killing rageENDINGRAbell hooksCISM


Previous books by bell hooksOutlaw Culture: Resisting Representation (1994)Teaching to Transgress:Educationasthe Practice of Freedom (1994)Sisters of the Yam:Black Women and Self-Recovery (1993)A Woman's Mourning Song (poems) (1993)Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992)Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1990)Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (1989)Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984)Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981)


Henry Holt and Company, Inc.Publishers since 1866115 West 18th StreetNew York, New York 10011 Henry Holtis a registeredtrademark of Henry Holt and Company, Inc.Copyright 1995 by Gloria WatkinsAll rights reserved.Published in Canada by Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd.,195 Allstate Parkway, Markham, Ontario L3R 4T8.Earlier versions of some of the chapters in this book appearedin the following publications: "Black Beauty and Black Power:Internalized Racism" and "Marketing Blackness: Class andCommodification" reprinted from Outlaw Culture: ResistingRepresentation, by bell hooks (New York: Routledge, 1994);"Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination"and "Loving Blackness as Political Resistance" from Black Looks,by bell hooks (Boston: South End Press, 1992), "OvercomingWhite Supremacy: A Comment" from Talking Back: ThinkingFeminist, Thinking Black, by bell hooks (Boston: South EndPress, 1989), and "Keeping a Legacy of Shared Struggle"from Z Magazine, September 1992.Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Datahooks, bell.Killing rage: ending racism I bell hooks.-lst United States-Race relations.1. Racism-United States.3. Feminism-United States.4. Afro-American women.1995El85.615.H645I. Title.95-6395CIP305.8'00973--dc20ISBN 0-8050-3782-9Henry Holt books are available for special promotions andpremiums. For details contact: Director, Special Markets.First Edition-1995Designed by Victoria HartmanPrinted in the United States of AmericaAll first editions are printed on acid-free paper.co13579108642

CONTENTSIntroduction: Race Talk1Killing Rage: Militant Resistance8Beyond Black Rage: Ending Racism21Representations of Whiteness in theBlack Imagination31Refusing t o Be a Victim: Accountabilityand Responsibility51Challenging Sexism in Black Life62The Integrity of Black Womanhood77Feminism: It's a Black Thing86Revolutionary Feminism: An Anti-RacistAgendaTeaching Resistance: The Racial Politicsof Mass Media98108Black Beauty and Black Power:Internalized Racism1 19Healing Our Wounds: Liberatory MentalHealth Care133Loving Blackness as Political Resistance146

Black on Black Pain: Class Cruelty163Marketing Blackness: Class andCommodification1 72Overcoming White Supremacy: A Comment184Beyond Black Only: Bonding Beyond Race196Keeping a Legacy of Shared Struggle204Where Is the Love: Political BondingBetween Black and White Women215Black Intellectuals: Choosing Sides226Black Identity: Liberating Subjectivity240Moving from Pain to Power: BlackSelf-Determination251Beloved Community: A World Without Racism263Selected Bibliography273

i keep the letters that i wr' ite to youin a folder with a postcard is a reproduction of the image of a blackman and woman in south africa in 1949walking down a road side by sidethe caption reads "seek what is true" it is that seeking that brings us togetheragain and again, that will lead us home.

INTRODUCTIONRACE TALKWhen race and racism are the topic in public dis course the voices that speak are male. There isno large body of social and political critique by women onthe topics of race and racism. \Vhen women write about racewe usually situate our discussion within a framework wherethe focus is not centrally on race. We write and speak aboutrace and gender, race and representation, etc. Cultural re fusal to listen to and legitimize the power of women speakingabout the politics of race and racism in America is a directreflection of a long tradition of sexist and racist thinkingwhich has always represented race and racism as male turf,as hard politics, a playing field where women do not reallybelong. Traditionally seen as a discourse between men justas feminism has been seen as the discourse of women, itpresumes that there is only one gender when it comes toblackness so black women's voices do not count-how canthey if our very existence is not acknowledged. It presumesthat the business of race is down and dirty stuff, and there fore like all male locker rooms, spaces no real woman would

2IK ILL I N G R A G Ewant to enter. Since white women's bodies embody the sexistracist fantasy of real womanness, they must not sully them selves by claiming a political voice within public discourseabout race. When race politics are the issue, it is one of therare moments when white men prick up their ears to hearwhat black men have to say. No one wants to interrupt thosemoments of interracial homo-social patriarchal bonding tohear women speak. Given these institutionalized exclusions,it is not surprising that so few women choose to publicly"talk race."In the past year, I have been on many panels with blackmen discussing race. Time and time again, I find the mentalking to one another as though nothing I or any otherwoman has to say on the topic could be a meaningful in sightful addition to the discussion. And if I or any other blackwoman chooses to speak about race from a standpoint thatincludes feminism , we are seen as derailing the more im portant political discussion, not adding a necessary dimen sion. When this sexist silencing occurs, it usually happenswith the tacit complicity of audiences who have over timelearned to think always of race within blackness as a malething and to assume that the real political leaders emergingfrom such public debates will always and only be male. Notlistening to the voices of progressive black women meansthat black political discourse on race always suffers from criti cal gaps in theoretical vision and concrete strategy. Despitebacklash and/or the appropriation of a public rhetoric thatdenounces sexism, most black male leaders are not commit ted to challenging and changing sexism in daily life. Thatmeans that there is a major gap between what they say andhow they deal with women on the street, in the workplace,at home, and between the sheets. Concurrently, many blackwomen are self-censoring and -silencing for fear that talking

I N T R ODUC T I ONI3race desexualizes, makes one less feminine. Or that to enterthese discussions places one in direct competition with blackmales who feel this is their turf. Facing this resistance anddaring to "talk race," to be as political as we wanna be, isthe contemporary challenge to all black women, especiallyprogressive black females on the Left.Certainly fear of male disapproval or silencing has notbeen a factor curtailing my entering a political discussion ofrace. I find myself reluctant to "talk race" because it hurts.It is painful to think long and hard about race and racism inthe United States. Confronting the great resurgence of whitesupremacist organizations and seeing the rhetoric and beliefsof these groups surface as part of accepted discourse in everyaspect of daily life in the United States startles, frightens,and is enough to throw one back into silence. No one in thedominant culture seems to consider the impact it has onAfrican Americans and people of color in general to tum onradios and televisions, look at magazines and books whichtell us information like that reported in Andrew Hacker'sbookTwo Nations.Many white folks believe that "Africans and Americans who trace their origins to that continent are seen as languishing at a lower evolutionary level thanmembers of other races." By the time we reach this passagein Hacker's book, we have already heard it-at some cocktailparty, in the grocery store, on the subway, or in a fancymuseum where folks are dismissing and de-intellectualizingthe art by black artists hanging on the wall. These days whiteracism can let it all hang out, hold nothing back. The anti black backlash is so fierce it astounds. It comes to us viawhat Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison calls "racetalk, the explicit insertion into everyday life of racial signs andsymbols that have no meaning other than pressing AfricanAmericans to the lowest level of the racial hierarchy." For

4IKIL LING RAGEthis to happen, Morrison adds, "popular culture, shaped byfilm, theater, advertising, the press, television and literature,is heavily engaged in race talk." In many ways race talk sur faces as the vernacular discourse of white supremacy. It re peatedly tells us that blacks are inferior to whites, more likelyto commit crimes, come from broken homes, are all on wel fare, and if we are not we are still whining and beggin olemassa and kindly miss ann for a handout. Even when wewin literary prizes it lets the world know that up in the bighouse folks are not really sure that judging was fair, or thewritin that good. And if we put on airs and act like we fancyintellectuals there is always some pure soul ready to let theworld know we ain't as we seem. Meanwhile back at theplantation, in an entire book that painstakingly documentsthe harsh reality of white supremacy and anti-black senti ment, Hacker can undermine his own research with state ments like: "Something called racism obviously exists." Eventhough he continues and states: "But racism is real, an incu bus that has haunted this country since Europeans first setfoot on the continent. It goes beyond prejudice and discrimi nation and even transcends bigotry, largely because it arisesfrom outlooks and assumptions of which we are largely un aware." The "we" of unaware does not include black people.We do not have the luxury to be unaware and when we actunaware it is just that, an act-psychologists have a namefor it-"denial." Yet come to think of it can it not be thatwhite folks are into "denial" bigtime themselves-that denialkeeps us all as unaware as we wanna be. Denial is in fact acornerstone of white European culture, and it has beencalled out by the major critical voices who speak to, for, andfrom the location of whiteness (Marx, Freud, Foucault). Afterall if we all pretend racism does not exist, that we do notknow what it is or how to change it-it never has to go away.

INT R O DUCTIONI5Overt racist discrimination is not as fashionable as it oncewas and that is why everyone can pretend racism does notexist, so we need to talk about the vernacular discourse ofneo-colonial white supremacy-similar to racism but not thesame thing. Everyone in this society, women and men, boysand girls, who want to see an end to racism, an end to whitesupremacy, must begin to engage in a counter hegemonic"race talk" that is fiercely and passionately calling for change.For some of us talking race means moving past the painto speak, not getting caught, trapped, silenced by the sadnessand sorrow. I was not born into a world where anyonewanted me to talk about race. I was born into a world wherefolks talked about crackers, coons, and spooks with hushedvoices and contorted facial expressions. I came into thatworld with no clue of the pain hidden behind the laughter,the performance art that took racism and made it into a littleshow, "how they see us versus how we see ourselves." Theseshows made us laugh as children. Even though we lived inthe midst of life-threatening racial apartheid we had not yetseen racism clearly. It had not stared us down. It had noface. We were ourselves before it came. They wanted us tobe that way-to not see racism-old black folks. Theywanted us to have a childhood-full of fun and innocenceand sweet things-a childhood without racial pain. In thosedays we did not realize that the pain would never be ac knowledged, not even by the folks who loved us, that ac knowledging it would alienate and estrange us from theworld we knew most intimately.Nowadays, it has become fashionable for white and blackfolks alike to act like they do not have the slightest clue asto why black folks might want to separate, to be together insome comer, or neighborhood, or even at some dining tablein a world where we are surrounded by whiteness. It is not

6IK I L L IN G R A G Ea mystery. Those of u s who remember living i n the midst ofracial apartheid know that the separate spaces, the timesapart from whiteness, were for sanctuary, for reimaginingand re-membering ourselves. In the past separate spacemeant down time, time for recovery and renewal. It wasthe time to dream resistance, time to theorize, plan, createstrategies and go forward. The time to go forward is stillupon us and we have long surrendered segregated spaces ofradical opposition. Our separation now is usually mere es cape-a sanctuary for hiding and forgetting. The time toremember is now. The time to speak a counter hegemonicrace talk that is filled with the passion of remembrance andresistance is now. All our words are needed. To move pastthe pain, to feel the power of change, transformation, revolu tion, we have to speak now-acknowledge our pain now,claim each other and our voices now.Reading much of the popular contemporary literature onrace and racism written by men in this society, I discoveredrepeated insistence that racism will never end. The bleakfuture prophesied in these works stands in sharp contrast tothe more hopeful vision offered in progressive feminist writ ing on the issue of race and racism. This writing is funda mentally optimistic even as it is courageously and fiercelycritical precisely because it emerges from concrete struggleson the part of diverse groups of women to work together fora common cause, forging a politics of solidarity. The positiverevolutionary vision in this work is the outcome of a willing ness to examine race and racism from a standpoint that con siders the interrelatedness of race, class, and gender. Yet itis not this insightful writing that receives the attention ofthe mainstream mass media. As we search as a nation forconstructive ways to challenge racism and white supremacy,it is absolutely essential that progressive female voices gaina hearing.

I N T R OD UCTIONI7The essays in this collection are my speaking. They talkrace in myriad ways-look at it in terms of white supremacy,black and white relations, the interdependency and coalitionpolitics between people of color. They observe it from afeminist standpoint, talk class and interrelated systems ofdomination. They critique, challenge, and call for change sharing the vision of a beloved community where we canaffirm race difference without pain, where racism is no more.Covering a span of twenty years, these essays reflect thevision of revolutionary hope that has always been present inthe work of politicized feminist writers who think deeplyabout race relations in our society. A few of the essays aretaken from earlier books and included because readers feltthat they provoked thought on the issues and were a mean ingful catalyst for change. Combined with recent writing onthe issue of race, they bear witness to the passion for racialjustice that remains a powerful legacy handed down to thisgeneration from freedom fighters of all races who dared tocreate an anti-racist discourse, who dared to create and sus tain an anti-racist social movement. In counter hegemonicrace talk I testify in this writing-bear witness to the realitythat our many cultures can be remade, that this nation canbe transformed, that we can resist racism and in the act ofresistance recover ourselves and be renewed.

KILLING RAGEMILI TAN T RESIS TANCEIam writing this essay sitting beside an anonymous whitemale that I long to murder. We have just been involvedin an incident on an airplane where K, my friend and travel ing companion, has been called to the front of the plane andpublicly attacked by white female stewardesses who accuseher of trying to occupy a seat in first class that is not assignedto her. Although she had been assigned the seat, she wasnot given the appropriate boarding pass. When she tries toexplain they ignore her. They keep explaining to her in loudvoices as though she is a child, as though she is a foreignerwho does not speak airline English, that she must take an other seat. They do not want to know that the airline hasmade a mistake. They want only to ensure that the whitemale who has the appropriate boarding card will have a seatin first class. Realizing our powerlessness to alter the momentwe take our seats. K moves to coach. And I take my seatnext to the anonymous white man who quickly apologizes toK as she moves her bag from the seat he has comfortablysettled in. I stare him down with rage, tell him that I do not8

K I L L IN G R A G EI9want to hear his liberal apologies, his repeated insistence that"it was not his fault." I am shouting at him that it is not aquestion of blame, that the mistake was understandable, butthat the way K was treated was completely unacceptable,that it reflected both racism and sexism.He let me know in no uncertain terms that he felt hisapology was enough, that I should leave him be to sit backand enjoy his flight. In no uncertain terms I let him knowthat he had an opportunity to not be complicit with theracism and sexism that is so all-pervasive in this society (thathe knew no white man would have been called on the loud speaker to come to the front of the plane while anotherwhite male took his seat-a fact that he never disputed).Yelling at him I said, "It was not a question of your givingup the seat, it was an occasion for you to intervene in theharassment of a black woman and you chose your own com fort and tried to deflect away from your complicity in thatchoice by offering an insincere, face-saving apology."From the moment K and I had hailed a cab on the NewYork City street that afternoon we were confronting racism.The cabbie wanted us to leave his taxi and take another; hedid not want to drive to the airport. When I said that Iwould willingly leave but also report him, he agreed to takeus. K suggested we just get another cab. We faced similarhostility when we stood in the first-class line at the airport.Ready with our coupon upgrades, we were greeted by twoyoung white airline employees who continued their personalconversation and acted as though it were a great interruptionto serve us. When I tried to explain that we had upgradecoupons, I was told by the white male that "he was nottalking to me." It was not clear why they were so hostile.When I suggested to K that I never see white males recehingsuch treatment in the first-class line, the white female in-

10IK I L L ING R A G Esisted that "race" had nothing to do with it, that she was justtrying to serve us as quickly as possible. I noted that as aline of white men stood behind us they were indeed eagerto complete our transaction even if it meant showing nocourtesy. Even when I requested to speak with a supervisor,shutting down that inner voice which urged me not to makea fuss, not to complain and possibly make life more difficultfor the other black folks who would have to seek servicefrom these two, the white attendants discussed togetherwhether they would honor that request. Finally, the whitemale called a supervisor. He listened, apologized, stood qui etly by as the white female gave us the appropriate service.When she handed me the tickets, I took a cursory look atthem to see if all was in order. Everything seemed fine. Yetshe looked at me with a gleam of hatred in her eye thatstartled, it was so intense. After we reached our gate, Ishared with K that I should look at the tickets again becauseI kept seeing that gleam of hatred. Indeed, they had notbeen done properly.I went back to the counter and asked a helpful black sky cap to find the supervisor. Even though he was black, I didnot suggest that we had been the victims of racial harass ment. I asked him instead if he could think of any reasonwhy these two young white folks were so hostile.Though I have always been concerned about class elitismand hesitate to make complaints about individuals who worklong hours at often unrewarding jobs that require them toserve the public, I felt our complaint was justified. It was acase of racial harassment. And I was compelled to complainbecause I feel that the vast majority of black folks who aresubjected daily to forms of racial harassment have acceptedthis as one of the social conditions of our life in white su premacist patriarchy that we cannot change. This acceptance

K I LLING RAGEI1 1is a form of complicity. I left the counter feeling better, notfeeling that I had possibly made it worse for the black folkswho might come after me, but that maybe these young whitefolks would have to rethink their behaviors if enough folkscomplained.We were reminded of this incident when we boarded theplane and a black woman passenger arrived to take her seatin coach, only the white man sitting there refused to move.He did not have the correct boarding pass; she did. Yet hewas not called to the front. No one compelled him to moveas was done a few minutes later with my friend K. The veryembarrassed black woman passenger kept repeating in a softvoice, "I am willing to sit anywhere. " She sat elsewhere.It was these sequences of racialized incidents involvingblack women that intensified my rage against the white mansitting next to me. I felt a "killing rage . " I wanted to stabhim softly, to shoot him with the gun I \vished I had in mypurse. And as I watched his pain, I would say to him tenderly"racism hurts." With no outlet, my rage turned to over whelming grief and I began to weep, covering my face withmy hands. All around me everyone acted as though they couldnot see me, as though I were invisible, \vith one exception. Thewhite man seated next to me watched suspiciously whenever Ireached for my purse. As though I were the black nightmarethat haunted his dreams, he seemed to be waiting for me tosbike, to be the fulfillment of his racist imagination. I leanedtowards him with my legal pad and made sure he saw the titlewritten in bold print: "Killing Rage."In the course on black women novelists that I have beenteaching this semester at City University, we have focusedagain and again on the question of black rage. We began thesemester reading Harriet Jacobs's autobiography, Incidentsin the Life of a Slave Girl, asking ourselves "where is the

12IK I L L ING R A G Erage?" In the graduate seminar I teach on Toni Morrison wepondered whether black folks and white folks can ever besubjects together if white people remain unable to hear blackrage, if it is the sound of that rage which must always remainrepressed, contained, trapped in the realm of the unspeak able. In Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, her narratorsays of the dehumanized colonized little black girl Pecolathat there would be hope for her if only she could expressher rage, telling readers "anger is better, there is a presencein anger." Perhaps then it is that "presence, " the assertionof subjectivity colonizers do not want to see, that surfaceswhen the colonized express rage.In these times most folks associate black rage with theunderclass, with desperate and despairing black youth who intheir hopelessness feel no need to silence unwanted passions.Those of us black folks who have "made it" have for themost part become skilled at repressing our rage. We do whatAnn Petry's heroine tells us we must in that prophetic fortiesnovel about black female rage The Street. It is Lutie Johnsonwho exposes the rage underneath the calm persona. She de clares: "Everyday we are choking down that rage." In thenineties it is not just white folks who let black folks knowthey do not want to hear our rage, it is also the voices ofcautious upper-class black academic gatekeepers who assureus that our rage has no place. Even though black psychiatristsWilliam Grier and Price Cobbs could write an entire bookcalled Black Rage, they used their Freudian standpoint toconvince readers that rage was merely a sign of power lessness. They named it pathological, explained it away. Theydid not urge the larger culture to see black rage as somethingother than sickness, to see it as a potentially healthy, poten tially healing response to oppression and exploitation.In his most recent collection of essays, Race Matters, Cor-

K I L L IN G R A G EI13nel West includes the chapter "Malcolm X and Black Rage"where he makes rage synonymous with "great love for blackpeople." West acknowledges that Malcolm X "articulatedblack rage in a manner unprecedented in American history,"yet he does not link that rage to a passion for justice thatmay not emerge from the context of great love. By collapsingMalcolm's rage and his love, West attempts to explain thatrage away, to temper it. Overall, contemporary reassessmentsof Malcolm X's political career tend to deflect away from"killing rage." Yet it seems that Malcolm X's passionate ethi cal commitment to justice served as the catalyst for his rage.That rage was not altered by shifts in his thinking aboutwhite folks, racial integration, etc. It is the clear defiant artic ulation of that rage that continues to set Malcolm X apartfrom contemporary black thinkers and leaders who feel that"rage" has no place in anti-racist struggle. These leaders areoften more concerned about their dialogues with white folks.Their repression of rage (if and when they feel it) and theirsilencing of the rage of other black people are the sacrificialoffering they make to gain the ear of white listeners. Indeed,black folks who do not feel rage at racial injustice becausetheir own lives are comfortable may feel as fearful of blackrage as their white counterparts. Today degrees and intensi ties of black rage seem to be overdetermined by the politicsof location-by class privilege.I grew up in the apartheid South. We learned when wewere very little that black people could die from feeling rageand expressing it to the wrong white folks. We learned tochoke down our rage. This process of repression was aidedby the existence of our separate neighborhoods. In all blackschools, churches, juke joints, etc., we granted ourselves theluxury of forgetfulness. Within the comfort of those blackspaces we did not constantly think about white supremacy

14IKILLING RAGEand its impact on our social status. We lived a large part ofour lives not thinking about white folks. We lived in denial.And in living that way we were able to mute our rage. Ifblack folks did strange, weird, or even brutally cruel acts nowand then in our neighborhoods (cut someone to pieces overa card game, shoot somebody for looking at them the wrongway) , we did not link this event to the myriad abuses andhumiliations black folks suffered daily when we crossed thetracks and did what we had to do with and for whites tomake a living. To express rage in that context was suicidal.Every black person knew it. Rage was reserved for life athome-for one another.To perpetuate and maintain white supremacy, white folkshave colonized black Americans, and a part of that colonizingprocess has been teaching us to repress our rage, to nevermake them the targets of any anger we feel about racism.Most black people internalize this message well. And thoughmany of us were taught that the repression of our rage wasnecessary to stay alive in the days before racial integration,we now know that one can be exiled forever from the prom ise of economic well-being if that rage is not permanentlysilenced. Lecturing on race and racism all around this coun try, I am always amazed when I hear white folks speak abouttheir fear of black people, of being the victims of black vio lence. They may never have spoken to a black person, andcertainly never been hurt by a black person, but they areconvinced that their response to blackness must first andforemost be fear and dread. They too live in denial. Theyclaim to fear that black people wil l hurt them even thoughthere is no evidence which suggests that black people rou tinely hurt white people in this or any other culture. Despitethe fact that many reported crimes are committed by blackoffenders, this does not happen so frequently as to suggestthat all white people must fear any black person.

K I LL I N G R A G EI15Now, black people are routinely assaulted 3.nd harassed bywhite people in white supremacist culture. This violence iscondoned by the state. It is necessary for the maintenanceof racial difference. Indeed, if black people have not learnedour place as second-class citizens through educational institu tions, we learn it by the daily assaults perpetuated by whiteoffenders on our bodies and beings that we feel but rarelypublicly protest or name. Though we do not live in the samefierce conditions of racial apartheid that only recently ceasedbeing our collective social reality, most black folks believethat if they do not conform to white-determined standardsof acceptable behavior they will not survive . We live in asociety where we hear about white folks killing black peopleto express their rage. We can identify specific incidentsthroughout our history in this country whether it be EmmettTill, Bensonhurst, Howard Beach, etc. We can identify rareincidents where individual black folks have randomly re sponded to their fear of white assault by killing. White rageis acceptable, can be both expressed and condoned, but blackrage has no place and everyone knows it.When I first left the apartheid South , to attend a predom inantly white institution of higher education, I was not intouch with my rage. I had been raised to dream only ofracial uplift, of a day when white and black would live to gether as one . I had been raised to tum the other cheek.However, the fresh air of white liberalism encounteredwhen I went to the West Coast t

Preious books by bell hooks utlaw Culture: Resisting Representation (1994)ğ Teaching to Trasgress: Education s the Pactice of Freedom (1994)ğ Ssters of the Yam: Black Women and Sef-Recovey (1993)ğ A Woman's Mouning Song (poems) (1993)ğ Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992)ğ Yeaning: R