Homemade Love and Overcoming Fear of the Dark: A Call for an Elemental Shift in Language

(Posted by Danielle)

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bell hook’s Homemade Love, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, introduces readers to Girl Pie who is her mama’s “sweet, sweet,” her daddy’s “honey bun chocolate dew drop.” In these colorful pages, we see Girl Pie delight in her parents’ love for her, and we see her smile fade as she stands amid the pieces of a broken vase. Her mother’s arms cross and her foot taps. Shame is palpable. With the turn of a page, Girl Pie is framed between her mother and father as she repairs the red vase. A glue bottle with a picture of a heart on it sits on the table. Girl Pie learns to make repairs with love and then let it go, cartwheeling through the grass. The closeness and warmth of her parents permeate every word and illustration, showing a way to create a foundation for a beautiful life to unfold. The book ends with bedtime and preparing Girl Pie to sleep alone in her own bed, “No need to fear the dark place. ‘Cause everywhere is home.”

Beyond poetic language and the colorful illustrations, Homemade Love gives the essential reminder that darkness, nighttime, is a natural and safe place to be. The book reminds me that nighttime is a valuable portion of a twenty-four hour day. A time for rest and renewal. It also reminds me of my culture’s fear of the dark. It reminds me of ubiquitous portrayals of light as good and dark as bad.  It permeates our language, and I hear those around me saying “these are dark times,” and “we have to combat the darkness.” As a White mother of Black children, I have a sense of some of the effects of the light and dark dichotomy and the use of the word “dark” to mean, bad, evil, hopeless. “Mommy, a girl at school says brown fairies are bad,” is one example how the malalignment of “dark” affects my family.

My experiences as a parent and bell hook’s Homemade Love inspire me to see how I can shift my own everyday language to make dark and light whole again. To honor the necessary place of light and dark in a day, in the seasons of the year, and in the quiet places of my heart. When I mean good, I say “good” instead of light. When I mean bad, I say “bad” instead of dark. I am inclined to say I would like to remove the judgement from use of the words “light” and “dark,” but that is not really true. What is true for me is that I would like to double the goodness of both words. I want to multiply the goodness of the beautiful, safe, peaceful dark. To amplify the warmth, richness, and beauty of all that is dark, brown, and black.  Yes, that is what I really want.

An elemental shift in language, moving away from articulating light and dark as opposing forces, can be the seed of a deeper change of how children and adults relate to one another. It may open the door to feeling safe in actual nighttime darkness, it may recognize the goodness of brown fairies, and it may allow us to celebrate each other in complete honor of our differences.

Purchase here on IndieBound, A Community of Independent Local Bookstores.

hooks, b. and Evans, W.S. (2002). New York: Jump at the Sun, Hyperion Books for Children.