There are probably few if any who would say that oppression is a good thing. Where it gets complicated is in the different descriptions of what people would agree or disagree on when it comes to oppression in daily life. At certain periods in history, types of oppression were normalized because of religious beliefs, accepted hierarchical social structures, perceived valuations of specific peoples or cultures, and for other reasons. It is easy to draw on such things as slavery in the US, the genocide against North American Native Indians, or the worldwide oppression through colonial enterprises. In the last year the question of oppressive structures has become more prevalent, and it is a very sensitive topic to discuss. That is why it is great to turn to a careful and important voice, such as Bell Hooks.
Love is also a word that most everyone agrees represents something good, but in practice, many ways we are loved or love, is mixed with subtleties. In her book to help describe the experience for women in relationships with men, The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love discusses the complexity of a world where men are not really allowed to have a full range of emotions in society. Crying, weakness, performing domestic tasks, being a house-dad, or other such humbling behaviors are often criticized as being unmanly. Though there is more acceptance today for these ways of being for men, they are only being recognized as normal because of the work of gender theorists and feminists such as Bell Hooks. Her one big point is, if someone says they love you, but they are violent, abusive, neglectful, controlling in either active or passive ways, then their performance of what love means, is deeply confused and likely harmful.
Many of us have heard types idealism of what love should be like. One place that is often referenced as an example of this is Corinthians 13:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres… Love never fails.”
Bell Hooks makes the very accurate and important presentation of how in a relationship, one person can be this way to the other, but the other can be abusive, whether emotionally, psychologically, or physically. Love isn’t always reciprocal, but when it isn’t, it breeds destruction. If we love ourselves we would not want to put ourselves in an abusive situation. This means that unless we are in relationships where both partners strive to love, even in the face of neuroses, repressions, addictions, or trauma, than the relationship cannot progress towards mutual love. If we are trying to change, if we are trying to reduce the amount of control we hold over the other, than there is potential for growth.
Freedom is another word that everyone probably agrees about, but it is a bit more convoluted in the world. The argument about what freedom is has gone on for thousands of years. For instance, lots of people say, its being allowed to do anything. But if someone decides to steal from another, or kill, or harm others in some way, their freedom is now encroaching on another person’s freedom. The whole question then becomes one of power. Who has the power to behave and act in certain ways that remove other’s freedom, and why are they able to take more power without being held accountable? Hooks talks about the need for a movement towards recognizing inequalities in society in her book All About Love: New Visions. If we can see and discuss these inequalities more openly and honestly, than love is more possible.
As a African-American Woman growing up in the 50s and 60s, there were many difficulties experienced during her time moving from early education in racially segregated schools to integrated schooling, not to mention the still entrenched racism. She worked through these barriers from graduating high school all the way to earning her PhD. Throughout her years she has striven to be inclusive throughout her career and in her written works, sometimes being criticized for this in her writing. But she exemplifies, in all her ways, the idea of love which she champions throughout so much of her work and which is enriching and encouraging. A person who is free lives in a society of freedom, where people’s problems are dealt with in the most thoughtful and patient ways. Those who are unable to change from behaviors which might be oppressive are not outcasts, but they should never be allowed to perform such behaviors freely, otherwise there is an unconscious validation of these acts. We can love people but only if we love ourselves enough not to let them harm us, and in this way, through conversation and understanding, we can mutually heal ourselves through the histories of our own trauma and create a world of freedom for all. Bell Hooks is a model to look towards for guidance for everyone who is seeking to grow and change for the better.
Author: Jonathan M. Bessette
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