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25 Years Later, ‘All About Love’ Teaches Me To Believe In Us

bell hooks’ opus on love is still as powerful as it was when she first wrote it.

by Candice Marie Benbow
Published Feb. 14, 2024

Twenty-five years ago, when the late feminist scholar and cultural critic bell hooks penned her opus, “All About Love: New Visions,” she said she did so because “Young people are cynical about love.”

At 17, about to graduate from high school and enter young adulthood, I was probably on the tail end of the “young people” she was referring to when I read her book for the first time.

Since then, I’ve read the book during my undergraduate studies and again in my sociology master’s program. From those readings, I could articulate to you a Black feminist understanding of why love is essential within Black communities and how structural inequality keeps us from experiencing it within ourselves and among each other.

Now 42, I’m navigating the depths of love’s romantic waters — and revisiting “All About Love” left me a bit defeated. Scrolling through social media timelines, listening to trending podcasts and watching popular shows, it seems like we haven’t listened to any of hooks’ sage wisdom and instruction.

At its core, “All About Love” is a guide to helping us understand each other. Breaking down how the kinds of relationships we saw as children inform our behavior as adults, hooks teaches us that love is work — good work — and something we can have in our lives. In a world where we’re constantly talking at and past each other, hooks outlines how honest and direct communication with each other is essential to lasting partnerships and community building. She gave us the tools. We just have to be willing to do the work.

Admittedly, I hate being this pessimistic about anything, especially the state of relationships between Black people. But when it comes to matters of love, it seems that Black people don’t even like each other. It seems like, on every level, we are hurting.

“bell hooks outlines how honest and direct communication with each other is essential to lasting partnerships and community building. She gave us the tools. We just have to be willing to do the work.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t new. Our parents and grandparents walked around with the traumas they experienced as a result of unhealthy expressions of love. Too often in our communities, abuse of all kinds has become synonymous with love. If we loved the people who were hurting us, it was our responsibility to remain silent about the abuse, hoping and praying that one day it would end.

Thankfully, younger generations have abandoned the “whatever happens in this house, stays in this house” mentality that has left many of us broken and abused. At the same time, older generations remain unwilling to acknowledge the harm inflicted and simply apologize. Instead, they dismiss abusive parenting as a necessary evil intended to keep children from being lost to crime and street violence.

Now, there is greater opportunity and freedom for people to live in the truth of their existence. Abundant information is available to educate us on various gender identities and sexual expressions so that we are well informed and can cultivate a world where everyone is loved, safe and valued. But, rather than doing that work, there is often a doubling down of ignorance that nurtures the homophobia, queer antagonism and anti-transgender violence that leaves many Black folks slumming beneath our potential.

And the way Black cisgender, heterosexual men and women speak to and about each other? Not a day goes by without some viral conversation about who is “the prize” in a relationship and what they are bringing to “the table.” Capitalism has invaded our language of love to the point that we are referring to ourselves as “high value” — something that I’m sure displeases our ancestors who were bought and sold, rendering those who don’t fit squarely into those categories unworthy of love and affection.

In “All About Love,” hooks wrote that love consists of “care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment and trust, as well as honest and open communication.” In the wake of all of our cruelty to each other, we can’t even get to love. It all begs the question: Do Black people even like each other right now?

When I survey the landscape of the ways we harm each other, I realize even more why hooks needed us to understand how white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism work to undermine Black people’s interdependency and connection. These issues cultivated a fear that gets masked as everything else, and all of the projection done in defense of ourselves is to protect that fear. When we do this, as hooks stated, we don’t have to face the reality that love is real and absent from us.

If we continue to yell at each other, then we will continue to believe that what we have to say is the only thing that matters. If we pretend that the Black folk who live and love differently than us don’t exist, then we keep perpetuating the lie that our existence is all there is. And if we pick apart the people we desire intimacy and partnership with, then we substantiate our loneliness (and bitterness) as a casualty of the other’s inability to “get it together.”

And where does that leave us? Unloved and unloving.

While I didn’t have the pleasure of having a conversation with hooks about this before she left us in 2021, I believe that she would have actually challenged my feelings of defeat.

She did not write “All About Love” or any of her other works on love because she felt Black people were incapable of overcoming systemic evils to love each other.

She wrote because she saw our potential and knew that one day we would find the best in ourselves and each other.

I do not see the world of Black people and love with the same eyes I did when I was 17. And I’m not the same budding Black feminist who read this text from outside my own experience as a student.

The older I’ve gotten, living and loving have made me weary.

And yet, even as I write this, I am stronger. And that’s because of “All About Love.”

This is the book for those who wonder: Where do we go from here — if anywhere else is even possible?

hooks wrote “All About Love” for those with defeated hearts because she knew that, by virtue of simply picking up this book, skimming its pages and seeing what she had to say about love, we are not defeated at all.