Ending Prejudice through Literacy and Communication: The Social Project of Bell Hooks

Gloria Jean Watkins, better known as Bell Hooks, is a prominent figure not only in literature, but also in feminist and civil rights movements. She seamlessly weaves both of these issues into Killing Rage: Ending Racism in order to address the problems she believes plague society. Many critics attack Hooks’s informal, violent style of writing; however, she simply wants to appeal to a wider variety of readers in order to spread her views on intolerance and call her audience to action. While her writing style may seem too intense, it illustrates the anger and frustration that she feels at the hands of discrimination. As an extremely well educated black woman, she asserts that a society without prejudice is achievable through literacy and communication. The “killing rage” that Hooks experiences due to racism and sexism impede her idea of ending racism in a beloved community.

The whole foundation of Hooks’s work is the “killing rage” that she experiences after “sitting beside an anonymous white male that [she] longs to murder” (8). After an altercation between the “anonymous white male” and her black female friend, Hooks experienced an overwhelming rage that inspired her to write Killing Rage: Ending Racism. The anger that she experiences eventually results in a crushing sense of powerlessness because she has no control over her own fate and no acceptable outlet to express her anger. Hooks asserts that she lives in a society that cannot “see black rage as something other than sickness” (12). She believes that she lives in a culture that does not take the troubles of her race seriously. The black population is subjugated to the whims of the public, leading to a frustration that has no healing outlet in response to the oppression and mistreatment experienced by her people. Hooks goes on to claim that “most folks associate black rage with the underclass” (12). She believes that this association is also accountable for the dismissal of black rage. This class struggle, as well as segregation, add to the repression felt by black citizens. They also contribute to a buildup of emotions that are responsible for the shift from powerlessness to rage.

Many issues contribute to this emotional overload, including the repression of rage and the denial of racism. According to Hooks, white people have colonized black Americans through segregation in order to “perpetuate and maintain white supremacy” and “part of that colonizing process has been teaching us to repress our rage” (14). This dehumanization deprives black people of a constructive, healthy outlet through which they can change their situation. There is a serious double standard rooted in this problem. Not only do white supremacists oppress black rage, but they also assert their own white rage against black people without consequence. Hooks asserts that “white rage is acceptable, can be both expressed and condoned, but black rage has no place and everyone knows it” (15). This just adds to the aggravation and anger experienced by Hooks and her peers. She goes on to stress the successfulness of the white people’s colonization techniques by saying, “black people repress and annihilate our rage to assimilate” (16). Eventually, this repression and assimilation cause black people to fall into a sense of individualism that is distinctive from the plight of the black race. This counterproductive attitude is partially responsible for the continuation of racism in America. Hooks maintains that the “black liberation struggle cannot happen if we remain unable to tap collective black rage” (20). She believes only through unification can the black population address the issues that they face daily. If these people can establish a strong sense of camaraderie and organize their efforts to obtain equality, then there would be no stopping their attempts at reform.

Everyone is responsible for the continued discrimination on the basis of gender, not just males. Hooks emphasizes that the “revolutionary feminism [movement] is not anti-male” (63). One of the greatest obstacles to opposing sexism is present in the pursuit of eradicating racism. While battling racism, supporters continually equate “black liberalization with the development of black patriarchy” by looking to a “strong black male’s leadership” in order to guide them to equality (63). By relying on these strong black men for leadership, anti-racists are attempting to equate white males with black males, placing black women even lower on the spectrum, which creates one problem while trying to solve another. Women must take a stand in the anti-racism movement, as well as the anti-sexism movement, or else they will never truly achieve equality.

According to Hooks, in order to achieve a beloved community the “first step of the anti-racist struggle as to be breaking the denial” of racism. Many whites believe that they are not racist for a multitude of reasons. The main cause of this white denial, according to Hooks, is the values and attitudes of white supremacists that “permeate every aspect of the culture” which eventually leads to “unconsciously absorbing the ideology of white supremacy” (267). She asserts that only after these white people admit their racism and commit to rectifying it can the population move towards a beloved community. Most people have a flawed idea about what this beloved community entails. Many consider it as a society in which race is “transcended, forgotten, where no one would see skin color” (263). This idea has only created a deep sense of cultural protectionism. No one wants to abandon their heritage and culture in order to assimilate to another. Many black people believe that they would be required to “surrender their identities, beliefs, values” in exchange for the “values and beliefs of privileged-class whites” (266).

Hooks goes on to present the correct view of how beloved communities are to be established, which is “not by the eradication of differences but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies” (265). This vision eliminates the cultural protectionism that the earlier example created. By educating oneself on the culture and individualities of a group, it is possible to accept someone for who they are and overcome discrimination. Hooks claims that she has already achieved a beloved community on a much smaller scale and upholds that it is a feasible dream for everyone to accept other races and exterminate the overtones of white supremacy. The people who are a part of her beloved community have made “his or her own commitment to living an anti-racist life”(271). The members of these communities acknowledge the differences in individuals but possess the tolerance and open-mindedness to live in racial harmony. Hooks believes that it is the duty of these people to share their testimony in order to show the rest of the population that it is possible to live peacefully in an interracial society. In order to change society, the black populace “must not allow the actions of white folks who blindly endorse racism to determine the direction of our resistance” (267). They cannot let the negativity of white supremacists to deter them from their anti-racism movement.

By channeling the “killing rage” into a productive outlet, Hooks believes that America can end racism and sexism in order to establish a beloved community. First and foremost, Hooks believes that whites must admit to their racism in order to validate black rage. Furthermore, in order to rectify sexism in today’s society women must adopt an active role in the feminist movement, as well as the movement against racism. Only through these realizations and the acceptance of differences can society move towards a more tolerant, beloved community.