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Postmodern Blackness Essay

bell hooks “Postmodern Blackness”

In bell hooks essay “Postmodern Blackness” hooks finds a way to blend personal stories with discussion of postmodernism and challenges that black writers face. The personal stories that hooks shares bring to life the points that she makes, the stories show that hooks has personally faced these challenges and not just read about them. It is clear while reading the essay that hooks has faced several challenges in her writing career but there is not a sense of anger in her writing. She shares stories of being told at parties that she was “wasting her time” writing about postmodernism. I find it odd that people would go up to someone and tell them to stop writing about something, but I am glad that those people at that party did not stop hooks from writing. But just because there is not a sense of anger there is a sense that black writers are struggling to get their words heard. Hooks repeats words such as “hopelessness”, “yearning”, “difference”. “Otherness”, and “identity.” Her essay shows a struggle to find an identity to get your words heard and have your opinion matter.            

There were so many quotes in this essay that I loved. I found myself highlighting a lot and putting stars next to a lot of the things that I highlighted. Some of the quotes I really like are:

  • “The failure to recognize a critical black presence in the culture and in most scholarship and writing on postmodernism compels a black reader, particularly a black female reader, to interrogate her interests in a subject where those who discuss and write about it seem not to know black women exist or even to consider the possibility that we might be somewhere writing or saying something that should be listened to, or producing art that should be seen, heard, approached with intellectual seriousness” (703).
  • “I enter a discourse, a practice, where there may be no ready audience for my words, no clear listener, uncertain then, that my voice can or will be heard” (703).
  • Robert Storr quote that hooks uses, “to be sure, much postmodernist critical inquiry has centered precisely on the issues of ‘difference’ and ‘Otherness.’ On the purely theoretical plane the exploration of these concepts has produced some important results, but in the absence of any sustained research into what artists of color and others outside the mainstream might be up to, such discussions become rootless instead of radical” (703-704).
  • “Yearning is the word that best describes a common psychological state shared by many of us, cutting across boundaries of race, class, gender, and sexual practice. Specifically, in relation to the post-modernist deconstruction of ‘master’ narratives, the yearning that wells in the hearts and minds of those whom such narratives have silenced is the longing for critical voice” (705). Moves in to discussion of rap music.
  • “Music is the cultural product by African-Americans that has most attracted postmodern theorists. It is rarely acknowledged that there is far greater censorship and restriction of other forms of cultural production by black folks-literary, critical writing, etc” (706).
  • “Using myself as an example, that creative writing I do which I consider to be most reflective of a postmodern oppositional sensibility, work that is abstract, fragmented, non-linear narrative, is constantly rejected by editors, and publishers. It does not conform to the type of writing they think black women should be doing or the type of writing they believe will sell” (707).
  • “Since I have not broken the ties that bind me to underclass poor black community, I have seen that knowledge, especially that which enhances daily life and strengthens our capacity to survive, can be shared. It means that critics, writers, and academics have to give the same critical attention to nurturing and cultivating our ties to black community that we give to writing articles, teaching, and lecturing. Here again I am talking about cultivating habits of being that reinforce awareness that knowledge can be disseminated and shared on a number of fronts” (707).

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The main issue in this essay is expressed by bell hooks in the following quote:

The failure to recognize a critical black presence in the culture and in most scholarship and writing on postmodernism compels a black reader, particularly a black female reader, to interrogate her interest in a subject where those who discuss and write about it seem not to know black women exist or to even consider the possibility that we might be somewhere writing or saying something that should be listened to, or producing art that should be seen, heard, approached with intellectual seriousness.

In most scholarship on postmodernism, hooks sees very little representation of black voices, and almost no black female voices. Part of this is because of the systemic racism in the academy, which according to bell hooks is both a cause and an effect of the belief of African American scholars that there is little in postmodernism that is relevant to the black experience.

The irony is that postmodernism is based in large part on the idea of specificity and diversity of experience, and hooks argues that black postmodernist writers have actually absorbed and accepted, and ratified through their works, the white supremacy that they have sought to challenge. But hooks claims that recent developments, especially deindustrialization, have created the possibility for empathy across identities. White working-class people are experiencing the same "hopelessness" as many black people.

But, the central concern of this essay is that black scholars should employ the critique of "essentialism" that is central to postmodernism without rejecting the idea of a black experience. Most important, black scholars (like hooks herself) should engage with people in the community, especially artists, whose work is also a form of criticism.