bell hooks Residency Promotes the Values of Laughter, Love and Honest Conversation


St. Norbert College was delighted to welcome bell hooks back to campus for a third year as part of her residency that took place from Monday, April 18 to Friday, April 22. This residency was organized by the Cassandra Voss Center and sponsored by Humana and The Killeen Chair of Theology and Philosophy Lecture Series.

The first event in hooks’ residency took place on Tuesday, April 19, as she conversed with comedian Hari Kondabolu in Walter Theater at 7 p.m. Kondabolu has been featured in a number of television shows including David Letterman, Conan and John Oliver.

Their dialogue began with hooks outlining the importance that humor has within our society as a way of counteracting social injustice.

“Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I feel like one of the things that kept us together and saved us was humor. So I think of laughter as an intervention, laughter as leaving the door open for healing,” said hooks.

hooks asked Kondabolu how he connected a political voice with comedy. He was inspired after watching comedian Margaret Cho.

After the 9/11 attacks, however, Kondabolu emphasized, “I became a political being. I really started thinking about the world, I thought about the hate crimes that were happening in my community and all over the country.”

Watching Paul Mooney’s stand up comedy further inspired him to incorporate the seriousness of race, patriarchy and injustice into his humor.

When a significant amount of comedy is layered in sexism and racism, hooks praised Kondabolu’s work in comedy for finding a balance where issues including patriarchy, sexism and racism are brought to light and taken seriously, but simultaneously fuelled with humor.

“Part of what fascinates me about Hari’s work is the striving to have integrity of perspective and vision even as you make people laugh,” said hooks.

Kondabolu shared that people can enjoy his type of comedy where they are made aware of pressing societal dilemmas, but people can also enjoy straight stand up comedy that does not highlight these issues.

“I think there is a generation now that really excites me […] When I talk about […] racism, about sexism, about homophobia, that’s not a shock to them,” said Kondabolu..

hooks responded by asking “Can you like both just as much?” Highlighting that when our awareness of such issues expands, the embedded injustice becomes more apparent.

“Rather than imagining a world where I come to terms with racist, sexist, crazy homophobic humor, I’d like to think about what does it mean to live in a world where we have humor that doesn’t have that,” said hooks.

Another issue raised in their dialogue was the idea of “branding” which “can be a way of silencing,” hooks stressed. It can be highly restricting and segregating for anyone that wants to go beyond what they are categorized as by the domination of branding within society.

“I want to be whole. I don’t want to be trapped by race, or gender or class,” said hooks.

On Wednesday, April 20, hooks conversed with activist Parker J. Palmer in Walter Theater at 7 p.m. Palmer is the Founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal and focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change.

They began by highlighting the disconnect in conversations across class, race and sex, and the importance of breaking free of that segregation.

“It’s in live encounters with other people, with nature, with the world or spirit […] that we really live and we really transform,” Palmer said.

Fascism and anti immigration laws try and thwart the reality that our world is fundamentally diverse.

“The idea that you can run away from diversity is nonsensical, so let us instead […] ask about the richness of diversity, the variety of viewpoints, the new understanding that it can bring to us, and […] fundamentally, […] the experience of feeling more at home in our own skin […] by being comfortable in the presence of others,” emphasized Palmer, and added, “The purity motif is an evil mythology, and it always leads to evil.”

Another topic they touched on was masculinity, and that men do not have as much opportunity to share their stories as openly as women can.

“There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent space where men in our society are moving forward,” said hooks.

Their dialogue ended with emphasizing the importance of honest conversation, fully embracing all sides of dialogue and asking open questions.

hooks explained how “crucial listening is to the practice of love, and [how] the practice of love allows us to engage in community.”

On Thursday, April 22, hooks led the Morning Prayer at Old St. Joseph’s church to end her residency. The CVC has uploaded both dialogues onto YouTube for anyone that would like to watch the full conversations, visit


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