Close this search box.
Author bell hooks in a yellow top sitting on a black couch
Shanina Carmichael reflects on how bell hooks’ “All About Love” makes her question her own evolution of love, starting with her parents. “I can release parts of love that no longer serve me and my family, but I choose to acknowledge the parts of it that fed me and made me who I am today,” she writes. Photo courtesy bell hook Books

Reflecting On Bell Hooks’ ‘All About Love:’ The Evolution of Black Love and Family

I’ve been reading bell hooks’ “All About Love,” and while I love me some bell hooks, a part of it just didn’t sit right with me. I was offended while reading about the love we experience in our families. I felt like she was saying that love could not live in relationships with people who experience trauma; that somehow trauma stood in the way of people expressing love. It felt like a harsh judgment of someone’s best effort.

I thought: “Who is she to tell me my mother didn’t love me? Who is she to pinpoint moments of dysregulation and use it as evidence of the absence of love?”

book cover of bell hooks' "All About Love: New Visions"
Bell Hooks’ “All About Love: New Visions” was originally published in 2000 and discusses aspects of love in modern society. Hooks combines personal anecdotes with psychological and philosophical ideas to develop and strengthen her argument. Book cover courtesy William Morrow Paperbacks

When I look at my parents in how they have evolved their parenting practices from the parenting they received, I’m proud of them. I didn’t face anywhere near the amount of physical, mental or emotional trauma my mom faced in her childhood. And this was a result of conscious decisions her and my dad made.

My mom was committed to establishing a stable, didactic and fun environment, while my dad was committed to providing loving encouragement. The both of them created a balanced experience for me. Were there moments where their behavior toward myself or my siblings were not loving? Yes! But I do believe they were doing their best.

Love and Parenting Without Google

I guess another reason reading bell hooks’ book was painful is because these are the people that taught me how to love, and if she suggests that they didn’t know how to love, then where does that leave me?

Now granted, I have done my own work to evolve my parenting from the type I received, just as my parents did. I don’t think I’ve done any more work than they have, given the access and knowledge available to them at the time. I mean, they were parenting without Google.

Many social-media posts gather Black folks to share laughs about how similar our childhood experiences were despite having never met, weaving this astonishing display of connection and relatability throughout Black households.

With all of these similarities among African American households, hooks’ book feels like an attack on Black people’s ability to love. Now she doesn’t explicitly say this, so my personal sensitivities are showing, but I think we can agree that Black people have faced much trauma. So if trauma impacts our ability to love, conclusions can be drawn. (Sidenote: I know other races face trauma, but I am not talking about them. I’m writing from my own unique, Black experience.)

Illustration of bell hooks in a green floral top against an orange background with a quote by Bell Hooks
Illustration by Angelica Becerra courtesy bell hook Books

It feels like bell hooks’ assessment is saying Black people are just too traumatized to love properly. And that just feels like another thing to add to the list of things American culture tells Black people we don’t do “properly.” We don’t speak properly. We don’t dress properly. We don’t eat properly. We don’t dance properly. We don’t spend money properly. We don’t create families properly. And now we don’t love properly. It’s exhausting.

‘It Was Love Then, and It Is Love Now’

Although I can admit to many of those aforementioned attributes, they are attributes and adaptations to slavery and oppression. It is devastating to read that oppression has taken away our ability to love.

I just don’t want to believe that oppression has stolen Black people’s ability to love. Now distorting our definition of love, that feels like a more accurate account of what is taking place. You can’t tell me my mother searching for and driving 30 minutes to schools she thought would better educate us wasn’t love; that her rising before dawn just to prepare breakfast and lunch for four children was not love. Separating love from care just doesn’t sit well with me.

Close up photo of a Black woman and man holding hands
“It was love then, and it is love now; but we should feel obligated to carry love forward in its evolution just as our foremothers and forefathers did,”Shanina Carmichael writes. Photo by Tobe Mokolo on Unsplash

But I get it—sometimes care is harmful and enabling. I understand how too much care can delay or prevent maturation. I get that care is not a stand-alone component in growth inducing love. I’ve learned that love has to evolve beyond care. But I don’t agree that we get to negate a step in love evolution and call it something other than. Calling it something other than our parents’ best attempts at love during that evolutionary period feels disparaging.

It was love then, and it is love now; but we should feel obligated to carry love forward in its evolution just as our foremothers and forefathers did. I can release parts of love that no longer serve me and my family, but I choose to acknowledge the parts of it that fed me and made me who I am today.

I can also take responsibility for my own spiritual growth and not make it the total responsibility of others. As Cre Dye says, “ We must make ourselves the primary subject of reflection.”

There is something to learn from every encounter—the ones in which we were loved well and those where people were making their best attempts, despite poor examples and limited access to information.

In our evolution of love, we have to become responsible for our own spiritual growth. We have to teach others acceptable ways to honor our growth path. May the examples we set for each other as we collectively love ourselves out loud evolve our love. May the light we shine with the most perfect love we can offer in the moment, give birth to a more perfect love amongst our children tomorrow.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

The Mississippi Free Press is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) focused on telling stories that center all Mississippians.

With your gift, we can do even more important stories like this one.