“I was struck by the fact that whatever the persons particular complaint, there was always a deeper issue: a sense of inadequacy, of not being enough , of feeling of guilt or shame or inferiority, a clear lack of self-acceptance , self-trust, and self-love. In other words, a problem of self-esteem.”
Feminist author bell hooks examines the problem of self-esteem in the black community in her work, Rock My Soul. The prolific author of twenty-four critically acclaimed books , including All About Love, Outlaw Culture, and Sisters Of The Yam : Black Women and Self Recovery returns to grapple with the roots of black self-esteem.
hooks critically examines the many manifestations of a lack of self-esteem in the black community, which include addictions, over- and underachievement, and victimization. While her autopsy of this affliction is thorough, it basically boils down to the deleterious effects of white supremacist and black patriarchal thinking. The examination of the resulting neurosis and psychosis of the black community keep coming back to the unholy synthesis of those views. In addition, hook cites the abnormal emphasis placed on material versus spiritual gain as a further corrosive agent upon self-esteem. hooks identification of materialism as a byproduct of low self-esteem is timely, particularly when hip-hop artists remain under fire for their conspicuous consumption. Advertising and the entertainment industry force-feed society the notion that ‘more is more’ and is directly proportional to one's worth as a human being. The glamorous life has exponentially increased in desirability, and hooks links the deleterious effects of such blatant longing to the crime and excess that are rampant in our communities.
The author is particularly riveting when she analyzes the pro-black militant movement of the 60s and the 70s. hooks goes beneath the ‘black is beautiful’ rhetoric and comments on the bones of the movement and its lasting impact on today's black people. Indeed, though instilling a surface sense of black pride, the author demonstrates how such a skeleton weakened the black community under the guise of strengthening it. These herald back through the aforementioned “black patriarchy”, a structure that is constantly being forced upon society as the norm. hooks eloquently point this out, saying “Fundamentalist Christian thinking about gender roles join with the patriarchal rhetoric of conservative black nationalism, reinforcing in the minds and hearts of black males and females alike that male domination of women should be the norm”.
Despite laying out exhaustive evidence on the insidious shadow of self-esteem, the author puts forth generalized solutions in which the black community can get out from underneath that shadow. However, these solutions face formidable obstacles. hooks advocates for the use of psychotherapy to heal the scars of low self-worth yet acknowledges that psychotherapy is still shunned in the black community. The author states that black literature should once again center upon racial uplift yet notes that the mainstream publishing industry favors those works that emphasize the negative aspects of the black community.
While these obstacles are not insurmountable, they will require an extra effort from black people to be overcome. Rock My Soul is not a book to be taken lightly. Indeed, it refreshingly requires one's mind to engage in a substantial internal dialogue and debate.