In Black Looks, the author begins by pointing out that representation of black people in mainstream media has lagged behind their actual achievements. While progress has been made in areas such as education and employment for black people, the images we see every day continue to reinforce white supremacy.
One of the greatest difficulties for black representation, hooks claims, is the lack of a vocabulary with which black people can name their pain. Another problem is the shortage of black role models in the culture. This can lead to black children passively accepting white models of beauty and behavior.
In "Cultural Identity and Diaspora," Stuart Hall linked colonial dominance and representation by arguing that black people have been dominated not only by representing them as the Other but also by making them accept this representation. The author writes that the twelve essays in Black Looks are attempts to push back against this type of representation and find new ways of creating images that reflect her own experience of life. She states in the introduction,
In Black Looks, I critically interrogate old narratives, suggesting alternative ways to look at blackness, black subjectivity, and, of necessity, whiteness.
The aim here is to examine a range of media, film, television, music, and print, and reappraise representations of blackness in a radical way, transforming familiar and iconic images to create a new perspective. The author is frank about her subversive intent to change the ways black people are represented and the ways in which existing representations are viewed. The new representations and views are to provide black people with new models and the beginnings of a new critical vocabulary. Toward the end of her introduction to the essays, hooks writes of the revolutionary effect she hopes they will have:
As a radical intervention we must develop revolutionary attitudes about race and representation. To do this we must be willing to think critically about images.. We must be willing to take risks. The essays in Black Looks are meant to challenge and unsettle, to disrupt and subvert. They may make some folks get mad, go off, or just feel upset. That is the idea—to provoke and engage.