I’m bell hooks and I’m speaking freely what this is all about is your right to freedom of speech what made America great is an independent rigorous price what jerk burns a flag America is not threatening political speech is the heart of the First Minister expressing their religious beliefs how is the pie the big bucks the reality but all the cross Chile welcome to speaking freely I’m Ken Paulson bell hooks is a noted author scholar and social critic she’s written 22 books all of which are in print including this thoughtful and thought-provoking communion the female search for love I’d like to read to you from your own book a line that says this book is testimony a celebration of the joy women find when we restore the search for love to its rightful a rogue place at the center of our lives tell me about that we’ve always thought of our heroes as having to do with death and war and you know when we think of Joseph Campbell and the whole idea of the heroic journey it’s rarely a journey that’s about love it’s about you know deeds that have to do with conquering domination what-have-you and so part of what I wanted to say to people is that living as we do in a culture of domination to truly choose to love is heroic to work at love to really let yourself you know understand the art of loving you say in the book the revelations for you after the age of 40 about love that their insights you gained that you wished you’d had earlier well absolutely because I think that like so many other people in our culture I had very very confused ideas about love and you know in the first book all about love one of the ideas that was really hard for people to accept was that if somebody is abusing you they’re not loving you I mean you would think that would be a basic understanding most of us would have but in fact so many of us have been wounded in some way in our childhoods that we really need to cling to the idea that if someone hurts you they can also be loving you and I tried to make a big distinction in that book between care and love it like saying that my parents cared for me deeply and care is important a lot of children don’t receive any care but it’s it’s only one ingredient of love well not love love is a topic that many people have written about and now recently written three very well-received books about it what is your take on love that’s different from others I always think that part of the genius of bell hooks such as it is is that I bring together standpoints that are that are often not brought together in our nation you know I bring together thoughtfulness about race gender class when I’m writing about love I you know one of these fanatic readers I read a book a day a nonfiction book a day and I’m a fanatical mystery reader and I’m a read to mysteries a day so I’m always bringing together not unlike speaking freely diverse ways of knowing and I think that that has been kind of the the mark of a bell hooks books that you may you may you may be reading all about you know Buddhism then you may read about gangsta rap there may be a whole combination of ideas and I believe that in our deeply anti intellectual society most people read along very narrow lines and think along very narrow lines so I think that the excitement many people feel when they come to a bell hooks book is God she’s brought together these things that just seem like they you would never have put them together you know mentioned that you’ve had 22 books in print that’s extraordinary that just doesn’t happen that it suggests a shelf life that most authors don’t enjoy but do you ever sit down and say you know I really want a best-seller I want I want this one made into a movie I want all of my books made into movies but you know because you know what I think that I believe that I am can the embodiment of that sort of classical idea of the intellectual as someone who really wants to be whole and to me part of wholeness is I really do like the people the mass I really you know want to be able to write books that are touching the pulse of a diverse audience so to me the only exciting aspect of having a best-seller is that you know that you have that capability that you’re spread across a wide body of people cross class cross erase and I think that’s incredibly exciting the idea of that you know there’s not a temptation to kind of water down your message to broaden it in a way that everyone will find it appealing sort of like who moved the cheese well you know what I think is it in these real deep and profound times and I don’t want to make light in any way because for the past few years I have just been so concerned about the question of censorship and a censorship of the imagination that that begins even before people are censoring what we write I think that when I look at my career as a thinker and a writer that what is so amazing is that I have a dissenting voice and then I was able to come into corporate publishing and bring that dissenting voice with me I mean the fact is that there it may seem to people that the love books which are easier to read unlike all the other bell hooks books I did write them with a mass audience in mind mindful of my language mindful of the a lot of things but in them there are ideas that drive people Wow because they feel that they’re so dissenting let that idea I mentioned to you earlier that care isn’t love I mean I can’t tell you how many talks I went on where people were up yelling how dare you say you know that mom and dad didn’t love me because you know they they gave me that beating every week that I need it I’m curious about your take about the marketplace of ideas speaking freely is about about all those ideas floating around and they need to hear all of them and to share viewpoints and yet it seems that in recent years especially on college campuses we’ve seen a different take on freedom of speech I know that you teach you see college students up close did they have the same feel for freedom of speech that you may have had when you were going to school well I think that the key word that you use kid was the marketplace and I think what’s really tragic about education particularly at a higher level in our nation right now is that it has become to be something that is about the marketplace so that there’s a lot of repression that students begin to do because they want to prepare themselves for the marketplace for you know getting the money and getting the power and getting the status and getting the theme and you know that means that you know you can’t always say you know what you want to say you know you have not hesitated to question projects programs or individuals that’s frankly a lot of the african-american community embrace with pride you’ve raised questions about Kwanzaa the Million Man March and and not least of all Oprah what what is uh is it difficult to speak out on those topics I think you know it’s difficult to when you’re misunderstood you know it’s difficult when people stand up and say you know why do you hate Spike Lee so much and I say you know actually they’re there their moment in Spike Lee’s films that I think are incredible that I love but that doesn’t mean that that I don’t have a real critical commentary about his work and I know that as a teacher I’m constantly encouraging my students to recognize the difference between a critical commentary about something that can illuminate it for you that can help you to see it in a different way and something that’s just trashing because I think that part of the danger for free speech in our society is the deep longing people have both in our personal and public lives to avoid conflict to avoid hurting someone’s feelings to to not you know be polite and and I think that you know if you think about all the work that’s been done by Susilo Bach and others about how as a nation were lying more and more I think we have to connect that to an absence of free speech because when you live in a country that makes truth something that is associated with the painful that should not be spoken it becomes hard to get people to value speaking freely because the you know there are things that we have to say that will be wounding like for example in my latest book that I’m talking to you about about black people and self-esteem there are things that I have to say about black children and how they’re parented that are that would sound harsh to a lot of people but those things have to be said if we’re going to address in any way what is happening over all collectively with black children and self-esteem so to me you know a lot of what I do in the classroom is to try to teach that kind of courage that allows you to speak freely I mean recently I you know I’m a big Martin Luther King fan especially of the later sermons and when I go back you know in strength to love he talks about standing in the shadows of fascism and he talks so much about the importance of protecting free speech our our democracy and yet you know I think that people don’t realize how radical much of what he was saying I mean he was talking about we’re going to see a day of terrorism we’re going to see all of these things and I think that that’s a really amazing I mean here’s this man for example that most people remember by you know what is what is a very poetic you know I have a dream speech but not by the deep penetrating social and political analysis he had about imperialism and why because in a sense we censor that Martin Luther King even like a Martin Luther King holiday is constructed to to make him more palatable to to make him be this guy who was just about peace and love but not about the fact that he was an incredibly sophisticated thinker about peace and love and to me the dangers of censorship in our nation and the forms that take the very subtle forms it takes is that people don’t get to that Martin Luther King that that Martin Luther King disappears I think that about a bell hooks that you know I noticed that as I was telling you when we talked last about how as it as a dissident intellectual you know there was a time when black intellectuals got a lot of press and you know but now you hardly ever hear about bell hooks in the press you know newspapers don’t call me anymore to say what do you think about because I was seen as the bad the bad girl the girl who says the things that people don’t want to hear and again I have such a subculture of readers that I certainly can’t complain but I am ever cognizant of the fact that a lot of things like the New York Times a lot of places never review bell hooks books you know last year I came out with a book on class where we stand class matters and luckily these books sell but they don’t get reviewed and I think again things that are not seen as topical clever with you know witty in a shallow sense we often don’t hear and I don’t want to just talk about bell hooks I think dissident speech is not valued in our nation whether it comes from white men you know rich white men or poor white men I think the real issue is we are in danger as a nation of silencing any form of speech that goes against what is perceived to be the status quo if in your classroom your students came to you and said you know there’s a Nazi coming to campus to speak he’s clearly a racist there’s no question about it and and a local organization decided to recruit them to recruit this individual to stir things up and and they want to enlist you to fight the appearance what’s your take on that well how do you respond you know my response is always on behalf of free speech because basically I always tell my students if you look at the history of you know silencing ultimately the people that get silenced are the dissident radical voices that any time we try to shut down people and in fact ends up being something that causes us to suffer more I think that people need to know how to hear information and think critically about it not to and that’s usually my whole thing is to say what does it mean for us to hear something that we have to think critically about and that we can make a choice about as opposed to the idea that we should eliminate people saying certain things people thinking certain things take certain books out of the library well let’s talk about those books let’s talk about those ideas if you listen to a conservative talk radio and to the phrases you hear most often our liberal elites and political correctness and I initially I thought political correctness was a pretty good concept just in terms of it’s about showing respect for other people and and and that’s a good place to be and yet there seems to be a scene it seems to been an evolution where political correctness has become more of a code and when it’s become more of a tool of censorship of silencing that all you have to do to silence someone is to say they’re politically incorrect and frequently it’s a tool that conservatives use to silence or belittle the voices of liberal and radical people I mean I like the fact that gangsta rappers used to have this phrase come correct and you know that’s exactly what it meant to come correct was to be mindful to be respectful to be aware of who you’re speaking to and that was the initial positive thrust of political correctness which was to be mindful of who you’re talking to and I talked about this in in communion the female search for love that women often will talk about men in an extraordinarily hateful way that that is considered quite normal but in fact if men talk about women in that extraordinarily hateful way we often get up in arms and I think that all of those issues to me political correctness simply said be mindful of how you’re talking about groups be mindful of what you do and say and what is really tragic is the way conservatives and right-wing forces have made political correctness something so negative that there’s the kind of backlash now where people feel like well I shouldn’t have to be mindful you know I shouldn’t have to think about what I’m saying and that’s too bad because I think you know the real freedom of democracy requires of all of us that kind of civility and courtesy where we are mindful where we think about what we say because we live in a nation that is incredibly diverse and yet our language is incredibly binary incredibly either-or so that we really have to work to be inclusive you know when I’m talking about white people who are racist I have to work to make sure that my language isn’t bringing all white people into that because I know that’s not so when I’m talking about men who are misogynist and patriarchal I have to work to use a language that doesn’t just make it seem like this is who all men are you mentioned gangsta rap and I know that you received phone calls especially when it was the stuff of headlines they expected you to denounce gangsta rap to be a voice that says this is hurtful to women and hurtful to the culture and yet you in a way defended gangsta rap can you talk about that well again I think that you know one of the ways that censorship takes in our culture is the censorship of manners where we assume that we got we know who can Paulson is we know his opinions that he’s going to take people assume oh bell hooks is a feminist these are the opinions that she’s going to have and to me that kind of compartmentalization and labeling is very very anti not just free speech but the whole sense of recognizing that as individuals we can hold very different opinions about things you know that I can like for example I I grew up in Kentucky I learned how to shoot guns are not something that scare me and you know I went to the University where I teach most frequently now is in Texas and they have a gun exhibit in a building and all the feminist people thought I was going to look at it and say how horrible and I said well you know actually because I like guns I don’t find this horrible but there are people here who families maybe have been wounded by guns or who come from countries where they’ve been wiped out by guns maybe they don’t want to see guns every day so I personally would put this kind of exhibit in a gallery so people could choose to see it or not but I wasn’t saying what people thought that as a feminist who is very much anti violence I would say so I think that part of what I hope for us as a nation and particularly in our educational institutions is that we will teach what I use in a phrase in my books radical openness radical openness allows for the fact that you and I might totally disagree about some things but there may be other things that we have a resonance and a harmony about and when we compartmentalize each other in such a way that you know it’s like when someone says oh he’s really sexist or you know then it’s like the shutting down of the idea that the person might be really sexist but have some other thought idea that might be useful to hear how do we hold those differing senses of who we are and you know that’s one of the reasons I like writing about love because when people love people they never think they’re going to just think the same they never you know I say two people will say to me well you know when we when we try to get our group together to talk about race there’s going to be conflict and I said well have you ever had a love relationship with someone where there’s no conflict why do we expect that we’re going to get together and talk about race and racism and not have perhaps anger conflict you know when we don’t expect that in the deepest areas of our lives our intimate lives we recognize conflict will be a part of trying to have a relationship with somebody who is not you and we don’t recognize that when it comes to difficult issues and often that’s where we start censoring and shutting down you know I thought I’d read a great deal about bell hooks the phrase I like guns never came up and info signal interviews what is that from how do you have an appreciation of guns well just because I think of growing up in rural areas you know where I mean I do think that when we talk about gun violence that we do have to look at areas of our nation where people have always had guns but use them wisely courteously and not we’re just the fact of having a gun meant that you will be violent and so it’s it’s I like the artistry of guns and an out of that I learned as a child you know starting with having a BB gun and those kind of things but you know as when I was introduced to guns I was also introduced to the reality of guns and how you should deal with them and and so that you don’t endanger yourself or others in your tough social critic and one of the one of the observations that struck me was your sense that a majority I want to misquote you a majority of white Americans believe themselves to be superior oh absolutely but I think the worst part of that is that there are lots of black people who believe ourselves to be inferior I mean that’s the kind of stuff that I’m talking about in this black people in self-esteem book that which is called soul to soul but I think that that’s how deep white supremacy is in our nation that and often you know you know the scan that often white people will meet a black person who completely challenges every racial stereotype that they’ve ever had rather than giving up the stereotype they create a special category for that person and say well you’re not like other black people or instead of saying my ideas of black people were too narrow or too and I think that’s the tragedy of any kind of prejudicial thinking that when we confront any the circumstance that tells us it’s not so we frequently don’t enlarge our sense of things we we actually come up with new ways to protect and defend that way of thinking his language part of the problem he used the word white supremacy and I know there was an incident in which you on the panel with two black men who sort of mocked you for using that phrase and I find it’s such a helpful phrase because I what I like about white supremacy is I think it does encompass black cell-fate you know it encompasses how do you talk how do you call a little kid who’s dark-skinned who’s you know washing themselves with bleach you can’t say this kid is a racist in the classical sense of prejudicial views against people of color or black people and yet somewhere that child has learned that there is something wrong about themselves and they should correct it and to me white supremacy is useful term because it encompasses the fact that we can have a five-year-old who’s looked at enough television in our nation to have an understanding that white is better at one final question for you probably an unfairly broad question you’ve written for years about the challenges we face as a society in terms of gender and race and class in that period have you seen encouraging signs well I think that the fact that a bell hooks can have the incredible readership I have to tells us I want to say to you Ken I think people are hungry for dissent I think people are hungry for provocative voices that go to the heart of the matter because people want to have answers to the things that they are in crisis about so I mean there’s an irony that on one hand we have a mass media and a publishing industry particularly that tells us keep it mellow don’t say anything but what I find is people are really hungry for truth and and that hunger as I said in my book yearning I think is something that unites us cross-class race sexual preference and practice religion and I see the hope the hope that I feel within my own self and with other people is is that hunger for truth and for ways to live our lives more fully in a manner that’s more fulfilling and it’s that hunger that keeps a place for the dissenting voice that keeps the place for speaking freely because that is both an endangered space and a space on the other hand where we have more people than ever before who are hungry to hear that dissenting voice and I think that that’s the paradox that on one hand there were moments in our recent history as a nation where I felt truly frightened you know for the first time in my life my mother called me and said you must be really careful what you say when you get up on stages because you you know could be assassinated and I think that um certainly if nothing else the September 11th events around the World Trade Center brought into focus that we are a nation where many people are afraid of free speech and then want to silence people and if we cannot acknowledge that that will – silence is growing that’s what King meant when he talked about standing in the shadows of fascism so on one hand I experienced for the first time ever as a citizen of this nation feeling that I had I was taking grave risk in standing before audiences and saying the things that I believed and at the same time you know I had audiences that were eager to hear what do you think about this audiences of people who may or may not have agreed with me so that’s the paradox that we live within a society that is full of promise and possibility and a society that on the other hand will close things down if people feel they need to to protect the lifestyles or the belief systems that they think are the only important belief systems and that’s that’s the difficulty but I’m one who believes in the outrageous pursuit of hope your entire career has been about free speech and we thank you for joining us dance being freely bell hooks and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak freely you join us next time as we continue our discussion on free expression and the arts for more information about speaking freely.