Due 1/21 post response to bell hooks

September 3, 2009

Respond to the ways that hooks characterizes whiteness. What surprises you? What intrigues you? What is familiar or unfamiliar about her perspective?

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17 Responses to “Due 1/21 post response to bell hooks”


  1. Hooks seems to believe that it is often typical for those who identify as white to claim that the issue of race does not exist. It upsets white people to think that black people think in terms of “whiteness” and “blackness,” because that further contributes to the feelings of supremacy that has characterized whiteness for so long. Putting whiteness on “mute” allows everyone to continue to maintain prejudices because it nurtures the theory that white equals “normal.” I have never though of it in these terms. Rather embarrassingly, I will admit that I am guilty of trying to ignore race. I make attempts to look beyond skin color. However, I find it interesting that Hooks believes that it allows racism to cycle. The writer seems to want to educate people about whiteness so that society can move away from the traditional idea of race and acknowledge the challenges that exist in identifying skin color.

  2. Brittany Fisher Says:

    We live in a society where nowadays it is almost always socially unacceptable to consider oneself as racist. Although it still has a great deal of international existence, in contemporary American society it is often awkward and uncomfortable to discuss. In her innovative article, Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination, Bell Hooks sets aside the habitual ways of today’s requirement of being constantly politically correct, and addresses how whiteness is portrayed by both blacks and whites. Though I share many of the same views Hooks does, there are few that I either disagree with find relatively intriguing. She characterizes a black person’s point of view by saying, “Blacks who imitate whites (adopting their values, speech, habits and being, etc.) continue to regard whiteness with suspicion, fear and even hatred.” While reading I found this rather upsetting and unfamiliar to my perspective because I don’t believe that to be an issue that needs to be addressed racially. While trying not to be naïve, black people have many of the same opportunities as white people, and I have never thought it to be a sign of hatred for them to “adopt” or use “white people values”. However, (though liberal and anti-racist), coming from a small, white, conservative suburban town in Maine, it is expected for there to be room for me to learn about the social construction of whiteness. Hooks’ article made me come to a comfortable realization that trying to ignore race will not benefit the problem of racism in any way. Rather, I think we should fully acknowledge it yet be openly accepting.

  3. Heather Putman Says:

    Many of Hooks’ statements present the desire to foster education about race instead of evading the topic (and rightfully so), yet she uses her experiences as child in the rural South, at international airports, and attending a supposedly “progressive, anti-racist” conference to support a view that “all black people in the United States…live with the possibility that they will be terrorized by whiteness.” This notion rejects her earlier argument against stereotypes as legitimate means of representation in a person’s mind. It is imprudent to assume the psychological workings of all persons within a particular race, based on an individual’s experiences. Understandably, Hooks grew up during a time of great civil disruption and change, but her essay surprises me with its carpet-bombing of the white race – except for one man she met at the conference. I was even more surprised to read her solution of “repositioning” “in order to occupy the position of the other” to this white terrorism; given the views expressed in this essay, I doubt Bell Hooks would be first in line to experience life as a “terrorist.”

  4. Emily Sadler Says:

    The construction of whiteness is an interesting and unsettling topic. Hooks brings to light the ways that stereotypes range farther than we ever could expect and that “whiteness” is a stereotype with many different meanings. What I found most intriguing from this piece was Hooks’ definition of a stereotype: “Stereotypes, however inaccurate, are one form of representation. Like fictions, they are created to serve as substitutions, standing in for what is real. They are there not to tell it like it is but to invite and encourage pretense. They are a fantasy, a projection onto the Other that makes them less threatening. Stereotypes abound when there is distance. They are an invention, a pretense that one knows when the steps that would make real knowing possible cannot be taken – are not allowed” (Hooks 341). White and black people both have very different mental images and constructions of what “whiteness” is to them. Hooks explains that everyone has their own experience with these stereotypes and that white is automatically better than black. This is also seen in how we view President Obama and is related to what we talked about in class the other day. We see today from Obama’s phenotype that he is a black man, yet looking closer we see that he is someone who defies our concepts of what is black and what is white. The “whiteness” that President Obama embraces, he embraces just as much as the “blackness” that he has in his blood as well. Obama does not act like the stereotypical black man and because he is educated and speaks like a white man, he has defied a stereotype that has been a fixture in our country for a long time.

  5. Gwen Baldwin Says:

    Although I agree with many of Hook’s statements and views, I feel as though she is expressing her opinion. In the beginning of the article, the only sources that Hook sites, are conversations in classroom settings. I agree with Hook that, “stereotypes, however inaccurate, are one form of representation. Like fictions they are created to serve as substitutions, standing in for what is real”. However, I do not agree with the statement that they, “make the Other less threatening”. I believe that many people today use stereotypes to further push people away rather than make them less threatening. I find it interesting that the author jokes about, “White People Syndrome”, whereas if a white person used the term, “Black People Syndrome”, it would not be accepted.I find it intriguing that Hook points out that racism still exists even when we deny it, because many people avoid the subject all together. I believe that Hook is trying to educate people on being aware of “whiteness”, and how to avoid it, rather than how to bridge black and white together.

  6. Tatiana Galli Says:

    Racism/Race is and has always been a very complex and difficult topic to understand. Hook makes a reference to classroom discussions by students about the representation of whiteness in the Black imagination. In these discussions, which lead to heated debates, between students in the classroom, the white students were shock to hear the comments/stereotypes the black students would make about their view of whiteness. But why were they shocked? The conclusion I made from this is that these white students were ignorant of the fact that other individuals of different races would characterize/stereotype/etc “whiteness” because they themselves would almost ignore the idea of race (so they wouldn’t sound racist themselves). But ignoring race makes one unaware of the fact that race cannot disappear. Judgment and stereotypes are always made. It just makes people uncomfortable to talk about race; therefore, when talked about, like in the classroom, people become surprised by the views and perspectives of others. There is no easy way to talk about race, but we must try to make a way to talk about it to learn and accept the views of individuals of different races.

  7. Katie Cato Says:

    The way in which Hooks characterizes whiteness is through the eyes of a black woman looking at her experiences with racism and tackling the hegemonic idea that it is acceptable to analyze the black culture but unacceptable to study “whiteness,” a mindset based on the historic ideas of white supremacy and black invisibility. I find this idea extremely interesting because I have seen white people, particularly in conservative and somewhat racist communities, take offense when they are analyzed by another race, however they are perfectly willing to take part in the analysis of other races themselves. However, in less racists settings, I am not sure that this is still because the white population believes that they have control over the black population as they did in the past, as Hooks suggests when she says that the power that white people “even now collectively assert over black people accorded them the right to control the black gaze” (pg. 340). Hooks does bring up some other very profound thoughts though, such as the idea that “Stereotypes…are a fantasy, a projection onto the Other that makes them less threatening,” suggesting that stereotypes are a form in which we can openly discuss other races in an incorrect, yet safe manner (pg. 341). She also brings up the idea that one’s theory stems from one’s own experiences, which really explains a great deal of her viewpoint; her main arguments come from her own experiences that deal with racism and whiteness representing terror (pg. 343). And although Hooks does bring these racial and slightly taboo subjects to surface, her overall argument is weakened by her sweeping generalizations that assume “white people…do not imagine the way whiteness makes its presence felt in black life,” or that “white and black people alike believe that racism no longer exists” (pg. 341 and 345).

  8. Irene Ruiz Dacal Says:

    One of the most interesting arguments Hooks made for asserting the perceived supremacy of whiteness was that “whiteness exists without knowledge of blackness” (339). She supports this idea with Baldwin’s notion that the white colonizers “create” and “conquer” those they believe to be inferior. Also, I found the idea that white people “can live as though black people are invisible and can imagine that they are also invisible to blacks” (340) very shocking. I had never thought of the issue in that way, and I think that maybe this blindness (perhaps on both sides) serves to impede understanding and the breaking down of racism – the more we ignore each other, the less we will understand. I think Hooks’ idea of expressing and describing the terror felt by black children when in the presence of white adults, and its recurrence into her adult years, helped to vivify the image of whiteness as a form of terrorism. Again, I think this is not a traditional way of looking at issues of race and racial perception. Her honesty was refreshing and hopefully will serve as a foundation for more open discussion of race, at least in academic arenas.

  9. Marc Gibson Says:

    I am somewhat intrigued by Hooks’ commentary on the relative “invisibility” of black people within society and, to some extent, vice-versa. I agree with Hooks’ assertion that many white people tend to “live as though black people are invisible”, and, to a great extent, prefer not to think about African Americans, or frankly those of any other race, any more than absolutely necessary. I don’t know that I agree, however, with Hooks’ implied assertion that such invisibility is intentionally constructed as a means of “institutionalized white supremacy”. I think that at one time it may have been, but I think that now it has become a sort of cultural norm, and through de facto, rather than de jure segregation, and these mindsets are so deeply rooted in our society, that it is difficult to overcome even for people who have no intention of engaging in racist conduct or behaviors. I also strongly disagree with the idea that these white people “think they are seen by black folks only when they want to appear”. Such an assertion implies that whites are conciously racist, but I don’t believe that in the MAJORITY of cases that is true. I refuse to believe that the MAJORITY of white people are engaged in some mass conspiracy to hide from black people, and I think Hooks goes a bit overboard with her assertions in that regard.

  10. kellyglenn Says:

    Hooks characterizes whiteness by initially telling us how black folks share with one another certain knowledge they have about whiteness based upon observing them and discussing it, dating back to slavery. The concept of difference between whiteness and blackness is not something blacks always separate initially but through varying characteristics like “domination, imperialism, colonialism, racism, and actively coerce black folks to internalize negative perceptions of blackness” there becomes a distinction of whiteness. I think that the reason that there seems to be a difference is because white people do not seem to care as much about how they are perceived within the black community, whereas black people work on their blackness so that whites perceive them in a certain way. Hook also states “whiteness exists without knowledge of blackness” and I found this quote to be very intriguing because when I initially read it something didn’t make sense but after exploring it, it seems that Hooks is arguing how black people have created the concept of whiteness and therefore do not necessarily need their own self cultural examination to form others. Both of these views of why and how whiteness and blackness are formed start to explore race as a general issue. Many people do not want to confront the idea of race, so using othering and labeling into categories, helps overlook some of the larger issues of race and make them feel more “safe”. Lastly, I found Hooks focus familiar because even though she explored the topic on a much more traditional/older view of the situation which I found interesting because of how these issues have been brought up since those times and are still equally present today. Hooks honesty and direct address of the situation is very refreshing and seems a good starting point to open the discussion for race.

  11. Amy Slay Says:

    In “Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination”, Bell Hooks characterizes the black notion of “whiteness” as a “response to the traumatic pain and anguish that remains a consequence of white racist domination”. I was intrigued by her implications that stereotype has served to blind whites and blacks towards each other’s true natures and has perpetuated the concept of the “Other”. I was surprised to read that few black authors have “dared to make explicit those perceptions of whiteness that they think will discomfort or antagonize reader”. I would have assumed that the philosophical and contemporary debate about the subject and content of the “Other” would have been a greatly traversed and thought about topic. I was further surprised by Hooks’ notion of “white control of the black gaze”. I was previously unfamiliar with the fact that slaves were “brutally punished . . . for appearing to observe the whites they were serving”. This fear conditioned inability to clearly see one another has greatly assisted in the evolution of the distance that still remains between black and whites, encompassed by the term “Other”.

  12. Michelle Everst Says:

    Representing Whitness in the Black Imagination, written by Bell Hooks looks at the way that black people have viewed white people in the past and in the present. I found it very interesting that white people seemed so shocked at the negative connotations that “whiteness” has assumed in the black collective mind. As much as I’d like to pretend that there are no more racist thoughts given our contemporary views on the subject, it is not something that has completely dissolved. There are more efforts today to try to ignore racist thoughts I think, but this article shows that it is very present still. Bell Hooks is a black woman who says that she has a sense of terror associated with white people based on harrassment she has faced from them about her skin color. She said white women joked about how ridiculous it was that she, a black “bad” and tough woman was terrified of whiteness. I can understand where Bell Hooks was coming from in thinking that they were the ones who were ludicrous in not understanding her terror. People should be more sensitive to the fact that individuals may still suffer from racism even if it has supposedly been overcome in previous generations.

  13. Ari Lifschutz Says:

    Throughout the reading of “Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination” by Bell Hooks one statement kept popping up into my head. It is quite surprising that “white” people study so much into the black culture however, there really isn’t any black study of white people. Where did all this hatred toward the other “race” come from? Why did we decide these people weren’t equal to us? On page 344, there is a story about a black lady travelling through France and getting asked if she speaks Arabic because of her skin color and then is forced to be stripped search to make sure she wasn’t an illegal immigrant. I shouldn’t be surprised but it just still surprises me of the ignorance people have. As I read this all I just shake my head to the fact they wouldn’t even answer her to inquiry about why she was being treated differently than the white customers ahead of her. Bell Hooks prospective is all too familiar from what we have been reading and listening to. She does try to leave all the politically correct statements out of her writing and establishes that people still think in the terms of “white” and “black” including the black race. Even at in her last paragraph she discusses how she met a black woman at a cultural studies conference and to this day there still talking about white supremacy that was quite evident at the conference. On the first page, she discusses how black people of this generation live in the “bush of ghosts” and don’t know this thing called “difference” but I believe most african americans still do.

  14. Erica May Says:

    In the discussion of “travel”, there is the idea of fear and the unknown in relation to moving away from one’s comfort area. Whether this traveling is across the coutnry, from Northern to Southern states, or even across town, there is a sense of danger or lack of belonging. In the passage from “Homeplace: A Site of Resistance”, it states, “I remember the fear, being scared to walk to Baba’s, our grandmother’s house, because we would have to pass the terrifying whiteness- those white faces staring us down with hate.” This made me wonder if possibly there was such a strong idea in the children’s minds that they were not welcome, that they deemed it the truth. Maybe the people on their porches had no hate in their hearts towards the black children, and maybe they were intimidated or fearful themselves. It seems as though historical events have boiled over into the present minds of both blacks and whites. There seems to be misinterpretations and misunderstandings on both sides concerning black’s views on whiteness and whites views on blackness.

  15. seychelle reed Says:

    Hooks characterizes whiteness as a evil race of man who have instigated ‘systems of domination, imperialism, colonialism, and racism’ amongst the black culture. Throughout “Representing Whiteness,” he continuously describes events throughout history and currently as ‘white racist domination.’ In a white supremacist society, Hooks believes that white people want black people to be invisible and therefore see them and treat blacks in that way. Hooks describes white people as if they live in a fantasyland in which reality cannot be seen. This perspective that Hooks has towards white people is very blunt and straightforward. Some people might agree that he goes too far with his characterizations of the white race as terrorists, racist, supremacists, and so on. Hooks describes the reaction of white students in a classroom who responded with ‘disbelief, shock, and rage’ when they heard black students talk about whiteness. This is particular intriguing because hopefully we will be able to see student reactions play out in our classroom setting. The perspective from which “Representing Whiteness” is written is harsh, unfamiliar, and even eye-opening. Towards the end, Hooks still holds his opinion firm and believes that our culture must understand white racist domination, which apparently will end racism. It troubles me to believe that this article is current because I do not believe today’s society to be a white supremacist society. Hooks does bring up an honest and determined discussion about racism and how it lingers from our history in this country.

  16. Tanner Senter Says:

    While reading Bell Hooks article, one area of the article that really stuck me was how unaware the white students were to how black students felt towards “whiteness”. The article states that the white students looked with naive amazement as blacks told them that they don’t see white as that pure, less dangerous image that white people see it. The fact that some black people see white as a harmful and depressing color probably baffles some white people’s minds. Another part of the reading that interested me was the part when Hooks writes, stereotypes are a form of representation. I thought this comment was ridiculous. Hooks says that ‘stereotypes stand in for what it real”, so is Hooks saying that all the negative stereotypes that are out there true? I really wanted to know what Hooks mean by this and some justification behind it

    • profheitner Says:

      Standing in does not mean that they equal what is real, but that people use them as placeholders. Lets look at what she means by representation…She may be using the word in a less familiar way.


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