Bell hooks, acclaimed feminist intellectual, cultural critic and writer, began her lecture yesterday in the Michigan Union Ballroom by offering her chair to one of many of the standing audience members in the packed auditorium. She spoke as part of the 16th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium taking place this month at the University.
Hooks touched upon a variety of current issues, including possible military action in Iraq, affirmative action, the media, the environment, militarism and Sept. 11, all of which she tied together with a message of non-violence in accordance with King’s teachings.
“I thought it was interesting how she covered all of the bases,” LSA freshman Lorea Barturen said. “She intertwined present world problems with her own values and beliefs.”
Hooks mentioned King’s opposition of the Vietnam War, based on his view that the war exemplified imperialism, militarism and racism. This separated him from popular opinion at that time, she said.
“We want to remember him as a man who was not afraid to take a stand,” hooks said.
Hooks compared this with her recent experience of being booed off the stage at a commencement in Texas for speaking out against military action in Iraq. She said King was prophetic in saying militarism should be brought to an end.
“Every act of violence brings us closer to death,” she said. Hooks added the principle of non-violence should be at the center of all Americans’ lives, especially in a post-Sept. 11 atmosphere that has made many aware of the mystery and randomness of death.
“We are living with the reality of sudden unexpected death more than ever before in our nation’s history,” she said.
Hooks said part of achieving peace and nonviolence is concentrating on the present.
She quoted King, saying, “We must learn how to live in the now.” But at the same time, she commented on the consequences of a lifestyle which ignores future effects on the environment and the global community.
“We will slaughter the world in the interest of keeping these extreme lifestyles of wealth going,” hooks said.
In addition to emphasizing the importance of nonviolence, hooks spoke out against patriarchy, racism and sexist oppression. She criticized the media for spreading this culture of violence, citing examples from Harry Potter to the movie “Monster’s Ball.”
She said society’s acceptance of violence has led to a sense of disconnect that prevents others from identifying with people of differing races, genders, classes and religions.
“Our souls are longing for connection,” she said. She urged the audience to turn away from a culture of violence to one of communion.
After the lecture, hooks held a book signing. Copies of her recent book “Rock My Soul: Black Folk and Self-Esteem” were also on sale. Hooks is the author of more than 20 books on issues of race, gender and social oppression.
Born in Kentucky with the name Gloria Watkins, hooks changed her name to honor her grandmother and to create a separate voice.
She has served as a professor in the English departments at Yale University, Oberlin College and as a Distinguished Professor of English at City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
LSA sophomore Abby Clark said she had always wanted to read hooks’ writing prior to hearing her speak.
“I just knew that she’s a feminist thinker and intellectual who’s really respected so I was really excited to come here,” she said.