bell hooks

Salvation: Black People and Love

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Salvation: Black People And Love Summary

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Salvation: Black People and Love is a non-fiction book and manifesto on the power of love to create social change by activist, author, and scholar bell hooks. Hooks continues her work on the subject of love, which she began in her earlier work All About Love, published a year before Salvation. While in All About Love, hooks focuses on gender discrepancies in the socialized practices of romantic love, and the disparities between the experiences and values of men and women around romance, in Salvation, hooks targets the black community specifically, arguing that love is a social power that can help negate the effects of poverty and oppression.

While All About Love is more of a general manifesto on the difficulties of love in a world of gender disparity, in Salvation, hooks talks to and for African-American communities, with a strong central message: the key to all meaningful and lasting social change is the “transformative power of love.” Hooks focuses on the black community, and how centuries of oppression, generational trauma, and poverty among many black communities in the United States have led to fractured homes and a declining sense of community or belonging.

Hooks is clear, however, that these problems within black communities are not the result of bad behavior on the part of black people themselves. The stereotype that black people have not tried to build strong homes and communities for themselves in the wake of slavery is an absolute myth; hooks cites dozens of sources and gives many examples of how this stereotype is untrue. The idea that black people “don’t want” to live normalized lives is not the problem. Instead, hooks suggests, many manifestations of healthy black communities and family networks have been on the decline because of the war on drugs, which targeted predominantly African American men, the rise of gang violence, and other issues of discrimination and institutional racism that led to fractured families for the hip-hop generation. As a result, hooks argues, many people who were raised in these environments are skeptical of love – romantic, and otherwise.

Hooks does not question the reasons behind this mistrust of love and its power. It is clear, and trauma and race scholars agree, that mistrust of love and feelings of grief over fractured home environments have lasting effects – hence the development of terms like “ACEs,” or adverse childhood experiences. As a result, many black people, especially black men, experience the need to seem tough, and to maintain a sense of strength in order to hold their families together. Strong black men are often seen as militant or unforgiving, tough, even violent – a misconception that only reinforces these ideas of what it means to be a “proper” black man. Hooks argues that while this is a natural response to trauma and racism, true healing for black communities doesn’t come from tough exteriors. It comes from men who learn how to soften in the face of hardship, and share and express their feelings. Hooks cites James Baldwin, the prominent writer and scholar on race in the black community, who argues that because of shared pain, black people are even more capable of empathy and of love. Rather than hardening from pain, it is possible to become soft and loving.

Hooks expands on her perspective with anecdotes from popular culture, prominent scholars on race and slavery, and brings in voices from Zora Neale Hurston to Cornel West to Lil Kim. All the while, she insists on the removal of stereotypes that make the sharing and spreading of love in black communities impossible – media portrayals of black men that don’t leave room for nuanced and complex feelings, stereotypes of single, black mothers, etc. Hooks celebrates the love and strength of black women while encouraging more black men to feel right in their emotional integrity, urging them to share those feelings with the world.

Bell hooks is a scholar, activist, writer, and educator. She is interested in intersections of race, class, and gender, and the ways they can be understood in conjunction with each other. She has published more than thirty books – most notably, All About Love and Teaching to Transgress. She writes on media, pop culture, film, art history, and many other topics, with a particular focus on writing from a feminist and anti-racist lens. She founded the Bell Hooks Institute in 2014 in Berea, Kentucky, on the campus of Berea College.