Conversation between great Black feminists, bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry

So I finally had a chance to watch last week’s 90-minute conversation between bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry, and given its length, I thought I’d jot down some general topics that they to make it easier to find, for those who want to listen again to a certain bit, or those who just don’t have time to listen to it all. It’s all good, though, if you only have time for a few minutes.

One warning, though, my notes are what I was hearing as an educated white male, and publishing these reference points is more like being an editor or gatekeeper than I am entirely comfortable with; I am not worthy of either role for these two great individuals. I hope this helps more people hear them, than detracts from messages that I failed to hear.

In an antiracism training setting, Roots of Justice trainers often say that White people need to educate themselves about racism and not depend on People of Color to do it for them. A common response is, How can we know without listening to the stories of People of Color? The answer is to read and listen to those who willingly and graciously put their thoughts out publicly.

First 7 minutes: Welcome and introduction. If you know who MHP and bh are and your time is pressed, skip this.

First 10 minutes of the conversation (until 17:00): Shift in the voices of Black women over the last generation. 

20:00 – Beast of the Southern Wild – Abuse of a young black girl presented for entertainment.

21:40 – 12 Years a Slave – Negating the Black female voice

24:30 – Michelle Obama – Has her stature remained strong or diminished?

28:50 – Back to 12 Years a Slave, bringing in Django Unchained and other films; white women have been complicity in oppression; sentimentality

32:40 – Why is there such an interest in sentimentality and melodrama at this particular moment in history?

36:10 – Grief, MLKing’s insight of “a native form of fascism” is coming/has come into reality

38:00 – the cognitive dissonance that Black people live with

41:00 – Is there a sentimentality around MLKing? We can’t just use him and ignore his sexism and heterosexism.

44:00 – Imperialist patriarchy is killing Black men. Story of a 7-year-old African American boy.

48:00 – Proximity to Whiteness provides privilege, and other intersections of privilege.

49:50 – Referencing Paulo Friere, exercising redemptive subjectivity

52:00 – bell hooks’s decision to leave NY and return to community and a different kind of writing

56:00 – Lorraine Hansberry: think critically about love

56:40 – I can’t count on the white racist world to keep the bell hooks legacy going

58:00 – Questions. Keep them short because “with Buddhist compassion I will tell you to not give that speech.” Question 1 – How can we balance telling the stories of the violence done to Black women’s bodies while imagining a “beyond that.” Response: Why is there no world that wants to see the lives of self-sufficient black women? Where is our decolonized image?

1:01:00 – Talking about an experience of sexual assault is exhausting.

1:04:30 – Question 2: On the “Black Elite”, neighborhoods, and the creation of culture.

1:08:30 – Question 3: On shaming each other and internalized oppression. Shaming people for individual decisions is a defense mechanism to keep people from doing the hard work of organizing for change; it’s the most dangerous thing in marginalized communities because then we do not organize.

1:13:40 – Shame is a tool of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy because it produces trauma which often produces paralysis.

1:14:15 – Question 4: On dealing with hyper-masculine personalities who have elements of anti-imperialism. Response: If you mean patriarchy, don’t say “hyper-masculinity”. Don’t equate masculinity with patriarchy; that contributes to the assault on Black males.

1:17:40 – Question 5: Where are the voices of Black school teachers in the conversations about educational reform? Response: Black teachers are the targets, the reason for backlash against unions and the brining in of charter schools and Teach for America people to teach the kids instead. It’s not a mistake that this is one area where there is bipartisan consensus.

1:19:30 – More on TFA

1:20:45 – Question 6: Was there a moment when you realized you had something to write, and how did you push back against the urge to silence yourself? Question 7: Thinking about the different responses to the deaths of Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin – How can we value women and men in our community equally? Question 8: How instrumental is the male or white ally in the movement against patriarchy? Question 9: On the ways that African Americans participate in imperialism globally.

Responses: Q7 – Dismantle patriarchy. Certain violence fits neatly into tropes, like Black men being lynched. We don’t have the narratives to talk about violence against Black women in the same way, except for rape by White men.

1:27:20 – Q6 – Find some safe audiences to develop your authentic voice with.

1:29:15 Q9 – What’s scary is that people don’t want to face that there is not one Blackness. 

1:30:40 – Q8 – I question the word “ally.” People who are standing on their own anti-patriarchal or anti-sexist beliefs are not allies, they are on their own front line in the same way I am on my own front line.

1:33:00 – On the Declaration of Independence. We don’t need allies as much as we need patriarchs to imagine something bigger than what is in this moment.

1:35:10 – One way to work for freedom is to move away from binaries.

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