An Ode to bell hooks: “You Have Left Us a Gift”

bell hooks—scholar, writer, activist and feminist legend—died on Wednesday, Dec. 15, at her home. She was 69.

This poem was originally published on Medium.

sista bell hooks,

to you,

we owe

an enormous debt

that can never really

be repaid

in full.

You fed our minds,

gave us concepts

like Black Feminism

to chew on, masticate, then

swallow like a snake consuming

the whole body of its prey.

We ingested your words,

your radical Black feminist way of being & writing,

your defiance in the small letters of your name & body.

We watched the world choosing to ignore you

until the strength & sharpness in the sword

of your ideas & words

could no longer be ignored—as you cut through

the bullshit shields of white privilege, white hegemony, internalized racism, sexism, to challenge all.

You wrote/spoke for/to the folk

long before “public intellectual”

was a thing.

Small of stature, for sure,

but like Sista Harriet T,

you moved with the grace of a lioness,

knowledged us, and loved us Black women, Black people, and the world, with the power of a mighty army.

You were our Truthsayer,

a Black Cassandra—speaking truth to power—yet destined never to be believed.

You were our African trickster, our Elegba—playing serious pranks of supreme knowledge

on those who mistook you

for a demure, Kentucky-born, light-skinned Black woman,

not to be feared,

until after they felt the sting

of your scorpion pen

& hardness of your diamond-sharp intellect.

We will miss you for true,

but you left us a feast of writing,

for adults and for Black children.

You are gone too soon,

but it would selfish for us to begrudge you the rest you so desperately needed, and most clearly have earned.

Rest in Power, Sistah bell hooks.

Join the pantheon of Black women ancestors who preceded you—Toni Morrison, Toni Cade-Bambara, Audre Lorde, Gloria Joseph, Ntozake Shange, Gloria Andaluza, your great-grandmother bell hooks, and the enslaved women who wanted to write and couldn’t.

You have left us a gift, Black Buddhist Wise Woman,

and it is up to us to find the courage to carry on your legacy.

No need to cry useless tears for you.

Instead, let us pick up our pens

& write our way

to liberation and freedom.


© 2021 Irma McClaurin.

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Irma McClaurin is an award-winning columnist, poet, activist, anthropologist and consultant. She served as editor of Transforming Anthropology for seven years and was tenured in anthropology at the University of Florida and the University of Minnesota. An academic entrepreneur, her leadership roles include the deputy provost at Fisk University (2002-2004); the first Mott distinguished chair of women's studies and founder of the Africana women’s studies program at Bennett College (2004); program officer at the Ford Foundation for Education and Scholarship (2005-2007); associate vice president and founding executive director of the University of Minnesota’s first Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center (2007-2010); president of Shaw University from 2010-2011; senior faculty at the Federal Executive Institute (2013-2014); and chief diversity officer at Teach For America (2014-2016). Her book, JustSpeak: Reflections on Race, Culture and Politics in America, is forthcoming in 2022.