bell hooks saved me. I say that in all sincerity. At a critical time in my life, when I was at my lowest point, it was bell hooks, through her books, who pulled me out of a hole of profound depression and set me on a path of self-renewal on which I have remained ever since.
Newly divorced with two very young sons, I was determined to give a better fatherhood experience than the one I had. The examples of responsible and loving manhood in my life were wanting. I knew early on in life that I didn’t want to grow up to be a man like my stepfather. The mistaken assumption I carried was that that sole desire was sufficient. What I didn’t realize is, without any alternative liberating visions to turn to, those internalized experiences would surface within me. It took me hitting rock bottom to realize that the patchwork façade of manhood I had scrambled to embody was woefully incapable of enabling me to become the man I desired to be.
Reading Malcolm X’s autobiography in college taught me that a person can remake themselves through critical self-engagement. And that reading could play a crucial element in that pursuit. But it was the writings of bell hooks that proved to be the catalyst that lifted me out of the pit of my despair. And of all books, it was her Sisters of the Yam that caused the initial shift in my consciousness. Growing up in a society that taught me men existed at the epicenter, Sisters of the Yam forced me to the edge of that oppressive reality and revealed to me how damaging that worldview is. For me, the book opened a window into a world of Black sisterhood. It was humbling. In the pages of that book, I first learned of how Black women are burdened by oppressions that provide me with privilege.
Reading bell was no simple task. As uncomplicated as her writing is, the challenge was in understanding and applying what I learned in my own life. The cognitive dissonance I experienced was real and visceral. bell disrupted my fundamental perception of myself as a man. But her words never demeaned me. Instead, they honored my ability to comprehend a new self and the will to remake myself anew.
In reading bell hooks, I came to terms with how the system of White supremacy was not a system unto itself. Racism was but one form of oppression. Patriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism all worked in tandem with White…