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7 amazing life lessons from bell hooks we should all live by

Love, community, friendship and empowerment: the late critic had a whole load to say about a whole load of important things

Sophie Dickinson
Written by
Sophie Dickinson

The intersectional feminist, theorist, poet and critic bell hooks has died, leaving behind an incredible legacy. The writer – who published the groundbreaking ‘Ain’t I A Woman? in 1981 – radically redefined our ideas of love and community. Obviously it’s impossible to really capture the essence of a whole life’s work in a piece of online content, not least bell hooks’s. But we’ve given it our best shot – here are some of her most illuminating quotes:

‘Satisfying friendships in which we share mutual love provides a guide for behaviour in other relationships, including romantic ones.’

The life lesson: We all sort of know it, but it’s important to remember that our friends are as important as our lovers. Sure, it can be a thrill finding a new SO – and bell hooks is big on that too. But we can learn to have meaningful relationships through our friendships: patiently listening to them cry about a guy they hardly know, looking after them when they’re sick, having stupid, not-really-very-funny in-jokes. Works for friends, works for love. 

‘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.’

The life lesson: Being by yourself is tough. Actually learning to like spending time alone? Even harder. But bell hooks thinks that once we crack that, we crack relationships, too. It means you’re less likely to make a bad choice – you won’t pick a partner because it’s cuffing season and you don’t want to go to the festive drinks alone, you’ll pick them because you love them.  

‘The practice of love offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.’

The life lesson: Opening up to people is terrifying. Telling someone all your vulnerabilities? Stressful AF. But despite the loss, hurt and pain, she’d also tell you it’s still worth it in the long run – even if it is a little bit frightening.

‘No Black woman writer in this culture can write “too much”. Indeed, no woman writer can write “too much” … No woman has ever written enough.’

The life lesson: The idea of being ‘too much’ is pretty loaded. Too loud, too opinionated, too uncompliant? These are charges laid at women – especially Black women – all the time. But hooks is saying that women should keep going, whether or not it’s seen as difficult or unhelpful. There’s lots to say, and women should say it. 

‘As long as women are using class or race power to dominate other women, feminist sisterhood cannot be fully realised.’

The life lesson: Intersectionality! A significant part of bell hooks’s writing is about intersectional feminism: the way different aspects of a person’s identity impact their place in society. She writes about how important it is for the movement to understand race, class and sexuality – something that still isn’t the case today. 

‘Living consciously is living with a core of healthy self-esteem. You will face reality, you will not delude yourself.’

The life lesson: ‘You will face reality’ is a big ask when reality is Covid restrictions and another threatened Christmas. But this seems like something we should maybe stick on the mirror and recite before a big day at work. ‘You will face reality, you will not delude yourself’ is a pretty powerful mantra to live your life by.  

‘If any female feels she need anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.’

The life lesson: bell hooks thinks you are enough. If bell hooks thinks that, it’s absolutely true. She’s reminding us to be comfortable in ourselves, to stop relying on external forces for satisfaction. Again, it’s a bloody difficult one, but it’s very, very powerful. Rest in peace, bell hooks. 

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