Plenary Panel Highlight: bell hooks

 Left to right: bell hooks, john a. powell

Left to right: bell hooks, john a. powell

By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

bell hooks asked the question: “What happens when we don’t take care of ourselves?”

It is out of love that we take care of ourselves. Love of self, love of community, love of one another. While the word “other” separates people by differences, the word “another” implies that a separate entity of any kind is similar, and is “like.” “Another” is an inclusive word, while “other” is exclusive. As bell mentioned at the beginning of her conversation with Haas Institute Director john a. powell, “If you have love, you have the community of belonging that comes with it.”

Sometimes we are othered by people who are seen to be outside of the community that we are a part of. But a lot of times, we other ourselves, often as a defensive mechanism fueled by self-preservation. We want to protect ourselves and take care of ourselves, and in times and situations of high stress or high stakes, it is almost instinctual to remove ourselves emotionally, socially, and physically by “othering” ourselves.

But when we don’t take care of ourselves, we create isolation. From othering, we can create pain, which creates a negative cloud around ourselves. “Othering” doesn’t allow the wounds to heal. As bell aptly put it: “It's not hard to love the people we like. The challenge of love is to extend belonging to someone we may not even know, someone who may have even hurt us.”

bell added, “Violence is Othering. When we work for peace, we are already doing the work of belonging. As people of color, we suffer the wounds in that place where we would know love. We can't think [of] inclusiveness without healing those wounds.”

john noted, “As I move through the world, I've been struck by that almost everyone in the world is wounded, straight people, gay people, white people, everyone. There is profound suffering and nobody gets to go through life without that. I think engaging life ends the suffering. And maybe it never ends, but it allows us to hold that. So what's next? We know we have sordid history. But we also have this possibility.”

Since we cannot eliminate implicit bias, we cannot discount our experiences in this world, and we cannot move forward without love, how do we learn to love people who appear to be different from us? How do we embrace belonging, the ideal of perfection, when we are in fact imperfect people?

bell noted, “In the future we will go beyond the conference. People must work with the work in daily life. I want us never to forget that humor has to be a part of the revolution.”

john always says that no human being is outside of the circle of human concern. So what does that mean for us? What is the work that we have to do in order to get to the place of belonging?

john has one answer to this question, “I believe that spiritual growth is crucial to healing from trauma. We have to find that place of healing so we come in good spirits to one another.”


Watch the entire video below.

john a. powell & bell hooks: Dialogue at the Othering & Belonging Conference "Belonging Through Connection, Connecting Through Love: Oneself, the Other, and the Earth"