- The Beloved Community: A Conversation between bell hooks and George Brosi
I thought it might be constructive for us to talk about the concept of the beloved community. In our last conversation it seemed like we were lightly dancing around that concept because we talked about the topics that you have dealt with in your writing. Love has been a huge dimension of your work and also liberation. It seems that, in a lot of ways, the beloved community is a concept that has come out of struggles for liberation in an attempt to express how the process of liberation can be infused with love. This concept assumes a group effort to change social institutions and an effort to make the means of that struggle consistent with the ends. The beloved community defines the relationships among those working for change and also the desired result of these efforts. In other words, those of us working for instituional change endeaver to become a beloved community among ourselves as we are striving for all of society to exemplify the beloved community.
Martin Luther King was my teacher for understanding the importance of beloved community. He had a profound awareness that the people involved in oppressive institutions will not change from the logics and practices of domination without engagement with those who are striving for a better way.
One of the things that has always made me sad is the extent to which civil rights struggles, black power movements, and feminist movements, have, at times, collapsed at the point where there was conflict, and how conflict between people in the groups was often seen as a negative. The truth is that you cannot build community without conflict. The issue is not to be without conflict, but to be able to resolve conflict, and the commitment to community is what gives us the inspiration to come up with ways to resolve conflict. The most contemporary way that people are thinking about as a measure of resolving conflict and rebuilding community is restorative justice.
How one relates to conflict is determined partly by whether you see the people on the other side as your enemies or you see the institutions as the problem. If you see everybody as having redemptive qualities and being capable of redemption, then conflict isn’t as big a burden because it’s not me against you, it’s a question of how are we going to work this out. [End Page 76]
It’s funny because in my own career as a lecturer going around our nation, the one time I was booed was when I talked about how I had hopes for even someone like George Bush, that I had to believe in his capacity to change or be changed because that’s part of the vision of beloved community. I was surprised that it was progressive people who were very much against the concept that he could change or be transformed. It seems to me that’s been a part of a flaw in our thinking as progressive people. We’ve been as eager often to have an enemy as people consider the political right to be. If we think about living in a small community, one thing is that we are very aware of our differences. It is very obvious that, in order to live in harmony, we have to come to terms with those differences. And some are more difficult than others, in particular, religious difference. I remember, when I first came to Berea, and I was going to put my Buddha on the porch, people actually said to me, “Well, you know there might be people who will shoot at your Buddha.” And I said, “Well, that’s hard to imagine,” and of course that didn’t happen. But you know what did happen? People did notice that I had a Buddha, and people did ask me about it. There were good Christian people who felt that it was a graven image and therefore was violating to God. But I talked with people, and said, “I’ve talked to Jesus, and Jesus...