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An Analytic Report on Bell Hooks’ "Postmodern Blackness"

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“Postmodern Blackness” is one of several essays that bell hooks has written. It is, by its nature, a philosophical essay in which the Afro-American writer mixes what is literary with what is racial. Hence, in it she attempts at evoking the exclusionary role that the postmodernist discourse imposes on the culture and the literary experience of black people in the United States. This, for bell hooks, manifests clearly when this discourse fails to voice the concepts of otherness and difference, two concepts that are extremely central to the postmodernist theory.

Bell hooks (whose name takes lowercase letters by her own choosing) embarks on the mission of asserting the close relationship between the Afro-American culture and postmodernism by bringing into light one of her past memories in which she was a guest in a party highly overwhelmed by white people. In the party, the author had a very heated discussion with a bunch of white people, presumably intellectual ones, about the issue of whether postmodernism is relevant to blackness or not. The negative reply of one of these people, the only black guest along with the writer, can be considered as the fountain hit from which bell hook’s fierce spirit has emerged to pen this set of pages that bears the task of defending not only the black experience’s relevance to the postmodernist movement, but also the close attachment of black females to this theory. In fact, bell hooks stresses the fact that the postmodernist movement is wholly independent and negligent of Afro-Americans’ culture. Furthermore, she asserts that this movement is completely overwhelmed by the white male presence which is extremely ignorant, not only of black male writers but also females.

In this regard, bell hooks presents the reader with several details which further prove the fact that the presence of women in the postmodernist discourse is to be thoroughly under dispute. Related to this issue, she gives the example of Meaghan Morris’s bibliography which, though containing some of the works by female writers, is completely void of any one written by a black female. In fact, bell hooks does not put the wheels of blame only on the white scholarly writers who exclude black culture, but she, to a higher degree, reproaches the majority of black writers who refuse to take part and address this topic. As a result of this, she exhibits her full agreement with Cornel West, a postmodernist black writer, who believes that black authors are in fact marginalizing themselves by not merging into postmodernism. In one of his essays entitled “postmodernism and Black America, Cornel West clearly suggests that Black intellectuals “are marginal—usually languishing at the interface of Black and White cultures or thoroughly ensconced in Euro-American settings”. Actually, Cornel West’s writings are a sort of encouragement for the black literary figures to merge into the depths of postmodernism and hence assert their identity via their writings. In addition to that, bell hooks thinks that the postmodernist discourse should be a wide space where Afro-Americans could be able to voice their needs and desires. It is, as she believes, an immense spot where their black identity lies and from which it shall emerge.

Not fully content with the postmodern theory and its aftermaths on the black society in the USA, bell hooks moves on to tackle the postmodernist critique of identity which, as far as she sees, needs to be completely reshaped. bell hooks believes that this critique is racist at its core for it assigns some characteristics and traits to black people based only on their color and race. Therefore, in her view, it needs to be further expanded so that it can cover other characteristics that exhibit the good image and the bright portrait of the Afro-Americans and their culture. Consequently, bell hooks, somewhere in her essay, refers to the Rap Music as one of the voices through which black people were able to express and make their voice heard at the time. “It is no accident that “rap” has usurped the primary position of R&B music among young black folks as the most desired sound, or that it began as a form of “testimony” for the underclass. It has enabled underclass black youth to develop a critical voice.”(page 4) .Added to this, she believes that this cultural practice remains the sole one that this section of people was able to produce. As a consequence, bell hooks is somehow certain that the flourishing of black people’s culture may be looked up through their popular culture.

In the last paragraphs of her essay, bell hooks sheds light on one of the most important incidents that the stream of the black community for building their identity witnessed. This is closely related to the postmodern Afro-American rights group who has, unfortunately, split into two parts: that of the essentialists and that of the nationalists. The former attribute a great importance to the individual identity. Actually, this group evokes the crucial significance of the Afro-American history and heritage. Therefore, essentialists believe that the Afro-Americans should not merge into the rest of the American society as this act may cause the complete destruction of their old history and antic heritage. This can, to a large extent, creates a sort animosity in the American society as essentialists are heading towards creating an identity, an Afro-American one, which is completely separated from other American races. As to the second group, they are extremely different from their former counterparts and filled with the belief that the United States is a melting pot where various cultures can peacefully assimilate. Therefore, they encourage the assimilation of their race into the wide array of cultures in the United States. However, a plethora of black critics believe that this act may bring about the loss of Afro Americans’ history and the heritage of their ancestors.

In fact, bell hooks does not agree with both hypotheses. In her view, only the black power movement was able to preserve her race’s culture as well as assert its identity. The movement was also able to change several perspectives that black people had on civil rights, not to deny its full emphasis on the significance of individuality. Its sole flaw, as bell hooks states, is that it was too essentialist, the reason that made its decline a matter of time. On the other hand, bell hooks is not fully skeptical about the emergence of another version of this movement. Indeed, she calls black people in America to start thinking about some ways that can give birth to a new black power movement with the condition that the latter must be completely different from anything formerly generated, not to forget that it must accumulate all the past Afro-Americans experiences so that its influence on other races shall be very extant. Notwithstanding its detailed analysis that was accurately directed towards the issue of postmodernism and its rapport with the black experience, this essay, at some cases, was liable to some points of weakness such as that which is noticed through the dichotomy between bell hooks’ de-capitalization of her name and the general stance she is fully indoctrinate with.

It is believed that bell hooks is one of the most known feminists in the United States. Her writings are mainly a sort of challenge to the male hegemonic rule over women, not to forget that she is more is more particularly a huge defender of black women identity. Therefore, we can conclude her deliberate act of not capitalizing her name can be interpreted as a sort of underestimation and belittlement of women’s significance, mainly black ones. This act of disparagement is somehow universal given the fact that she is the prototype of black females. Added to this, it is also noticed that in several cases bell hooks was somewhat general and inaccurate in her statements. For instance she, in a dozen of times, states that Rap music is the only way through which black people in the USA were able to express their voice. However, it must be put between brackets that bell hooks has overlooked other means through which these people have succeeded to achieve this goal. The civil rights movements shall be considered as relevant to this issue because their latent ends were almost the same as those of rap music; they all haunted the assertion of Afro-American identity. On the whole, “Postmodern Blackness” remains a very valuable essay which portrays a brave attempt by a very courageous writer whose resistive spirit instigated her to face a whole movement with its male hegemonic influence. Indeed, the essay opens the reader’s eyes into some of the deficiencies that the postmodernist discourse is doomed with.

With her negative representation of the black culture through postmodernist discourse, bell hooks nowhere denies in this essay that postmodernism, though adopting the concepts of otherness and difference, has gone through its past version’s course almost popularizing the same views and thoughts about the Afro-American community. It is, in brief, a discourse in which the black community’s disparagement is portrayed not only by denying voice to black males, but black females as well. In this regard, bell hooks sums up her whole quest by stating: “Confronting both the lack of recognition of black female presence that much postmodernist theory reinscribes and the resistance on the part of most black folks to hearing about real connections between postmodernism and black experience, 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(page 2).


  1. Bell hooks, “Postmodern Blackness,” from Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1990): 23-31.
  2. “

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