subordination and have no interest in the penis, those of us who enjoy penis passion often find ourselves silenced by the assumption that mere naming of our pleasure is traitorous and supports the tyranny of patriarchy.”

    Sure, enough your…penis. But why has she painted lesbianism as a political act that “many” feminists do? Ya have to ask. hooks has some other really weird quotes. So in the middle of the love fest, you’ve gotta know that hooks is not all rainbows.

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      Yeah, hooks has a problem with queer erasure, especially in some of her earlier works. Which sucks, because so much of her work directly applies to queer experience. That is to say, there is still so much to learn from her. No critical writer is perfect — Judith Butler’s writing drips with white privilege. It’s wonderful that today in critical theory there is a focus on intersectionality that didn’t exist before, and I hope that in 10 years we’ll have a much better, more inclusive body of work to draw from.

      In the meantime, I’m excited to watch this video. I was bummed I couldn’t watch the livestream yesterday. Thanks for posting it!

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        “well nobody’s perfect!!” is the single most frustrating response you can get for complaining about a public figure’s homophobia – it’s not unreasonable to demand that straight feminists don’t encourage the exclusion of lesbians and other queer women from feminism – it’s not the same as asking for perfection, not being homophobic doesn’t take that much effort and homophobia isn’t just some kind of careless mistake that’s completely excusable because we all make mistakes sometimes

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          I agree!

          I have this idea that I was thinking about when the whole “#solidarityisforwhitewomen” went down. Can one’s feminist ideals be intersectional and parallel? Example my sister is a straight woc and I’m queer. We all have our spoons and level of privileges to navigate this crazy world and sometimes the issues my sister and I have will never intersect.

          Say my sister is worried about what does her feminism will mean when she chooses (not) to change her last name. We have this conversation but I don’t have the spoons to talk about it because *I* find it trivial but if we talk about reproductive rights, I got some spoons for that *nom nom nom*! So I sometimes hurt my sister’s feelings because this is really something that bothers her because there are implications of her choice that for some reason I cannot see.

          It boggles the mind sometimes because in this case with my sister it is mainly interpersonal and not structural or is it? Oh god….

          I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are different ideas and worries of feminism we each share when we write, have conversations and discover things about feminism.

          I need to sit down.

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          Howdy, I completely agree with you and am sorry if my post wasn’t clear. Basically I was trying to say – yes, it sucks that bell hooks has erased queer experience in a lot of her writing; but, her work is still worth reading because she provides excellent analysis and insight in many areas; it also sucks that many of the most prominent critical theorists have big gaping holes in their understanding of challenges faced by oppressed groups of which they are not a member; fortunately contemporary theory is more focused on intersectionality which means we are building a body of work that will serve us better in the future.

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      Well she’s talking specifically abt “political lesbians”, meaning straight feminists who call themselves lesbians as some kind of gross ~statement,~ like this is actually a thing that was p common in the second-wave.

      Also, based on her recent discussions with Janet Mock, I’m gonna go ahead and say that she’s one of the most pro-trans-women cis people I’ve ever seen. Like tbh I’m far more likely to cringe at things here on AS than things hooks says.

      IDK if this applies to carepackage, but just a reminder to white women that if we don’t think abt it we’re going to default to automatically judging black women far harsher than white women. I’m not saying nothing hooks says has ever been imperfect or that she’s above criticism, but checking that is important.

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        Well, I’m Hispanic. And I don’t know. Tell me. Is that officially dark enough to criticize bell hooks? I have to check.

        When someone uses the words: “While many feminists as a political act have chosen lesbianism ” The “many” comes before “political act”

        Many feminists choose lesbianism as protest? Really?

        I have noticed that if anyone says anything critical of bell hooks that automatically people reach for the White Handle, because you must be white if you have any questions about the un-examined hero worship of bell hooks.

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          Ehhh, bell hooks is clearly not infallible and for me personally as a qwoc it was through her I discovered black feminism when the feminism I was introduced to was woefully lacking in racial intersectionality. As I became more aware of my queer identity Judith Bulter helped a lot but again lacking in intersectionality. So my understanding of feminism for me is a patchwork of different authors who inspire me, who I feel can do more and some are just downright problematic and thus dismiss.

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          bell hooks writes about the importance of cultural critique in the process of developing critical consciousness. Everybody should think critically about everything; that’s a whole-person way to engage with the world. She herself calls for critique of women of color producing art, culture, media, etc, by women of color engaging with their productions. Uncritical fandom implies that their creations could not stand up to interrogation, and denies us the pleasures of deeply exploring a text. So yes, placing her into a binary where bell hooks always = hero is antithetical to her ideas. (At least that is my impression after reading most of Yearning.)

          I *think* that political lesbianism was more of a prominent thing, especially in academic and separatist circles, in days of yore / Second Wave times. As a millenial, I have never met someone who told me they identified as a political lesbian, but I have heard read articles/essays by/about them. So that might not be a reference that speaks as strongly to our generation, if you are also a millenial.

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          “When someone uses the words: “While many feminists as a political act have chosen lesbianism ” The “many” comes before “political act”
          Many feminists choose lesbianism as protest? Really?

          Yes! Really! that is a real thing that happened, especially when bell hooks was my age. it doesn’t happen these days, but there was a big thing in second wave feminism when a bunch of feminists did choose lesbianism as a political statement, because they thought feminist goals couldn’t be achieved as long as the patriarchy played any part in your life. that particular movement obviously didn’t work out. that’s what she was referring to. (that movement played a major role in the conception of lesbians as “sexless” and not-sexual back then — because there were so many women who chose lesbianism as a political act who obviously then did not want to actually have sex very much with their female partners.)

          i’m sure it sounds like a crazy-ass thing for someone like her to say if you don’t know the history, though!

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          ^ what Riese said. It’s documented history. To which list of idiocies i might add the perception of lesbians as focused on hatred for men rather than love for women. Among my generation (well i would not call it MY generation – even if i’m 40 i would like to think i am clean from any of that) even now the above attitudes are somewhat accepted and within the ‘normal’ spectrum amidst lesbians my age, something that’s kept in silent nostalgia rather than abandoned.

          Bell hooks does not have a go at lesbians in general – but rather something that misrepresents, guilt trips and hurts everyone – lesbians whose experience is only that of sexual attraction, straight women, bi women, transsexual women, poor women, typically of colour, who aren’t up to date with politics can’t afford ‘independent’ fad lifestyles – basically everyone but their own white middle class selves.

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          Second wave straight feminists who warned against the many dangers of “political lesbians” were more common than actual “political lesbians”. As most of us know all too well, pretending to have a different sexual orientation is very, very draining so “political lesbianism” in the sense of straight women acting like lesbians was pretty rare. What wasn’t rare was garden variety lesbians talking about how living openly is a political act and how this is something feminism should take into account and straight women pushing them out of feminists organizations by dismissing and insulting them with “you’re not a real lesbian, you just hate men”.

          I feel like a lot of “intersectional” feminists get pretty nervous whenever anyone criticizes bell hooks since she’s so canonical – she’s THE black feminist – and if you criticize her you make it obvious that black feminism isn’t a monolith.

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        I don’t see this quote as “weird.” The idea that being in a relationship with a cis man (or, in some people’s minds, even a pre/non-op trans woman) means subordinating oneself to the patriarchy is definitely one that I’ve encountered (particularly among second wave feminists). It is incredibly stupid and I’m glad to see it being critiqued. I highly doubt she disputes the existence of actual lesbians.

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          Funny. I think it’s weird to say that “many feminists” chose lesbianism. At any time, the number of lesbians are pretty consistent and even putting that in some weird context of a summer that never happened where “many” feminists chose lesbianism as a stunt…it’s pretty bigoted to say. And then there’s that thing where she writes that lesbian feminists want to make her feel bad about wanting penis.

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    I wish minutes 30-40 went on for a few hours. I wanted more of the discussion of the connection between sentimentality in popular representation (that James Baldwin quote made me feel quite guilty), unresolved grief, and innocence of whiteness and power. The ways pain shapes us and contorts us, and how we grow up around it. That’s what I love about bell hooks. I don’t know very much about Dr. King and bell hooks’ interest in his statements about American fascism were really cool. I’m always a bit bored with discussion of representation, same here. I was especially moved when they discussed the impact of their work on their personal lives and vice versa. That grief over lost loved ones reminds bell of her concerns about black women’s legacies, and how MHP’s survivor self comes out and also dissociates on air. Does anyone else feel weird that they gave bell hooks a plastic water bottle?

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    This was a pretty mindblowing experience that I am very grateful for. I was surprised but really glad that the candour was much more casual than I was expecting – it was much more like a conversation over coffee rather than two intellectual giants perched on their thrones pontificating at each other. (I don’t really know why I’m surprised that it was much more lively; I guess bell hook’s reputation distorted my idea of how they’d actually present themselves.)

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