The Real Influencers – bell hooks

Tiago Barreiro

Fatimah Jackson, Contributor

“The Real Influencers” is a series that highlights important figures whose ideas and work continue to be relevant to younger generations. Every episode is released to coincide with the figure’s birthday. In this episode, contributor Fatimah Jackson explains how author and feminist bell hooks highlighted the plight of Black women in America.

Gloria Jean Watkins, known by her pen name bell hooks, is an American activist, author and scholar most notable for writing about issues such as race, sexism, sexual identity and class. In many of her publications, hooks frequently discusses the relationship between race and sexism in American society. hooks often addressed how women of color — specifically Black women — were left out of conversation regarding female liberation. hooks intentionally used lowercase to shift the importance away from her name and on to the ideas expressed in her books.
hooks was born on Sept. 25, 1952, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in a segregated Southern community. She was able to attend Stanford University to earn her bachelor’s in English literature and later went on to get her master’s degree and her doctorate.

With the Black Lives Matter movement dominating our social and political sphere, many of the messages that were expressed in her works still hold relevance. Since the beginning of the movement back in 2013 following the murder of Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter has served as the voice for Black men and women affected by police brutality. The movement has been given a resurgence of attention in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

“When Black people are talked about, the focus tends to be on Black men; and when women are talked about the focus tends to be on white women.

– bell hooks


With the overwhelming worldwide support of the Black Lives Matter movement, understanding the racial hierarchy in the United States will bring justice to the people affected by systemic racism. People often don’t remember the names of the Black women who have suffered from police violence and their stories are forgotten.

Ideas surrounding intersectionality and Black liberation can be seen in one of her books, “Ain’t I A Woman.” It questioned racial hierarchy and African American patriarchy. hooks also critiqued how the conversation about race in regards to Black people and feminism rarely focuses on the perspectives of Black women. hooks explains that, “When Black people are talked about the focus tends to be on Black men; and when women are talked about the focus tends to be on white women.”

Intersectional issues tend to be viewed through a one-dimensional lens — one that excludes women of color. hooks was able to see this divide in society and did her best to educate readers about the perspectives of Black women. By pointing out how women of color endured prejudice due to their ethnic identities and gender, hooks provided a voice to an often forgotten community.

Reading her work helped me understand how sexism and racism affect me on a wider scale. When reading the first book that hooks published, I was floored by how articulately she explained the systemic aspects of racism and sexism that affected Black women.

Many of the ideas regarding feminism and how women of color are excluded from it were ideas that I had noticed but didn’t know how to verbalize. I had seen that Black women were often neglected in many forms of society, especially in the media. hooks states that “One only has to look at American television twenty-four hours a day for an entire week to learn the way in which Black women are perceived in American society,” a sentiment that I believe still rings true today.

The issues that bell hooks discusses in her pieces speak, not only to me, but to generations of Black women who have been overlooked in the discussion of race and underrepresented in the fight for gender equality.