The "year with bell hooks" Project: Letter #006
All About Love: Values - Living by a Love Ethic
Hello, hello, and welcome to our new readers! Last week, we had a powerful guest letter written by Taqiyyah Elliott. In case you missed it, catch it here. Let’s get into this week’s letter (#6!), shall we?
I know no one who has embraced a love ethic whose life has not become joyous and more fulfilling. The widespread assumption that ethical behavior takes the fun out of life is false. In actuality, living ethically ensures that relationships in our lives, including encounters with strangers, nurture our spiritual growth. Behaving unethically, with no thought to the consequences of our actions is a bit like eating tons of junk food. While it may taste good, in the end, the body is never really adequately nourished and remains in a constant state of lack and longing.
All About Love - p.88
I talked with a friend this week, and we shared about our work, dreams, visions, and what our past + current dating experiences have taught and continue to teach us. And we both resonated over the fact that…
Familiarity doesn't always equate to being good or automatically good for us.
If I believe that partners could be my only/primary source of fulfillment, pleasure, joy, acceptance, etc., I've already let go of my power. And though partners can't be everything for/to us, I do know that the elements of love that hooks describes, "care, commitment, trust, responsibility, respect and knowledge" (94), should be there.
At the same time, as I continue to foster the qualities of this love within myself in all its forms, I also know that it isn't a guarantee/prerequisite to have that love that I desire. I think it's still some parts of my younger self that grew up learning that if you achieve "perfection," all that is good will come your way. And that isn't true.
hooks (who knew she was a theologian because????) had a beautiful exposition on love from 1 John and unpacked this 'perfect love' as a love that
is a process that has been refined, alchemically altered as it moves from state to state, is that "perfect love" that can cast out fear. As we love, fear necessarily leaves.
All About Love - p.93
I'm saying that I want a love that is committed to this love ethic that everyone has the right to be free, to live fully and well, that despite fear, still loving, and committed to the will to refine (p.87, 93).
My dating experiences have shown me that they see but do not see me. That I'm viewed as one made for them (in a consumptive way) and not as a completely separate person with whom we have both been given the gift of time and space to share. These experiences have shown me that I can be viewed as an achievement award or an ego stroke for unsettled securities. These experiences show me that I deeply desire space and love that values, sees, and remains continually curious about my mind+body+soul+essence– all at the same time. And vice versa.
I need a love where my intellect and advancements and curiosities and pursuits and passions aren't seen as threats but as divinely-given outlets of expressing the visions of my soul in these worlds. But most of all, I can never succumb to a "love" that believes it must control, dominate or even "kindly enforce" submission for our love to work. All of those are antithetical to this new love – and that hasn't been my growing-up norm.
But, ethics, love ethics, in this case, can't come alive unless it is done, and that's where I find meaning and beauty in what hooks' teaches as this love ethic and how I've been (trying) to implement it in my life.
As of late, I've been seeing more and more Black women sharing their struggles with dating and romantic love experiences. I think it's awfully telling that they receive so much backlash for sharing as they do so, but that's a story for another day. For me, it has been a relief, a deep-sigh, an I-tooooo-strongly-feel-you, moment, with each clip I've watched, with every voice note sent, and every head nod that speaks more words than ever.
So, as I sat in my car one recent evening (you know, the sitting in the car after a long day, trying to collect your thoughts before heading inside), the Divine dropped this into my mind as I found myself at a crossroad with meshing my ethics and practice.
It's because you depend on partners to give you joy, pleasure, love, etc., primarily. And you can't let that be. You hold it. Never rely on them to be the first to give it to you. That's your key. Now you're able to make choices that fall in alignment with you and all that makes up you. You embody and have access to everything you desire. Now, do you feel you can make holistic choices?
To some, what I have shared may seem naively hopeful or nearly impossible – and I would ask why? Or rather, is it because…
cultures of domination rely on the cultivation of fear as a way to ensure obedience. In our society, we make much of love and say little about fear. Yet we are all terribly afraid most of the time. As a culture we are obsessed with the notion of safety. Yet we do not question why we live in states of extreme anxiety and dread. Fear is the primary force upholding structures of domination. It promotes the desire for separation, the desire not to be known
All About Love - p.93
The status quo of love requires suffering, de-valuing, and disrespect as the onset of earning love. It requires a disempowered partner for relationships to "work." The status quo sees women as crutches/stepping-stools/used agents for men to become the "powerful" person they wish to become – and that all love that is done is to maintain structures of domination, submission, obedience, control, etc.
Yea, I'm good.
Is it scary to believe in what I know can be? Definitely – and at the same time, my commitment remains to love myself and all I share time and space within this manner because I choose to agree that newness can happen radically and change can happen. My palette for what is good for me can be reset.
This love ethic by hooks requires the engagement of the imagination to speak into existence, conjure up and fully see the present and future realities of all with whom we share community.
In bridging theory (ethics) and practice (our doing),
There is a gap between the values they claim to hold and their willingness to do the work of connecting thought and actions, theory and practice to realize these values and thus create a more just society
All About Love - p. 90
radical change against the norm – whatever is the (death-dealing) norm – is what springboards our dreams into reality.
Black Feminism and Womanism further examine the related constructs of oppressions – race, class, gender, cisheteropatriarchy, religion and more – seeing new visions of what can be real. That is why I know Black Feminism and Womanism are the grounding templates and sustaining models that already and will transform our worlds. It is why I know Black Feminism and Womanism can take us to wellness, wholeness, and beyond.
Mainstream feminism ignores the interconnected realities of race + class alongside gender (and other constructed forms of oppression). Why would the pursuit be towards equality of what is the harmful norm? Especially because they are rooted in
Patriarchy, like any system of domination (for example, racism), relies on socializing everyone to belive that in all human relations there is an inferior and a superior party, one person strong, the other weak, and that it is therefore natural for the powerful to rule over the powerless.
All About Love - p.67
We wrestle, we critique, we tamper, we jab, we prod, we relentlessly interrogate why the oppression begins in the first place, why people do what they do (ethics), who benefits from our disempowerment, how power-seizing begins, and how it can end.
We expand beyond.
It's not asking for seats at *those* tables; it's breaking those harm-rendering tables down.
It's not about racing to be the first Black __ but rebuking the fact that white-cishet-dominated spaces have constructed themselves to exclude and limit access to all that don't fit those criteria.
And we say to hell with that.
It's redrawing the blueprint and centering Black femmes and Black women, knowing that when we are free, all can be free.
It's demanding of love (romantic or not) that doesn't glorify or require suffering/disrespect to "gain" that love – but embodies the belief that we are already worthy because we are.
(To close out, oh man, iykyk lol) In the face of romantic love struggles, the common response is to love yourself and keep pushing. Just focus on yourself, and then boom (!) they're here. At this point, let's call a spade a spade and that it's a scam. I mean, some of the words above sound like I'm saying that too. But no, what I'm saying is that I do not want to "self-love" myself into this norm or our standard of love because it is rooted in the elements that hooks unveils: domination, control, power, etc. Those are all opposite of the love she teaches and that I seek. This is rather a commitment to love that will transcend the seemingly impossible-to-be-tampered-with structures (that actually can come down) and radically become the fertile ground of love that embodies within the self, people, and our communities to transform and see beyond.
To live our lives based on the principles of a love ethic (showing care, respect, knowledge, integrity, and the will to cooperate), we have to be courageous. Learning how to face our fears is one way we embrace love. Our fear may not go away, but it will not stand in the way. Those of use who have already chosen to embrace a love ethic, allowing it to govern and inform how we think and act, know that wehn we let our light shine, we draw to us and are drawn to other bearers of light. We are not alone.
All About Love - p.101
I’m going to simmer on these thoughts some more.
But, until next week, and with love,