Gloria Jean Watkins, better known as bell hooks, recently visited the University of Arizona to do a public book talk and a film talk. There was much buzz around the visit, so much that tickets had to be issued to the public to attend the events. The public talk was on Thursday, April 27, 2017 and had the theme of “Revolution and Resistance: Ending Domination.” Unfortunately, I was unable to get tickets to this event. From what I heard, bell hooks discussed love and resistance. The event on Friday, April 28, 2017 focused around film and was titled, “Take me to the Movie: Politics of Imagery.” Dr. Stephanie Troutman was also a speaker at this event. I was able to secure a ticket to this event. Books written by bell hooks were given out to the first students to arrive to the event. I received the book titled all about love: New Visions. When I opened this book, I knew I would love it since it discusses love and how generational trauma impacts how we love and treat others (historical trauma and trauma, in general, are a focus of my studies).
One of the first things that bell hooks said is that she would always talk about theory in her classes and finally started talking about films to get more participation because all the students wanted to discuss films. This quote resonated with me since I work with students in a hip-hop cinema class. From my observations, they understand they are able to understand the complex concepts when they can be connected to a film rather than an article.
A popular topic of this talk was the film Get Out. Both bell hooks and Dr. Troutman had several critiques of the film and its portrayal of “blackness.” To start, the main character was being provoked and repeatedly told that they (the white people) wanted to see the “beast” come out of him. Even though I have yet to see the film, this reminds me of what I saw in the documentary 13th. The black man has constantly been portrayed as a beast, even to a point that in a film a white woman threw herself off a cliff rather than be in the company of a black man whom she thought was going to rape her. Black men were also characterized and costumed with intentional imperfections such as irregular faces, teeth, and eyes. This portrayal of black men relates to the “beast” that the white people were waiting to see in Get Out. This portrayal of black men connects to Mckee (1993) who states “Civilization’ defined the highest stage within social evolution; the lesser stages of development were ‘barbarian’ and ‘savage,’ and people of African origin were declared to have come from savage culture.” While I do not agree with the use of the term “savage” since it carries such negative connotations and our ancestors suffered greatly under this term, people to this day still see blacks and people of color only they are using different terms such as “beast” or even the term “savage” itself as slang.
Another popular theme in films bell hooks and Dr. Troutman discussed was the “drug addict mother.” They discussed how films made this “category” of mothers seem to be as they did not care about their children when, in reality, they do. A specific example they discussed was how mothers with drug addictions will not seek help for themselves or set foot in a hospital in a doctor’s office until it comes to seeking care for their children.
The main takeaway I got from the film talk with bell hooks and Dr. Troutman was when bell hooks said, “You can talk race but you can’t talk pain and suffering… The emotional trauma and the white supremacy.” This is very accurate in black and brown communities. Nobody wants to address the trauma that occurred in the past and the trauma that keeps occurring in communities that are not white. Bell (1992) points out that “The struggle by black people to obtain freedom, justice, and dignity is as old as this nation… Racial equality is, in fact, not a realistic goal. By constantly aiming for a status that is unobtainable in a perilously racist America, black Americans face frustration and despair. Over time, our persistent quest for integration has hardened into self-defeating rigidity.” While this article was written 25 years ago, the struggle for racial equality is still not a realistic goal. Especially with the election of our current administration—the voices of those against any sort of progress toward racial equality have spoken against it. Some seem to think that with the election of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, there is no longer racism, “With the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008, the United States symbolically entered what most whites and some others have considered a post-racial age wherein skin color and ‘race’ are no longer important” (Elias & Feagin, 2016). The idea of color-blindness seems to have existed for a short amount of time amongst some communities. Now, with the election of the current administration, there seems to be much outrage against people of color, especially immigrants. There no is obviously the same struggle for racial equality and not the post-racial age that some claim that we live in.
bell hooks also mentioned that “colonized minds don’t see reality. We’ve not just been colonized in our minds, we’ve been colonized in our imaginations.” I took this as our hopes and dreams aspire to what colonized minds want black and brown communities to be. Many black and brown youth buy into the stereotypes that others see them as. I know this because I have worked with several youth over the years. Many of them are very intelligent kids who could easily earn a college degree. Many times I have been told that I was the only teacher who was ever nice to them, cared for them, and/or believed in them. I had these kids as sophomores, juniors, and seniors and I was the only person who served as some sort of motivation.
bell hooks ended the talk with the question, “What do decolonized images look like?” so I will leave you with that…
Bell, D. (1992). Racial realism. Connecticut Law Review. 24:2, 363-379.
McKee, J. B. (1993). Sociology and the race problem: The failure of a perspective. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Elias, S., & Feagin, J. R. (2016). Racial theories in social science. New York: Taylor and Francis.