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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 55 a brother and five sisters, and in a racist world that had little to no room for a black girl who wanted to think critically and write for a living. Bone Black, hooks’ chronicle of girlhood, as she likes to call it, is chantlike and elegiac. It proceeds in simple cadences and short chapters that do not try to lay out a Master Narrative. And there is no sense searching for one, or trying to tease it out of hooks. Her life is an open book—several dozen in fact—but she has no interest in putting it all together into something neat. What emerges is a series of vignettes and impressions, in no particular order, like real memory, and the picture they paint can make you laugh and cry. “I must sell tickets to a Tom Thumb wedding, one of the school shows,” she writes. “It isn’t any fun for children. We get to dress up in paper wedding clothes and go through a ceremony for the entertainment of the adults. The whole thing makes me sick but no one cares. Like every other girl I want to be the bride but I am not chosen. It has al- ways to do with money. The important roles go to the children whose parents have money to give... I am lucky to be a bridesmaid, to wear a red crepe paper dress made just for me. I am not thrilled with such luck. I would rather not wear a paper dress, not be in a make-believe wedding. They tell me that I am lucky to be lighter skinned, not black black, not dark brown, lucky to have hair that is almost straight, otherwise I might not be in the wedding at all, otherwise I might not be so lucky.” Although she has not made a career of poetry, hooks has communed with poetry and written poetry from a young age, and much of her writing reads poetically. It sings and it breaks with convention. Her poetic tone in Bone Black enables her to present an agonizing tale without bitterness. Rhythmically, with underlying strains of empathy, she presents the tale of her op- pressors. “We are not able to punish grown-ups for their lies,” she writes. “We are not even allowed to tell them they are lying. Once when I said, not thinking, not watching my every word, that so-and-so sure was a liar I was hit across the mouth. Some- times the grown-ups could be heard talking about the preach- ers and how they stand right up there in the pulpit and lie. This makes the grown-ups laugh. It confuses us since we know that god loves truth. We do not understand why the good men of god who stand and lie are not struck down by a bolt of lightning or some other heaven-sent magic. It is confusing, strange and crazy making. Despite the confusion we try to be true.” hooks often refers to the child she writes about in Bone Black in the third person, which she says is one of our modes of remembering. When her parents decide to move her to a more isolated room because of her strange and ungainly ways, she writes, “She is to live in exile. They are glad to see her go, they feel as if something had died that they had long waited to be rid of but were not free to throw away. Like in church, they excommunicate her.” hooks’ girlhood is not unrelentingly bleak. She finds love in the gaps in people’s defenses, and she will build on that love later in life, when she champions a type of feminism—and liberation from oppression altogether—that does not need to demonize and create enemies. She also finds people to admire and emulate, older people who are connected to the land and to folkways that are not defined by what she will come to call, at the height of her critical powers, “imperialist, white suprema- cist, capitalist patriarchy.” These people do not buy into “dominator culture.” They define for themselves who they are. Prime among them is Saru, her grand- mother. She writes, “Now that [Saru] is old she talks often to me about god. She tells me that believing in god has noth- ing to do with going to church. I love to hear her talk about the way she went to church and found that people were more concerned with talking about what you were wearing and who you were with and decided never to go again. She is a woman of spirit, a woman of strong language, a fighter. She tells me that she has inherited this fighting spirit from her mother, and that I may have a little of it but it is too early to tell.” STANFORD UNIVERSITY,where hooks enrolled at age eighteen, was about as far from her “backwoods Kentucky life” as she could go. She does not feel that she was a rebel: she was pursu- ing an education, which was something her parents placed a high value on, despite their disapproval of her obsessive desire to read. It was at Stanford that she discovered the “open field” of the mind. “The life of the intellectual was so exciting,” she tells me, “be- cause it was a world of openness, radical openness, whereas my life growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home was a very narrow, confining life.” But, as she recounts in Wounds of Pas- sion, the story of her intellectual coming of age, she was often very lonely at Stanford, where “there are not many black girls” and people had no understanding of the South, which was just an object of ridicule for sophisticates. At times, she wrote, “Sad- ness soaks my body like that moment when you are caught un- expectedly in a rain shower and are wet through and through.” hooks’ moment of truth came in a feminist literature class, where her fellow students were “annoyed that I don’t seem to deal ‘just’ with gender.” She proclaimed that the world where only gender mattered didn’t exist. “The moment anybody black moves out into the world somewhere, away from seg- regation,” she writes in Wounds of Passion, “we always have to think about the ways that race matters, sometimes more than hooks looks at racial, gender, sexual, economic, and political oppression—what she calls “dominator culture”—as an interwoven web of influences that affects the behavior and thinking of everyone in a society.