bells hooks writes that she embraced critical theory to help her make sense of her life. When she began to research feminist scholarship, though, she found a gap. Female feminist scholars described the experience of being a woman. They would reverse engineer the architecture of their lived reality. This showed them how gender differences were socially constructed. The problem is, hooks noted, white women detailed their white experiences. She found no feminist scholarship that described the distinct experiences of black women. She wondered, am I black first or am I woman first? (Until I heard this song, I used to wonder about such uses of indefinite articles.)
She addressed the oversight. Focusing her efforts against what she calls the universalization of “Women”, she wrote Ain’t I a Woman? Her goal? Create a critical space for black female academics.
We can find such a space in Feminist Scholarship: Black Scholars. In it, she looks at black experience from a feminist viewpoint. She calls out certain black and white female academics. They appropriate gender issues without refracting them through a feminist lens. Not doing so invalidates otherwise good work. Thinking about gender, she writes, doesn’t make one a feminist.
As an undergrad, I studied how the French, American, and Russian Revolutions affected art. They were survey courses. We would spend a week or two, sometimes half a term, on each period. The classes simplified the dynamics of each era. Because I didn't know better, I assumed revolutions were that black and white.
In graduate school, I realized how such survey courses skewed my approach to art. I found, scoured through, and evaluated source material. I learned that societal upheavals feature many pieces. They start and stop, moving in all directions at the same time. I learned what really went on with art during those periods. Upheavals, with their reevaluations of values, are not a simple matter.
I appreciate hooks’ work in this chapter. She takes the revolution known as Feminism, finds what’s lacking, and works to make it whole. She moves from the personal - her experience - to the general - the experience of all women. I have bought into her thought process. I have yet to see, though, how I can apply such thinking to my introduction to art courses. An introductory lecture that turns dreary, anodyne textbooks on their head? Discussions that show why these textbooks need to be turned on their heads? Seeing how it would benefit each student - not to mention myself - it’s a challenge to which I look forward.