bell hooks, Liberation, and DePauw Dialogue : part I

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BY: Summer Pappachen

We desperately need to ask ourselves what the purpose of DePauw Dialogue is going to be moving forward. It is clear that to the administration and the Board of Trustees, the purpose of this day is to capture and drown the energies of activist students of color. But what do the rest of us want? For me, the hope is to align DePauw Dialogue with a larger effort to deeply transform society. This day should start a conversation about overthrowing those who make our lives hell, both on campus and in the world. By grounding my thoughts in bell hooks’ writings, here I discuss the place of conversation and debate in the active transformation of society; and how we may use the conversational model of DePauw Dialogue for these ends. 

In Theory as Liberatory Practice, bell hooks recalls being in a gathering of predominantly black women who were debating “whether or not black male leaders, like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, should be subjudated to feminist critiques that pose hard questions about their stance on gender issues.” As their conversation drew to a close, one woman stood up in disagreement. She lamented that the entire meeting had been spent in conversation. She said she was “tired of all the talk” that lead to no solution, that she was “more interested in action.”

This is a sentiment we have heard many times from students on campus regarding DePauw Dialogue. There is too much talk and not enough doing. We talk and talk, and nothing ever happens. Yes, this is true. It is plainly evident that through this day, the administration hopes to dispel our energies in pointless discussion so that we may have little energy left to act.  

However, bell hooks reminds us of the liberatory potential of talk. She reminds us that talk in itself can be action. Discussing one’s oppression “without censorship” can be a “subversive practice.” That is because we need “new theories that can move us towards revolutionary struggle rooted in an attempt to understand both the nature of our contemporary predicament, and the means by which we might collectively engage in resistance struggle that would transform our current reality.”

When we talk, we create new theories that can help dissect what is happening around us. We can point to the root of new developments on campus, the root of feelings of collective disillusionment. When we talk to each other and understand each other’s oppressions, we can help develop a political consciousness, that then has the potential to create a campus community that inherently seeks change. There is action in discussion, in that it can mold radical consciousnesses.