This week, we gained an ancestor who sadly left our physical world way too soon. Undoubtedly one of the most prominent scholars of our generation, bell hooks possessed the uncanny ability to use her words to paint a portrait of possibility for love, liberation, and justice. As evidenced in Ain’t I a Woman, All About Love, Teaching to Transgress, and many of her seminal works, hooks always kept her finger on the pulse of our educational landscape. 

Never one to hold back her words, hooks spoke with powerful conviction and an unbridled confidence that pushed all of us to tap into the power of our own voices. She understood the assignment of fighting for an equitable world and dedicated her life to ensure that all of us understood it as well. 

When I think about the current issues that we’re facing in our education system, hooks was ahead of her time in pointing out these very issues. In honor of her life, I personally want to direct your attention to four quotes that not only showcase her brilliance, but serve as a call of action for us to stay engaged in this lingering battle for educational justice.     

“The moment we choose to love, we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.”

Our passion for ABAR work should be evident in the love and empathy that we show towards our students and colleagues.The concept of love reinforces the liberatory focus of our work as ABAR educators.Our moral and ethical principles are embedded within our soul and it is our responsibility to assess every action we take and determine whether this aligns with our underlying mission of liberating our students from their intellectual oppression. 

Through love, we can combat the destructive forces that hinder our students from being their full selves in the classroom and beyond. Love is a verb, which means that it requires action. Love must come in the form of collaboration, active listening, trust building, and proactive accountability. We can tell our students how much we love them until we are blue in the face but, ultimately, they need to see the receipts!  

“It takes a fierce commitment…to let our work as teachers reflect progressive pedagogies.”

Our education system, as a whole, is archaic and in drastic need of reformation.The same can be said about our instructional practices as teachers. So often, we hear this notion that teachers are reflective practitioners but how many of us truly embody this practice? How many of us audit the curriculum we teach? Challenge the racist school policies we enforce? Question our biases? Reflect on how our instructional practices subconsciously impose emotional harm on our students? 

As a Black man who is a product of the American K-12 education system, I must be mindful of how my daily exposure to whiteness has not only fed my internalized oppression but also informed my educational philosophy as a teacher. I’d be lying if I said that my childhood experience as a K-12 student didn’t have an impact on my teaching practice. Because our education system, by default, centers whiteness, we must ask ourselves what role we’re playing as teachers to decenter it. Through this interrogation process, we will discover that we have much to unlearn and learn about our pedagogical practice.

“Shaming is one of the deepest tools of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy because shame produces trauma and trauma often produces paralysis.”

This quote really resonates with me because it speaks to this toxic cancel culture era we find ourselves in. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times where it is warranted to call folx out on their bullshit and foolishness, especially if their hearts aren’t invested in this fight for educational justice. However, in the case where we have well-meaning folx who genuinely want to join the fight, we must take a different approach. 

Publicly shaming them and denouncing their actions will further distance them from being true allies and co-conspirators in this fight because of their fear of making a mistake. Ultimately, liberation and justice cannot be achieved if we don’t operate as a collective and, for that reason, we must be in the spirit of educating, guiding, and elevating each other so we’ll be in a position to disrupt and dismantle together. 

“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power – not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.”

This is my favorite quote from hooks because it personally describes a turning point in my teaching career. For so many of us who enter the education space, we feel as though we have to stay in our place because we haven’t accumulated enough years in the classroom to voice an opinion or call out an unjust action.I know that was certainly the case for me. 

As a Black male teacher, I definitely witnessed things within my first school that were unjust but I didn’t have the courage to call it out.I was fearful of the consequences I could potentially face—reduction in salary, bad performance evaluation, or even a possible termination I was young, scared, and at times, very naive about what was going on around me. 

After getting fired after my first year of teaching, I realized that even if you’re a highly competent teacher who stays on the straight and narrow, you’re still not guaranteed another year on the job. Between the anti-CRT sentiment, the banned books controversy, and the attack against LGBTQ+ students within our schools, we must trust our inner conscience and tap into our power as educators. 

Fear is a tool that white supremacists have used for generations to paralyze folx from disrupting the very systems from which they greatly benefit.That said, the fear of more BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students having their identities erased and marginalized within our current education system is what should galvanize us to unapologetically speak our truth in the pursuit of a more inclusive and equitable educational experience for our students.

Although bell hooks has transitioned, her spirit and legacy will still live on but it’s up to us to ensure that we do our part to keep her legacy alive. As beautiful as it has been the last few days to see so many folx give loving tributes to hooks across their social media platforms, let’s be clear that the tributes mean absolutely nothing if we’re not making an intentional effort to teach and transgress

Photo by Wikimedia.
Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, “Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the Teacher in You” and his latest, “From Inaction to ‘In Action’: Creating a New Normal for Urban Educators”.


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