Explain how bell hooks defines what "talking back" means to her. 

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gloria Watkins uses the name "bell hooks" (no capitalization) as more than a pseudonym. She finds it important that people identify with what she writes rather than who is writing. The concept of "talking back," as Hooks identifies it, relates to the first of many incidents, starting in her childhood, where she actually did "talk back" to an adult. In Talking back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, she relates how she found it empowering to have shocked the adults in the sweet shop where she was buying bubblegum, to the point of her being compared to the original Bell Hooks - "a sharp-tongued woman...who was not afraid to talk back." This allows her to be more outspoken than she would otherwise have been. Hooks recognizes the benefits of not talking back as, she learnt from her mother and grandmother that it is possible to be assertive and to deliver meaningful communications without being so forthright but the image in her mind of this indomitable woman is what has allowed for her powerful deliveries and created a more direct route to her desired audience. "Talking back, for hooks, reveals "the liberated voice."

In an effort to reveal her "voice," and her rightful place, Hooks stresses that it "was not an action to exclude others" but rather her way of making others change their mindset and see writers like herself for themselves ("the subject") "and not as underprivileged other." The belief that "free speech" does not necessarily mean what it says has assisted Hooks in developing her "true" voice and guided her towards the realization that she cannot "talk back" and expect others to be accept what she says willingly because the very nature of speaking out may cause discomfort and surprise. 

rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

hooks understands language as a “place of struggle,” a powerful tool used by institutions to enforce ideological conformity. She mentions, for example, in chapter one, how “the language that allowed me to finish graduate school. . . carries the scent of oppression.” In other words, what she means is that the language of scholarly discourse, or the language of the classroom, prohibits in some way the expression of her full self. It transforms her from a subject and a person into an object, a part of an institution, and an academic. The concept of “talking back” then can be understood as the practice of turning the language of the oppressor against oppression, both in terms of using it to reassert individuality and in terms of creating a new language that the institution cannot control. This seems very abstract, but hooks is talking about very practical things. The term “talking back” suggests transgression, opposition, misbehavior, and standing up for oneself. A child who talks back is defying authority. hooks, of course, was that child talking back to adults; her book is a continuation of that dialogue, both an explanation and an example of speaking truth to power.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In her book Talking Back, bell hooks first traces "talking back" to her childhood, where it was considered transgressive speech that was often punished by a slap or a switch. Children, especially girls, were not meant to challenge authority by speaking out.

In adulthood, hooks defines "talking back" as the power of speaking about her personal, painful experiences. These are the kinds of experiences, she explains, that blacks are not supposed to articulate. She also defines talking back as the act of oppressed peoples of whatever color telling their truth as they see it. In chapter one of Talking Back she states that talking back is an "act of resistance." It is a "political gesture," a way of being that the dominant culture would like to suppress and silence.

In chapter 5 of Talking Back, "Self Recovery," hooks discusses talking back as creating one's own language so as to avoid being limited and fenced in by the language of the dominant class. Finding one's voice through talking back means finding and "reclaiming" one's authentic self and thus experiencing healing.  

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