bell hooks: Links and Thoughts on "Cultural Criticism and Transformation"

I just spent some time watching some a discussion and critique by bell hooks on American media and society. I found it difficult to watch... didn't necessarily agree with everything, but here are some of my thoughts. The links for the full talk are here, here, and here.

My first thought was that this author is the first person I have heard in years who uses the word agency outside of my church /religious faith. Every Sabbath I attend church I will hear at least one mention of the word agency in discussions on choices, consequences, the Plan of Salvation, and even gossip of mild judgment directed towards another member.   So I have gotten very used to hearing that particular word in a very specific setting with very specific meanings.  When I try to have discussions with people about helping individuals with problems such as drug abuse, debt, or homelessness, the conversation is always quickly steered into finger pointing and firm testimonies that these 'people' have made bad choices, could have made different ones and should now 'reap what they have sown'. I have never felt like I have had the words and language to really explain how I feel differently - that I believe you can only make choices that you recognize as true choices and if you do not see the choice.... how can you choose it? (I have no idea if that last sentence made a lot of sense.)  bell hooks gave me the wording that I have been looking for in this quote:

"Entitlement... a sense of agency is profoundly different [and] open to embracing ... an imagination into the future." 

I have spent a bit of time pondering these thoughts and watched this particular section a few times to make sure I internalized it.  I look back at my life and see the choices that I made to focus on marriage and family and not become a marine biologist or veterinarian and I see how while I had choices... I really didn't see the choices that I had.  So at 41 years old I am attending college and I am thrilled to be doing so yet am pretty much behind the bell curve age wise.  It's great to be able to open up and see what other choices there are out there that really are choices that I can make.  It really is freeing and I do feel like I have more imagination for my future and what I can make of it.  :)

Another thing that stuck out to me through her discussion was that Darth Vader was given a 'black voice'. (I am not convinced this was a racist decision, but I digress...) I haven't seen any of the Stars Wars movies since I was a teenager, but I think I recall that when Darth Vader was unmasked at the end of one film by his son Luke Skywalker, he was pale, white... sort of bloated looking.  It's interesting that James Earl Jones did the voice (I think that was the voice I recognized from the clips, but when the character was unmasked he wasn't actually black at all.  Am I remembering that right?  Any fans out there?  As I was thinking about this I thought about J.K. Rowlings and the Harry Potter books and how in reading most books, the general rule of thumb is that the character is white until proven otherwise.  Some Harry Potter fan sites have drawings and portraits of some of the characters where Hermione is brown or black and other characters look differently that they are portrayed in the movies and possibly in our minds.  I wonder about how it feels to read books where most of the characters are not necessarily like you... I think I just discovered anew another form of white privilege... as almost all characters I read about are made in my image. To have the 'proactive sense' of agency that Ms. Hooks talks about seems to mean more than critical thinking in my mind... more than an understanding of responsibility...  it requires true focus and vigilance about all thoughts imagined, all behavior committed, recognizing where you receive favor and where others do not.  I cannot imagine a more difficult task and one that will certainly take a lifetime to even delve past the surface of for most of us.... especially me.

Intersectional analysis is such a valuable and important way to look at information because it gives the researcher or interested party a better understanding of the causes, needs, choices, and motives of those being studied.  While simple, looking at pieces of information in small bits doesn't really give us a true and clear image. A white male moves in his space and makes decisions based not only on color and privilege, but background, environment, family, education, needs and desires, etc...  A female will do the same...  We can not truly separate ourselves from the disparate parts of ourselves that, inadvertently or wonderfully, help us to determine our choices and our life paths.  No matter how much education I get, no matter how well liked I am, I will still find limits to what I can accomplish due to experience biases, gender, environment, etc...  A woman of my age with all similar information who happens to be black has even more limits to struggle against.  To truly understand and try and change a cultural and social problem, if must be truly examined.  For instance, the text mentions how people of different genders and races are more likely to be paid according to these factors and not necessarily on education, experience, etc...  So making a change to standard pay for specific jobs will not really solve the problem even if it appears to temporarily.  Only by understanding the other aspects behind unequal pay and working to change them as well gives us a real shot at true cultural change.  Understanding how historical patterns of oppression still live on in our culture today helps us to look at ourselves, our friends and our communities and that steps towards making our communities more equitable are possible for us.  If we cannot recognize how race, gender, sex, etc... create our relationships with ourselves, our families and our communities... we will find ourselves struggling to truly understand what hinders us.  Like the seven blind monks who are touching an elephant and believe that each have something different at hand than the others, the elephant can remain hidden... even when in plain sight.

photos from: http://www.nndb.com/people/593/000115248/, https://www.pinterest.com/lilyt888999/harry-%2B-ron-%2B-hermione/, http://www.jainworld.com/literature/story25.htm

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