Book Review on “Where We Stand: Class Matters”
In her book “Where We Stand: Class Matters”, Bell Hooks address the issues of classism interlocking with racism, white supremacist ideology and sexism in contemporary American culture. Her arguments in this book are greatly tied to her personal experience that she moved up from working class to the upper class as she succeeds in academic life and writing many books. Through this book, the most important point she puts emphasis on is the acknowledgment of the complex interlocking of classism, racism and sexism.
Bell Hooks is not a poor working-class any more, but she has a background as a black woman living in a racially segregated area, which seems to make her spend a great part of the book to argue racism despite it is mainly about classism. Although most people may think that America is one of the richest and the most developed countries in the world, Bell Hooks shows the negative side of the society. If I had some keywords that I thought express America before I read this book, I would say equality, diversity, and freedom. But, Bell Hooks made me question those images and what the reality in this country is.
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It is true that people in America love those ideas and seem to have achieved them in a long history of revolution, civil rights movement, women’s movement and other social movements, however, I found that there is still a huge number of people suffering under oppression of the privileged population but have been kept invisible and ignored. Hooks repeats again and again that almost all the people from risk to poor stay away from talking about class in general and so they are unconscious about where they stand in a society.
According to her argument, I realized the reason why they have fear talking about it is different between the rich and the poor. At the very beginning of the book, Hooks recollects the past with her working-class family including grandparents who are important people in her story. As far as she describes, she just enjoyed living with grandparents and she says that the lure of life was everywhere and in everything, but no one in the crowded house had a regular job or social security number, and no one talked about class even if they were open about money.
Hooks’ personal memories tell me that poor people are afraid to talk about class because to be poor in the U. S. was to be an object of shame and ridicule, and because they were afraid to face the reality that makes them feel miserable, unpleasant, and unsecured. And the most importantly, most of them are not really conscious about how classism affects and exploits them. On the other hand, according to Hooks privileged (mostly white) people do not want to talk about class because they do not really want to change.
Hooks says “Citizens in the middle who live comfortable lives, luxurious lives in relation to the rest of the world, often fear that challenging classism will be their downfall, that simply by expressing concern for the poor they will end up like them, lacking the necessities of life”. We can see the widening gap between rich and poor and more and more class-segregated society in the U. S. today, but this appears rather favorable circumstance for the privileged people with class power.
I came to realize that whites of all class backgrounds seek to keep underprivileged non-white people in subordination to maintain their own class status. Hooks interprets it “the victims of predatory greed” and “the victims of class genocide”. This is contradictory to the positive images that Americans celebrate diversity and their virtue of equality. In the part she talks about segregation, she says, “neighbors tell me the lack of diversity has nothing to do with racism, it’s just a matter of class”, but I cannot just believe that.
Hooks later tells a story that she experienced when looking for an apartment after she got enough money. According to her, all the available buildings she was interested in and only with white residents and white realtors were mysteriously sold by the time she arrived. How could this happen. Although Hooks states that “if buildings and neighborhoods were all whites then that had more to do with class than white supremacy”, I cannot understand it.
I do not think it is just about racism, but I cannot help but thinking that those white people are so racist and want to keep people of color out of their world. Hooks says they swear that they are not racists, but her experience makes me think that people of color (especially blacks) are “undesirable objects” for them. But I think the way they behave and treat underprivileged people would not change until those racists get consciousness that they are racists, look back what they have done to them, nd think if they want or want their family to be treated like that. The most interesting points that Bell Hooks makes in this book are her perspectives from the influence of mass media, religious aspect, and her experience to live segregated place with family. She examines how mass media disguise the reality. Television shows how much poor people do not have and how much the rich want to help them. They make an TV show as if celebrities are ordinary people with same problems as everyone.
But now I got to think it is superficial display of sympathy. Based on what I have learned, the reason why mass media shows almost only distorted reality that works along the white-supremacist ideology is that the great majority of the people who are making it is whites. I believe that mass media has the power to change the nature of politics, but if the system is under control of just one group of people, it would hardly show anything unfavorable or disadvantageous.
Even if a few activists like Bell Hooks successfully send messages in public through books and get prizes to show up on television, they cannot have bigger influence than the entire mass media. I think it is not too much to say that what we think and how we behave in the society is reflection of what mass media shows. It is not easy to change the existing system and people in mass media, so the effective way to change the nature of it is that more people with underprivileged background get into the white-dominated empire of mass media.
Not everyone can do this, but there are increasing number of elite people of color getting more class power. It would be a completely different thing from what white anti-racism activists could do because they cannot fully understand the reality underprivileged people are facing. Another thing that I found the most interesting is the way changes in religious life affect today’s classism. Hooks explains that the church was one of the only places where the evil of greed had been discussed, and that concern for the ethics of greed is fading in accordance with the decline of the church.
Hooks does not talk much about the relation between religion and classism, but I would like to know more how they have been connected in the U. S. and how religious culture could be utilized to make the society better place equally for everyone to live without shame or fear to be poor. Lastly, I would like to think about what is the best choice for those under privileged people to live dealing with classism, racism and sexism. The more I know the reality and the complex interlocking nature of those three, the smaller my hope to make a society without the oppression of classism, racism and sexism.
However, I believe we can change it to better one. I think the most difficult point is that I cannot know what the best possible circumstance for underprivileged people is. I cannot just believe that desegregation is good. In fact, Hooks describes her childhood as a segregated but isolated and so somewhat protected one. It could be a threat for them to blend with privileged whites. Some bravery people like Bell Hooks could do that, but it is a very hard choice for the majority of folks with historical and empirical fear for discrimination.
Class-segregation and racial segregation could even better choice for them because everyone wants to feel secure, protected and comfortable in the communities they live. I think they need to be conscious about classism and where they stand in the society so that they can have as many possible choices as they can before just being afraid to break the silence and choosing to live in an underprivileged circumstance. I would like to know how education for class-consciousness and racism consciousness for both privileged and underprivileged folks could be provided.