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Iconic Black Feminist and Public Intellectual bell hooks Has Passed Away

bell hooks, the trailblazing public intellectual who shaped much of the current conversation around gender, race, class and justice in the U.S. has passed away from end-stage renal failure, her family said. She was 69 years old.

“The moment we choose to love, we begin to move against domination, against oppression,” she wrote. “The moment we choose to love, we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” She spent her life and career arguing that love was not only or even primarily a feeling, but an action. Born and raised in rural Kentucky, she became one of the nation’s most prominent and well-known poets, authors and social critics. She argued that the primarily White and upper class feminist movement had to make substantive changes to include the causes of Black women and women from different socio-economic classes, creating a broader, more intersectional feminism.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins, Dr. hooks took the name “bell hooks” — deliberately styled lower case — to signify her interest in putting the attention on her writing instead of herself. The name originally belonged to her great-grandmother, “a sharp-tongued woman, a woman who spoke her mind, a woman who was not afraid to talk back.” She said taking the name helped connect her to “this legacy of defiance, of will, of courage, affirming my link to female ancestors who were bold and daring in their speech.”

Dr. hooks would often refer to the world we live in as being dominated by an “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” For her, each of these systems played a connected role in a vast, linked oppressive force, and the key to defeating that system is fierce, active love. “I believe whole-heartedly that the only way out of domination is love,” she told the New York Times. “And the only way into really being able to connect with others, and to know how to be, is to be participating in every aspect of your life as a sacrament of love

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She called herself a Buddhist Christian, saying it was the “foundation” of her life. “I think one of the things that I’m grappling with at this stage of my life is how much of the core grounding in ethical-spiritual values has been the solid ground on which I stood,” she said. “That ground is from both Buddhism and Christianity, and then feminism that helped me as a young woman to find and appreciate that ground.”

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