30 Most Inspirational Bell Hooks Quotes About Black Life & Feminist Activism

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Gloria Jean Watkins, best known by her pen name bell hooks is a well-known and beloved author and social activist. With her influences spanning from Martin Luther King Jr., to Toni Morrison, Watkins has published a plethora of books and essays dealing with race and feminism. 

Her most notorious piece of work was Ain’t I A Woman, which still remains — almost 40 years later — a radical and relevant work of political theory. 

Her pen name is in honor of her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair, and Watkins uses the pen name in lowercase in an effort to differentiate between her identity and her ideas.

Her words have touched many – and with the start of Black History Month, it’s important to highlight the importance that her voice had within the Black community.

Here are some of the most inspirational bell hooks quotes about Black life and feminism.

1. “For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”

2. “What we do is more important than what we say or what we say we believe.”

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3. “Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.”

4. “Any woman who wishes to be an intellectual, to write non-fiction, to deal with theory, faces a lot of discrimination coming her way and perhaps even self-doubt because there aren't that many who've gone before you. And I think that the most powerful tool we can have is to be clear about our intent. To know what it is we want to do rather than going into institutions thinking that the institution is going to frame for us.”

5. “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”

6. “We live in a world with serious class complexes. It is one thing to be a college student with loan debts and another thing to be just dirt poor for your entire life. The challenge is to come up with more complex understandings of where we are, more global awareness of what connects Americans with what is happening with suffering and oppressed people all around the world.”

7. “As long as women are using class or race power to dominate other women, feminist sisterhood cannot be fully realized.”

8. “Hip-Hop is diverse. But the white, capitalist producers and distributors of Hip-Hop are most interested in the Hip-Hip that is misogynist, that is Black-hating, that is pugilistic, that is to say all about fighting and war and killing and gangsterism.”

9. “Genuine love is rarely an emotional space where needs are instantly gratified. To know love we have to invest time and commitment...'dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of the love — which is to transform us.' Many people want love to function like a drug, giving them an immediate and sustained high. They want to do nothing, just passively receive the good feeling.”

10. “If Black women stand strong and our commitment is to ending domination I know that I'm supporting Black males, Black children male and female Black elderly because the bottom line is the struggle to end domination in all its forms.”

11. “Whether we're talking about race or gender or class, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it's where the learning is.”

12. “The most basic activism we can have in our lives is to live consciously in a nation living in fantasies. Living consciously is living with a core of healthy self-esteem. You will face reality, you will not delude yourself.”

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13. “Women are often belittled for trying to resurrect these men and bring them back to life and to love. They are in a world that would be even more alienated and violent if caring women did not do the work of teaching men who have lost touch with themselves how to love again. This labor of love is futile only when the men in question refuse to awaken, refuse growth. At this point it is a gesture of self-love for women to break their commitment and move on.”

14. “I think stress is anything going on in our lives that impinges on our capacity to have optimum well being.”

15. “If I were really asked to define myself, I wouldn’t start with race; I wouldn’t start with Blackness; I wouldn’t start with gender; I wouldn’t start with feminism. I would start with stripping down to what fundamentally informs my life, which is that I’m a seeker on the path. I think of feminism, and I think of anti-racist struggles as part of it. But where I stand spiritually is, steadfastly, on a path about love.”

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16. “My focus has always been on the work — that work being critical thinking and writing. I am always doing that. That's where I am, wherever I am. Critical thinking and writing as my heartbeat.”

17. “The wounded child inside many females is a girl who was taught from early childhood on that she must become something other than herself, deny her true feelings, in order to attract and please others.”

18. “Radical militant feminist believes that women of color and Black women in particular have written the cutting edge theory and really were the individuals who exploded feminist theory into the directions that has made it more powerful. So I see us as the leaders not just of Black people and Black women in terms of feminism but in terms of the movement as a whole.”

19. “All too often women believe it is a sign of commitment, an expression of love, to endure unkindness or cruelty, to forgive and forget. In actuality, when we love rightly we know that the healthy, loving response to cruelty and abuse is putting ourselves out of harm's way.”

20. “Feminism as a theoretical enterprise is approached differently by Black women depending on where we are. There are more reformist Black women who tend to use the phrase 'Black feminism'.”

21. “No other group in America has so had their identity socialized out of existence as have Black women. When Black people are talked about the focus tends to be on Black men; and when women are talked about the focus tends to be on white women.”

22. “It's really important to have life strategies and part of that is sort of knowing where you want to go so you can have a map that helps you to get there. And the traditional way tells us oh we get into school and someone else advises us, helps us, but that often does not work for African Americans female and male. Because what works for the dominant culture often does not work for us.”

23. “Reviewing the literature on love I noticed how few writers, male or female, talk about the impact of patriarchy, the way in which male domination of women and children stands in the ways of love.”

24. “Power feminism is just another scam in which women get to play patriarchs and pretend that the power we seek and gain liberates us.”

25. “Individual heterosexual women came to the movement from relationships where men were cruel, unkind, violent, unfaithful. Many of these men were radical thinkers who participated in movements for social justice, speaking out on behalf of the workers, the poor, speaking out on behalf of racial justice. However when it came to the issue of gender they were as sexist as their conservative cohorts.”

26. “Sexism has never rendered women powerless. It has either suppressed their strength or exploited it.”

27. “The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.”

28. “I still think it's important for people to have a sharp, ongoing critique of marriage in patriarchal society — because once you marry within a society that remains patriarchal, no matter how alternative you want to be within your unit, there is still a culture outside you that will impose many, many values on you whether you want them to or not.”

29. “My hope emerges from those places of struggle where I witness individuals positively transforming their lives and the world around them. Educating is a vocation rooted in hopefulness. As teachers we believe that learning is possible, that nothing can keep an open mind from seeking after knowledge and finding a way to know.”

30. “It's in the act of having to do things that you don't want to that you learn something about moving past the self. Past the ego.”

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Chicago. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.