Given the realities of segregation, concentrated inequality, and the challenges faced by black people in many of our cities, I have to admit that bell hooks has a point when she asserts that urban living has been bad for black people. On the other hand, I found belonging: a culture of place (Routledge 2009) to be a frustrating book to read. bell hooks is from Kentucky, and a few years ago she moved back again, and is happily at home, in place, in a location in which she feels rooted spiritually and culturally. I think this is great for her, if it makes her happy. Unfortunately, as she writes about it, she creates an oversimplified duality between country and city that I find maddening. Life is not that simple, as she well knows.
Like any book by hooks, this one has some great ideas and discussions. I was moved and educated by her reflections on representations of whiteness in black imaginations and the aesthetics of blackness. The chapter on the glories and wonderfulness of tobacco, however, left me bewildered. Maybe it’s because my mother died from lung cancer and I can’t –and won’t – celebrate tobacco in any form.
Be that as it may, if you are looking for an anti-urban book that has some really interesting conversations, then this one might be for you. It wasn’t for me, except for a few chapters.