Opinion: 'Groundbreaking feminist' made mark on Ohio State

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Born Gloria Jean Watkins, the writer penned many works under the pseudonym bell hooks, a tribute to her great-grandmother that she chose to write using lowercase letters to focus attention on her words rather than herself.
Born Gloria Jean Watkins, the writer penned many works under the pseudonym bell hooks, a tribute to her great-grandmother that she chose to write using lowercase letters to focus attention on her words rather than herself.

bell hooks, the prolific author, hugely popular academic and sought-after lecturer died last Wednesday in the small town of Berea, Ky., home to a small liberal arts college that rests approximately 39 miles south of the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

In the days since hooks transitioned, obituaries have flooded my inbox from friends and colleagues on the east and west coasts who call themselves keeping me informed of the country’s latest developments.

I’m used to this, as it’s been this way since my family, and I moved to Columbus 15 years ago.

For reasons unknown to me, my colleagues and friends seem to be under the impression that central Ohio is somehow off the news grid.

Judson L. Jeffries is professor of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University. He has published widely on police-community relations, urban uprisings and the politics of state repression.
Judson L. Jeffries is professor of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University. He has published widely on police-community relations, urban uprisings and the politics of state repression.

At any rate, in nearly all of the obituaries that I received, hooks is framed as this groundbreaking feminist. True, but she was much more than that. In the areas of race, class, sex and gender, hooks had few peers.

On that front, hooks was easily, among the most profound intellectuals of the last 40 years, along with other scholars such as Kimberly Williams Crenshaw, Cornel West, Patricia J. Williams, Derrick Bell, Angela Davis and Cedric Robinson.

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hooks’ 1981 book “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” is required reading in my major readings in African American and African Studies course.

The text explores the impact of racism of sexism and racism on Black women, the modern civil rights movement, and both the feminist and women’s suffrage movements.

Author, academic, activist and lecturer bell hooks, who was a scholar-in-residence at The Ohio State University from 2010 to 2013, died Dec. 15, after a lengthy illness. She was 69.
Author, academic, activist and lecturer bell hooks, who was a scholar-in-residence at The Ohio State University from 2010 to 2013, died Dec. 15, after a lengthy illness. She was 69.

In sum, hooks maintains that racist and sexist socialization has conditioned women to downplay, and to some text, devalue their own femaleness, thus, inadvertently of course, participating in their own oppression.

Over the next four decades, hooks produced more than 30 books on topics as wide-ranging as poetry, media, history, art, and love.

hooks’ works reflected her intellectual versatility, exhibiting a strong familiarity with fields of academic inquiry outside of the areas in which she earned her degrees, blending them in a way that produced cutting-edge, thought provoking and mind-bending scholarship.

Strongly influenced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as a youngster, it is not surprising that hooks’ works incorporated matters such as diversity, love, freedom, and justice in the same way that King’s work and writings did.

Think the Beloved Community here.

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Surprisingly, central Ohio news media failed to mention in any significant manner hooks’ stops at the Ohio State University, where she was a scholar-in-residence over the course of three years.

bell hooks' book "Feminist Theory."
bell hooks' book "Feminist Theory."

From 2010 to 2013, when she was a visiting distinguished professor of the then-Department of Women’s Studies (now the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies), hooks gave talks, was interviewed and facilitated lectures and seminars with OSU faculty and students in a number of departments, centers and offices.

hooks died, after a lengthy illness, at the age of 69.

Her imprint on academia is both undeniable and far-reaching. Few works have influenced a generation of scholar-activists, as has hooks’ writings. She’s gone, but her scholarship and example serve as a template to those intellectuals who endeavor to think outside the box, but more importantly, change the world.

Judson L. Jeffries is professor of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University. He has published widely on police-community relations, urban uprisings and the politics of state repression.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Opinion: bell hooks, who taught at Ohio State, left intellectual legacy

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