Bell Hooks

hooks is often and rightly lauded as a radical. One of her most radical and revolutionary positions was her view on the socially and politically transformative power of love. It’s through love that we can begin to disconnect ourselves from materialism and systems of domination. 

From romantic love to self-love, hooks was fearless and prolific in her advocacy for the concept. She saw what self-hatred and low self-esteem could do to people and, subsequently, whole movements; how through a lack of love fights against oppressive systems could end up feeding into and sustaining others; how when we fail to see the subjecthood of others we are liable to only be moved to action when our own self-interests are threatened.

We need what hooks called “a love ethic”, a shared commitment to the welfare of ourselves and others, to ground our struggles against structures of domination; “… it is in choosing love, and beginning with love as the ethical foundation for politics, that we are best positioned to transform society in ways that enhance the collective good.”

The definition of love hooks embraces sees love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth” (M. Scott Peck). This, for hooks, got closer to the essence of love, and was a good place to start as a working universal definition upon which the foundations of our journeys to love could begin. To “extend” indicates action; understanding love as a verb was central to what hooks teaches us about loving.

One needs to make a commitment to actively do the work on their inner self: reflecting on and honestly assessing one’s internalised supremacist thinking, recognising and working through one’s pain, learning to view oneself objectively and not through the gaze of materialism, classism or sexist ideals. We also make a commitment to the ones we choose to love.

Whether it be the love we extend to ourselves, romantic partners, or our communities, “to truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients – care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.”

To love is to act counter to a culture that centres on individualism, materialism, and imperialism. It is to prioritise the authentic over the transactional, community over isolationism. “The moment we choose to love, we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.” We should honour bell hooks by considering love thoughtfully and comprehensively in progressive discourse, recognising its spiritual as well as revolutionary value. And we should honour ourselves and our communities by choosing it.