Where We Stand: Class Matters

Where We Stand: Class Matters

by bell hooks

Drawing on both her roots in Kentucky and her adventures with Manhattan Coop boards, Where We Stand is a successful black woman's reflection--personal, straight forward, and rigorously honest--on how our dilemmas of class and race are intertwined, and how we can find ways to think beyond them.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Nonfiction
  • Rating: 4.18
  • Pages: 164
  • Publish Date: October 4th 2000 by Routledge
  • Isbn10: 041592913X
  • Isbn13: 9780415929134

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hooks reminds us that in a culture where money is the measure of value, it is believed that everything and everybody can be bought. But money is not the standard where other values are more important: Solidarity with the poor is the only path that can lead out nation back to a vision of community that can effectively challenge and eliminate violence and exploitation. In her chapter entitled Being Rich, hooks explains that the poor and working class have been taught by mass media to think like and aspire to the values and attitudes of the rich ruling classes, ideologically joining with the rich to protect their class interests. We are all taught to believe that the wealthy have earned their right to rule because they are rich, without examination into the sources of that wealth and the exploitation it may represent, and we therefore often abandon any political commitment to economic justice. In the old days of an emerging Christian ethic, the disciples were puzzled to learn from Jesus that the rich must work harder for grace because they will be tempted to hoard their wealth and exploit others to increase their wealth. In later chapters hooks addresses the new wealth of American blacks and how allegiance to the new class interests of successful black people may supersede their racial solidarity. In general and from the outside, it does not appear that successful blacks are ignoring their brethren, but I do not think the same can be said of white citizens. hooks actually addresses this in her chapter entitled White Poverty: The Politics of Invisibility.

Class is a particularly interesting subject for someone like hooks to tackle, as being both black and female means that there are really good reasons why she might not want to talk about class at all. It isnt just Marx that says that class issues are key to fundamentally changing society, but even someone like Luhmann also claims that all other forms of disadvantage can be overcome without fundamentally changing society but to change the class relations in society requires a complete change in how society works. So, someone that can see the gross disadvantages presented to women and to blacks by society might not be terribly keen to hear, particularly not from white men, that these issues are very much secondary and will be solved anyway once the real work of overcoming class distinctions is achieved. And thus the great evil notion that is associated with Capitalism (the idea that economic success is identical with moral worth) was born. Her religion was associated with community and looking out for one another and had a deep respect for the least amongst us, she quotes from the Book of Matthew, the passage about Jesus needing clothes and food and being in prison and the rich not providing any of these for him (him in the guise of the poor the rich ignored) and therefore of them being sent to hell. This book is also an autobiography from the punishing poverty of her early life, the mistreatment she received at the hands of rich white girls at the first college she attended, girls who thought they could trash her room and then become her friends because everyone knows that black girls just want to be white girls and if they can never actually be that, at least they can have white friends. Hooks has lived this, her writing resonates with both a deep knowledge of what such a life means, but also a deep understanding of why such lives exist in our society and how things could be so different from what they are.

This may be one of the most frustrating books Ive read in a long time. For example, somewhere in chapter 11 hooks claims that people are too busy getting high on abusive substances to care about politics or basic survival and, in some way, seems to placed the burden of low voter turn out on low income communities without any discussion of gerrymandering. It wasnt all frustrating, hooks is of course brilliant and makes some important/essential points, but I often found myself longing for her to have developed those sections a bit more instead of getting bogged down with odd judgments.

And so you get that wtf am I doing feeling and I confess I read this not looking for answers everyone has to struggle for on their own, but a little solace and shared understanding. And I wondered just what about class war is it she wants to avoid?

Our experiences counter the assumption that women could only gain economically by colluding with the existing capitalist patriarchy" (p.

Though I liked this for the most part and found hooks' personal narrative fascinating, I found Chapter 7, entitled "The Me-Me Class: The Young and the Ruthless" to be just another run-of-the-mill old person complaining about the young, for example: "In part, youth culture's worship of wealth stems from the fact that it is easier to acquire money and goods than it is to find meaningful values and ethics, to know who you are and what you want to become, to make and sustain and friends, to know love." (85) "This generation has blood on its hands and does not care as long as the blood can be washed away by fancy soaps, aromatherapy, and a host of other little luxuries...When the deluded young are forced to face the reality that we are bound by class, by limited resources...they become rage filled and rage addicted. As many have said before me, hooks rarely cites her sources and often makes broad statements without backing them up with factual data, besides that of her own experience.

I became further incensed by Hooks' comparison of racial conditions to Nazi concentration camps.