Twenty five years ago this Fall, I had a spiritual breakthrough/mental breakdown.
Twenty five years ago, I left another disastrous and doomed from the start relationship.
My second one in less than a year.
What made this one different is that two wonderful women entered and changed my life (Vievee Francis who had been a friend for four years and bell hooks- an incredible thinker and writer).
At 24, my whole life had fallen apart.
Although this would be one of many upsets, I now had tools to deal with the world’s craziness and the new revolutionary concept that I could influence my world.
When I was brought to Black Looks and then Breaking Bread followed by Where We Stand ,We Real Cool and The Will to Change, it was clear to me that my life would never be the same.
All of the writings and thinking entailed in these wonderful critical texts answered so many of the questions that I’d spent a lifetime creating.
Reading Black Looks- Race and Representation shed light on how pop culture pimps and fucks blacks and gays.
Reading Black Looks let me know that all the uneasiness I’d felt about what was possible was a clear signal.
Black Looks provided me with insight concerning why I had always dug Madonna and there might be something deeply troubling about her influence. It made me examine the need by the gay community to worship and fawn over white femininity. It also allowed me to reexamine why certain images entertained and left me spellbound.
Reading Breaking Bread, I found evidence that domination of another human being was stupid, pointless, harmful and unnecessary. Seeing someone have the same thoughts and then share them with the world was refreshing and awe inspiring.
All my life, domination and coercion were heralded as the only and true way to be in the world.
That being able to cut a bitch , make someone feel bad and highlight their flaws and perceived shortcomings was the only way to make it in this world and my family of origin.
Many times growing up my sadness (full emotional state) would alarm and scare people.
As a result, the attacks and belittling would commence.
Breaking Bread (the wonderful work she coauthored with Cornel West) was my personal bible for many years. Watching two brilliant black minds dance, seduce, uplift end enlighten was a magical miracle to behold.
Black folks rarely talk with one another we do spend an incredible amount of time talking at and to. Witnessing this exchange regarding their friendship and the nurturing they gave it for more than two decades was a marvelous vision.
She provided and continues to provide ongoing support as to what people can do to love and reach one another.
In our dominator culture, we are schooled in ways of interaction that suggest and promote constant one upsmanship.
Where We Stand must be mentioned when I bring up texts that shook me to the core and changed how I saw myself and the world around me.
Until I got my mitts on this collection, I never understood or addressed class or class differences.
Although I was and continue to be drawn to working class and raised poor men , it was never clear why nor was it ever clear why there was so much angst and upset around money.
While reading Where We Stand, I was involved with a great man who was seriously driven by and highly influenced by his class origins.
While I continuously sought reasons to combine our differences in an effort to create what I constantly referred to as a “third way” (our way of dealing with challenges and life) he resisted anything that threatened his allegiance to his class upbringing.
In many ways we were speaking and shabbily communicating in ways that were foreign to one another.
There was no amount of discussion, tears or therapy that could address and dismantle my class bias nor his class allegiance without addressing the source of the conflict- class differences.
When anyone asks how I’ve moved out of survival mode and into thriving mode, I inevitable return to books, the written word and most undeniably, bell hooks.
Although a focus on black mental health pervades each of her books, We Real Cool truly is a winner.
As a black man who is constantly told how uncool he is, it was a revelation to read someone else’s account of what a cool black dude says, does and is.
She pulled no punches and let all readers know what cool is and is not and of course the costs for committing to the “cool” way of being.
She consistently offers incredible versions of masculinity and how we can all learn to accept it.
We are also told that there is always a better relationship with anyone other than the human being sitting in front of you at the moment.
Hooks teaches via life choices that there is no better place than right here right now and with whomever she has chosen to engage with at the moment.
Even though it is important to love and engage with others she reminds us through her writings that to engage fully one must continuously and deliberately disengage and spend time in solitude.
What makes this so revolutionary is that as a black female in this culture, she is expected to gain her self identity via always being available to anyone who may
To be black or any person of color in this culture is to have the expectation of servitude placed on your back from birth.
Being a woman who thinks and writes and loves is a gigantic responsibility in a culture that has no time for thinking or writing or god forbid loving rightly.
To be a man in this country who openly defies domination is to make oneself a target and thereby invite all sorts of misunderstanding and societal upset.
To be a man or woman schooled in the art of patriarchy is also to be firmly entrenched in the fine art of understanding that many men in this country are not well loved.
During a recent class of young people, I had them read and respond to an excerpt in bell hooks’ The Will to Change.
Many of my young charges refused to grapple with the fact that people wanting and craving love was not unusual.
My charges could not understand anyone’s longing to become emotionally healthy or the yearning for love and connection.
My young people were uneasy writing about love and its absolute power to change and transform.
Some young people shared that love/loving, sets us up for all kinds of disappointments in life.
We march about war, stolen elections and psychopaths running our country and yet no public outcry for love is staged or allowed.
Writing about it feels wrong and misguided. Yet this is the work that must be done.
One of the things that bell also made sure of is that black men are not meant to be invisible.
She has pointed out on more than one occasion that men are not allowed to be full human beings and this is what causes us severe mental health.
She also makes sure that in her work everyone is given the opportunity to see how men and in particular black men are treated and seen.
When I began to read her work, my life changed and I began to question what the world said I should have or be.