Single Lady Quotes: bell hooks

From Goodreads

I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.

As a young writer, I aspired to be a poet like Ntozake Shange, who distilled so much of the black girl’s experience in her poetry and a warrior like Alice Walker. Intellectually, I yearned for the freedom, clarity and possession that marked bell hooks’ work.
bell hooks was the first black woman intellectual I admired. I read Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life – a conversation between bell hooks and Cornel West, when I was 13, and never stopped admiring her work. It also allowed me to envision myself as an intellectual in my own right. hooks has written over 30 books.

“To return to love, to get the love we always wanted but never had, to have the love we want but are not prepared to give, we seek romantic relationships. We believe these relationships, more than any other, will rescue and redeem us. True love does have the power to redeem but only if we are ready for redemption. Love saves us only if we want to be saved.”

“Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.”

“One of the major tasks black women face as we work for emotional healing is to understand more fully what love is so that we do not imagine that love and abuse can be simultaneously present in our lives. Most abuse is life-threatening, whether it wounds our bodies or our psyches. Understanding love as a life-force that urges us to move against death enables us to see clearly that, where love is, there can be no disenabling, disempowering, or life-destroying abuse.”

“It is the absence of love that has made it so difficult for us to stay alive or, if alive, to live fully. When we love ourselves, we want to live fully…When we love ourselves, we know that we much do more than survive. We must have the means to live fully.”

“Exclusion and isolation, whether they occur through overt or covert acts, have always been useful tactics of terrorism, a powerful way to coerce individuals to conform, to change. No insurgent intellectual, no dissenting critical voice in this society escapes the pressure to conform….We can all be had, co-opted, bought. There is no special grace that rescues any of us. There is only a constant struggle to keep the faith, to relentlessly rejoice in an engagement with critical ideas that is itself liberatory, a practice of freedom.”

The Romantic’s Disclaimer: A book excerpt

I love romance and thinking about love. It’s an affliction that was only worsened by a childhood reading list of titles by authors like Sidney Sheldon, bell hooks, Cornel West and a lot of Harlequin Romances, Jackie Collins and Danielle Steel.

I’m writing more about this in another book, but it’s important context: my mother, a single parent with undiagnosed bipolar and borderline personality disorders, left me alone as a child and teenager for long stretches of time while she was working or going to school.

In those long, often boring, stretches of time, I became a writer, a dreamer and a hopeful romantic. I also learned how to live by watching television, movies and reading a lot. My life experience and the people I was blessed to meet along the way helped dispel or reinforce relationship notions in one way or another.

But my earliest ideas about love and romance came from a mixture of popular culture references like The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker, the love poems of Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez and June Jordan and so many television shows and movies from the 80s and 90s that I couldn’t even start to list them all. (Scenes from The Women of Brewster Place still pop up in my dreams, for instance.)

Having all the time in the world to jump from one seedy or sappy narrative to another was the best structure I had to craft a robust inner life. The soundtrack of my youth is all Jodeci, New Edition, Boyz II Men, Bell Biv Devoe, Johnny Gill, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige and Bobby Brown: baby-making music.

Yes, and I loved them anyway

The images from those books – A painting of the blond Fabio caressing a damsel in his arms; descriptions of the dark-haired and ruthless Lucky Santangelo getting her revenge as a scorned lover in Los Angeles; the bucolic love stories of Danielle Steel involving horses and green fields – worked in tandem with music lyrics to feed the epic story that the love of a man was just over the adulthood horizon. To love and be loved was the central goal of womanhood, so if I was really going to grow up and be a woman, I needed to know these plots and their narrative arcs.

One of the consequences of my mother’s mental illnesses, though, was that I had a misshapen sense of what it meant to be intimate with another person. The side effects of bipolar disorder include euphoria, manic depression and violence.  Almost right up until my mother died in January 2012, she was always in love with somebody or something. She was never without a suitor.

Mom loved love. “I think he’s in love with me (smiles but serious)”: this was her constant refrain. I only know of one black man she courted seriously – my father – but the rest of her lovers were like representatives of the United Nations: white, Mexican, Pakistani, Russian.

Mom was loud, bipolar and a beautiful disaster, as Kelly Clarkson sang. I was her polar opposite: quiet, observant and reserved. While she spun through the world, giggling at one intimate encounter or another, I became a student of people and relationships.

For women, mothers are the templates for womanhood and what we believe about being a woman in the world. As a result, I believed that love and sex were interchangeable. Sex in exchange for affection looked a lot like the dramatic, florid romances I read.

Unfortunately, it would take many years to learn the difference between sex and love.

Single Lady Books: Swirling – How to Date, Mate and Relate Mixing Race, Culture and Creed

 

Yikes. I have to start with a disclaimer.

I do my best to support other black women writers because I love reading work that mirrors my life and experiences.

My sense, though, is that constructive criticism is quite rare in general, but specifically in the black community. Reactions to media about or for black people are viewed as either love (whether that love is merited or not) or hate (even when there may be constructive criticism embedded in that hate).

When it comes to popular culture analyses, I’d like to think I operate in the gray zone. Pretty much everything that comes out of the black community about dating these days, though, makes me feel like a hater. Not because the books we produce are not valid, but more because they don’t tend to make a lot of room for people to be who they are and bring that to relationships. The message echoes that most singles are faced with in popular culture: If you change X about yourself, you will find your soul mate.

I very rarely hate or loathe anything. It’s not in my nature. I can usually see how something could have been better or more edifying while I’m digging through it, and that generally leads to irritation. When most responses to creators/creatives who produce things are wide acclaim, praise and cute blurbs, then saying anything negative at all usually gets reduced to haterade.

Anyway, one more thing before I dig in: just because the book doesn’t resonate with me doesn’t mean that someone won’t find it useful. I operate on the principle that you should take what is useful from anything and everything and leave the rest. I’m planning to give my copy away to someone who thinks they might get something from it (That means you, actually, if you want a copy.)

I didn’t find a lot that was useful in Swirling. Christelyn Karazin and Janice Littlejohn wrote truthfully and candidly about their relationship experiences. Karazin spearheaded a 2010 initiative called No Wedding, No Womb as a “declaration and acknowledgement that the out-of-wedlock situation in the black community has reached a critical mass.”  Littlejohn, a journalist and filmmaker, and Karazin attended the same college and became friends.

The book feels like 70 percent Karazin and 30 percent Littlejohn, but the percentage should be flipped. Much of what we know from the legal stories to the Hollywood stories about interracial dating was rehashed by Karazin, who writes like she has a point to make to the reader. She is down, she is sassy, and she found her prince who happened to be a white man, despite the haters in her family and in her community. Here’s one example of what I mean:

My husband and I jumped the broom the day we married. My mother insisted on it, perhaps as a not so subtle reminder to me from where I’ve come. So with clenched teeth and sweaty palms, I took the leap with my white husband, and into a world that was neither black nor white, but brushed with wisps of gray. An interracial marriage is truly risky. You join the ranks of odd couples who abdicate their anonymity and risk ridicule…Someone stares a millisecond longer than what is comfortable and then you wonder. A salesman snubs you and then you speculate. You weren’t invited to a party and you can’t help but think, Is it because my husband is white?

Is it because I’m black?

 

I think I understand why she writes this way – a lot of popular culture narratives suggest that black women are undesirable, not only to black men, but definitely to men of other races. But it made reading the book painful, frankly. I still appreciate Karazin and Littlejohn for working against that myth. But I felt like their game needed less defense all around.

In Swirling, they also aim to empower black women who limit their options to black men to care enough about themselves to try interracial dating. There are some great tips in here about learning how to be your own great partner with a list of cities where interracial dating is more widely accepted.Littlejohn saves the book from being a little narcissistic and overly haughty, while Karazin clearly is the originator of words like “rainbeau” the term the authors use for men who are not black in the book. There are a few interviews in the book with racial and culture experts, but the main source of information comes from Karazin’s blog.

The language is a little girlfriendy/condescending. I like ice cream, also, so I wanted to really enjoy the swirling metaphor, but after a while, it really, truly annoyed me so much that I’m surprised that I finished the book.

I kept wondering while I was reading Swirling if the people who really need it — black women who are so scared of what other people will think that they need a handbook to empower them to date someone of another race — would actually buy it and its message.

The takeaway is that there are men of all colors who will date straight black women if only they will have the courage to pursue men of all ethnicities. If you think you know that already (and I think I’m pretty good on that, thanks) then you don’t need to read this book. I hear it may become a movie, so you could just watch that. Maybe it’ll come out around the same time as the sequel to Think Like A Man.

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