Aug 22 + 23, 2018 | Roulette | Brooklyn

#Speech4Breakfast Day 14 – bell hooks

bell hooks – Speech at the International Women’s Convocation

Read by Jessica Almasy

*We recognize that no figure, group, or movement is without complexity. In highlighting each of these speeches, we seek to honor first and foremost the act of speaking truth to power.

A couple of years ago my sister—one of my five sisters—died unexpectedly. She was 62 years old We were all just shocked. She seemed very well. I had seen her and had good times. But she fell and when she went to the doctor it turned out she had lung cancer. On the way here, I was reading some information from the Lung Cancer Foundation and found out lung cancer kills more women than breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer combined. I was stunned by that. And I knew that lung cancer has been a very leading cause of death for many black women.    

Part of what the Lung Cancer foundation is trying to do is educate people that it’s not just about people who smoke. When I heard that lung cancer was one of the leading causes of death for black women, I thought, “I don’t know any of these black women who are smokers.” I learned that it doesn’t have to do with whether you smoke or not. It’s either/and.

So ​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​things​ ​I​ ​was​ ​reflecting​ ​on​ ​about​ that​ ​​is​ ​how​ ​much—if​ ​ we​ really​ ​ want​ to​ undo​ ​imperialist,​ ​white​ ​supremacist,​ ​capitalist​ ​patriarchy—we have​ ​to​ ​study.​ We​​ ​have ​​to learn. ​ We​ have​ ​to​ ​utilize​ ​new​ ​forms​ ​of​ ​knowledge,​ ​and​ ​allow​ ​those​ ​forms ​​of​ ​knowledge ​​to change  us.​

Those​ ​of​ ​us​ ​who​ ​have​ ​grown​ ​up​ ​in​ ​church​ ​traditions​ ​know​ ​that​ ​we​ ​talk​ ​about​ ​what​ ​it​ ​is​ ​to have​ ​a​ ​conversion​ ​experience.​ ​You​ ​tell​ ​your​ ​story.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​traditional​ ​black​ ​church,​ ​when​ ​you​ ​got religion. ​ In​ that telling​ ​of​ your​ ​story,​ ​it’s​ ​not​ ​only ​ meant​ to​ inspire​ those​ ​​who​ are​​ ​listening,​ ​but​ ​to reaffirm your​ own​​ transformation​ of​ yourself.​

I​ like​ ​​to​ ​sing—I’m​ ​not​ ​going​ ​to​ ​sing​ ​for​ you,​ ​​don’t​ ​worry—that​ ​song​ ​that  says​ ​ ​“Said​ I​ wasn’t​ ​going​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​nobody,​ ​but​ ​I​ couldn’t​ keep​ it​ ​​to​ ​myself.”​ ​Those​ ​experiences ​​in ​ life that​ deeply​ ​change​ ​us​ ​and​ ​transform​ ​us…don’t​ ​we​ ​want​ ​to​ ​share​ ​it?​ ​Don’t​ ​we​ ​want ​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​the stories?

That’s​ ​why​ ​Ann’s​ ​book​ [Combined Destinies by Ann Todd Jealous and Caroline T. Haskell] ​is​ ​so​ ​important.​ ​When​ ​you​ ​read​ ​that​ ​book—and​ ​I​ ​haven’t​ ​finished​ ​it,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​read​ ​quite​ ​a bit ​of​ ​it​ ​before​ ​coming​ ​here​ ​to ​​this​ ​podium—about​ ​the​ ​grief​ ​of ​ so​ many​​ white​ ​people ​​who ​​were educated​ into​ white supremacy​ and​ racism,​ and​ ​then ​begin to​ educate themselves, ​to decolonize their​ minds.​ But​ then​ they had​ ​to look​ back​ and think​ ​of the​ ​ cruel​​ ​things ​they had​ done to​ people​ of​ ​color,​ ​or​ ​white​ people​ who are​ ​our​ allies​​ ​in​ ​struggle.

Okay,​ ​here​ ​we​ ​are​ ​at​ ​A-see-lomar.​ ​How​ ​do​ ​you​ ​say​ ​it?​ ​Thank ​you. It’s very​ important​ that ​we’ve ​come ​together ​in​ ​this​ refuge​​ ​by ​the​ ​sea​ ​and ​​have​ ​this moment ​to meet,​ in​ ​nature, even ​if​ ​some​ of​ us​​ would​ have​ preferred sunshine​ ​and​ ​warmer​ weather.

I​ ​get​ ​up​ ​in​ ​the​ ​morning​ ​and​ ​I’m​ ​doing​ ​my​ ​prayers,​ ​and​ ​I’m​ ​looking​ ​out​ ​on​ ​the​ ​water​ ​and seeing those​ fierce waves…I’m singing​ “Master,​ ​the​ tempest​ is​ raging”​ and​ “Peace be​ still,”​ and​ I’m​ reminded​ that when​ we come​ ​together ​in​ this type of​ ​environment,   nature​ ​becomes​ a​ ​ place​ where we​ can​ restore​ our​ souls. Where ​we​ can​ connect with​ the​ divine and with each other. The natural world continually restores my soul. To commune with nature is a central aspect of spiritual journey.

[Reading from her book Belonging: A Culture of Place] “In his book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, Greg Levoy reminds us that, ‘nature is a proper setting for a return to ourselves, our source, our place of origin. It is the place where the world was created, where our ancestors came from…’”

By going back to nature, we are, in a sense, returning to the garden. To a place where we were contained within nature’s wholeness, where we were not separated from the divine from whence our visions and calls emanate. Guided by prophetic vision, we understand that it is the wholeness of life that we are called to celebrate and cherish.

By prophetic vision, I mean simply, divinely inspired imaginings of different possibilities. Vision requires imagination—the ability to see what cannot be seen.

In The Soul of Politics, Jim Wallis reminds readers that, “the prophetic vocation is to challenge the old while announcing the new. Like the prophets, we must call certainty into question. The Biblical​ ​prophets​ ​always​ ​had​ ​a​ ​two-fold​ ​task.​ ​First,​ ​they​ ​were​ ​to​ ​be​ ​bold​ ​in​ ​telling​ ​the​ ​truth​ ​and proclaiming​ ​justice.​ ​In​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​truth​ ​telling,​ ​the​ ​prophets​ ​had​ ​a​ ​second​ ​task.​ ​They​ ​had​ ​to​ ​hold up an alternative vision. They​ had to help the people imagine new possibilities.”

We are called to cultivate, both individually and collectively, a spirit of radical openness. One that strengthens our collective willingness to be bold in hearing and in telling the truth, to stand for justice.

The focus of my talk is very much on the whole question of feminism and where the movement for justice in challenging patriarchy is today. People have made so much talk about this new administration’s racism and white supremacy. But I was really amazed when I went on the Internet and looked up a lot of the alt-right statements. So many of them were so deeply misogynist and woman-hating, calling for a return to a mean-spirited, hard-hearted sense of womanness and women. I definitely think we need some good therapy to try to figure out why white men are so obsessed with abortion and being anti-abortion.

Even​ ​the​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​feminist​ ​women​ ​that​ ​I​ ​know,​ ​we’ve​ ​had​ ​great discussions here about​ reproductive ​ rights.​​ Our​ primary issue, as women and​​ men​ who are ​our​ allies in​ ​the struggle, ​ ​is​ not​ ​the​ ​right​ ​to​ ​have​ ​abortion, it  is​ to ​have reproductive rights,​ of​ which abortion​ is​​ ​one. I​ often​ have​ this​ ​discussion​ ​with​ ​my​ ​good​ ​comrade​ ​Gloria​ ​Steinem—I’ve ​​not​ convinced​ her.​ ​I’ve​ ​said,​ ​“Do ​ you​ ​really​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​women​ ​in​ the world who​ ​are just​ trying ​to get​ clean ​ water​​ and​ feed​ their​ children​  ​and ​ to survive,​ ​are​ ​​running​ ​around​ ​being​ ​upset​ that​ they​ ​can’t​ ​have​ ​an​ ​abortion?”

This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​very​ ​small ​ example of ​how First​ World​ ​women​ in our​ society,​  mostly​ white,​ ​can​ ​impose​ ​our​ sense​ of​ what​ ​​is​ ​important for​ women​​ in​ ​the​ ​world. ​​As​ ​such, ​​that​ ​is a ​ form​ of violence.​ Because​ we are​ not respecting​ the​ lives​​  ​of ​the millions​ of​ women​ in​ the​ world​ ​for​ ​whom​ ​feminist​ ​issue​ ​is​ ending​ ​​war,​ ​having​ ​food,​ ​ending​ ​poverty,​ ​ending disease.

In​ ​our​ ​society,​ ​we’re​ ​so​ ​privileged,​ ​we​ ​don’t​ have​ to​ ​ ​think ​ about​ those​ ​things​ as​​ feminist issues. ​ But​ in​​ fact ​the​ ​three things​ ​that​ are​​ causing​ ​​the ​most death​​ of​ ​women ​and children:​ ​war,​ ​disease​ ​and​ ​poverty.​ ​So​ ​let’s​ ​keep​ ​that​ ​in​ ​mind​ ​when​ ​we​ ​talk​ ​about imperialist,​ ​white​  supremacist,​ ​capitalist​ ​patriarchy.​ ​And​ ​what​ ​is​ ​the​ ​role​ ​of​ ​white​ ​women in​ ​perpetuating​ ​those​ ​things?