Photo Credit: By Alex Lozupone (Tduk) - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

bell hooks on the need for a pedagogy of hope

2 February 2018

Bell Hooks is an African-American feminist writer and educator. She was born Gloria Jean Watkins but has chosen to use the lower case pen name bell hooks based on the names of her mother and grandmother. The choice is her statement that the substance of her writing is more important than the author.

She has written extensively on how the intersection of race, gender and class have led to large systems of oppression. In her book, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, she combines these themes with art and education and the way to build a more loving, shared community of people.

Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, revelling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community... When we only name the problem, when we state complaint without a constructive focus or resolution, we take hope away. In this way critique can become merely an expression of profound cynicism, which then works to sustain dominator culture.

She even gives us an example of an exercise that she used with her students to help them educate themselves:

In classroom settings I have often listened to groups of students tell me that racism really no longer shapes the contours of our lives, that there is no such thing as racial difference, that "we are all just people." Then a few minutes later I give them an exercise. I ask if they were about to die and could choose to come back as a white male, a white female, a black female, or a black male, which identity would they choose. Each time I do this exercise, most individuals, irrespective of gender or race invariably choose whiteness, and most often male whiteness. Black females are the least chosen. When I ask students to explain their choice they proceed to do a sophisticated analysis of privilege based on race (with perspectives that take gender and class into consideration).

From exercises like these, we need to build feedback loops of constructive resolution that help increase hope and decrease cynicism.