On the art of belonging

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belongingA powerful and courageous book telling old and yet actual stories about the art of belonging and caring for each other and the Mother Earth.

In her usual wholehearted tone bell hooks guides the reader through a series of real life experiences and meaningful reflections about race, identity, oppression, nature, old wisdom-values and oppositional culture.

Returning (or finding) home is a process that can last long years, even a lifetime. Hooks describes her own pathway back home, offering a profound vision of where is home and what it means to belong to a place and to a community.

‘Belonging: A culture of place’, offers a wider understanding of belonging determined by landscape, language and shared values, instead of the usual conception of belonging defined by physical and geographical borders.

The author highlights the relation between belonging and care for the Earth, bringing new insights on the way patriarchal culture and values -characterised by dualism, individualism and disconnection- works to destroy the planet without any genuine concern for the impact on present and future generations of natural resources exploitation and industrialisation.

Being born in the rural south of the United States in an era of direct segregation and exploitation of black people, bell hooks gives new insights on black people’s identity and its connection to this rural dimension of life. Despite the fact that black people’s identity was strongly related to the land and nature before and during slavery, it is its urban features and stories that dominate popular imaginary nowadays. In the author’s analysis this is the result of a powerful strategy to disempower black folks, by taking away from them their original culture and values, which were based on the connection to Mother Earth, loving and supporting communities, and deep rooted values of honesty, respect and reciprocity.

By creating a concept of equality based on ‘sameness’ the dominant culture accomplished to ‘convince’ (=manipulate) minorities that to be equal is to achieve similar economic and material standards, at the same time devaluing rural culture and related jobs. The movement of black people from rural south to the north part of the country, where discrimination and segregation were less visible (but equally pervasive) was, as said before, disempowering because it created a disconnection with the Earth and the original black culture and values. It deterred black people from working the land, which used to be an empowering activity providing independence in food production and nurturing. As well it stopped the possibility of searching the wisdom, the comfort and healing power of nature.

One of the most significant aspects in the book is the reference to oppositional thinking and culture. This kind of culture, which is based on values which oppose to those of the dominant and oppressive culture, is a strong dimension of personal activism towards the creation of a new world order. Despite the oppression affecting black people back then in the United States there were many black folks which lives were deeply rooted in values and ways of being and living completely opposite to those of the dominant culture. This was an internal life dimension that dominator culture never managed to oppress, or at least not until the migration to the urban areas.

This firm belief in alternative values and ways of being created an oppositional culture characterised by a strong empowering and uplifting dimension therefore capable of counteracting racism and oppression. It permeated children up-bringing thus enabling to create a strong identity based on positive values where the ‘victim’ dimension was less important or even absent. At the same time white dominator culture was not conceived as good and better hence enabling black people to fight the wrong assumption that owning and possession were the standards against which evaluate wellbeing, happiness and worth.

It is important to notice that the cultural assimilation movement previously mentioned is still very powerful nowadays. With the widespread use of the English language and the culture and information disseminated through it more and more people (many among them young people) feel the need to identify to a foreign culture, widely known as western culture, which is portrayed as superior and better.

Unfortunately the conception of whiteness and related values as the goal to which aspire is still very pervasive and despite the fact that there are several counter-movements which emphasise the need to safeguard cultural diversity a lot still needs to be done.

The channels and shapes of this postmodern colonial movement are several. As such it is of utmost importance that people from all walks of life engage in meaningful reflection on the ways in which their field/actions are perpetrating this cultural homologation, taking a stand and concrete action to change it. For the beauty and importance of cultural diversity!

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