The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.– bell hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, 2012
Thursday afternoon Australia, warm afternoon, thinking of the significance of bell hooks to my life.
I find myself back at a university named after an explorer, a coloniser, feted by some, and despised by others. It’s an equally, if not warmer, humid afternoon.
I have just been at a staff meeting, representing the diversity of the department, as a post graduate tutor. The auditor/researcher meeting with us, has watched how I have been treated in the meeting.
He takes me aside later, raises it with me – ‘You are more than a token.. they treat you as’ and adds ‘Do you need to talk to anyone? My door is always open.’
Later we have a long discussion, and things come up, students teasing me and ridiculing me for my frizzy hair, racist comments by people training to be teachers and studying literature, and more. Staff members who don’t really care what you think or suggest based on what the First Nations students are saying about the courses – asking questions like – ‘Why isn’t our literature studied by all the students and not just us?’ It’s a raw time. Realising that all this education has not made me immune to micro and macro racist agressions.
And sometimes I want to walk away from it all – but where will I feel safe? and how will I have a voice and acess to be the change I want to be in the world? He gives me a list of articles and people to read – one of them is bell hooks.
I don’t know who I can talk to about these things. He is a well known Canadian educator who is working on changing the world through the power of books and reading. He will go onto do great work in education – to encourage change. He is in the readings of the Masters in Teaching I am currently doing. I don’t stay in touch, but his effect on my own life is life long, but I will sometimes find it hard to deal with the day in and day out racism.
It is a pivotal conversation – and my reading of bell hooks begins, and later I will read Maya Angelou.
Over 25 years ago, and scanning back over that time my journey to overcome experiences like that, it is really apparent what an up and down journey it has been. Moments of isolation, and despair, moments of understanding and connection.
“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?“
– in conversation with Maya Angelou, 1998
Like shackles of the past, they are all released to their significance, and a loving heart is unchained and connected to find kindred spirits to walk in optimism, hope and art with. I find them serendipitously in the world of writing for children, and think back on the works of that Canadian educator, who had a great love of children’s books and saw their power.
Thank you to that Educator for a conversation and an introduction to a thinker, who made me keep up my writing, caring, and art.
Thank you bell hooks, for the gift of your writing – thinking – and advocating. These days, I see that what you imagined as possible, is more of a reality, but there is still more work to do.