Read Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks Free Online
Book Title: Where We Stand: Class Matters|
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 25.29 MB
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The author of the book: bell hooks
Date of issue: October 4th 2000
ISBN 13: 9780415929134
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Reader ratings: 7.3
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I really loved this book – but I have enjoyed all of her books so far. 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 isn’t 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, of course, all this needs to come with the proviso to ‘not hold your breath’ in waiting.
I couldn't help thinking through this that the US always talks of itself as a classless society - an absurdity, obviously, but it is the founding myth of the country. But Marx also wanted to achieve a classless society. These are two very different ideas of what 'classlessness' means.
Although those who talk the most about class often end up being a bit racist and a bit sexist, hooks certainly does not go to the opposite extreme and claim that class issues are irrelevant. Quite the opposite – in fact, she repeatedly points out that what makes black shame or female shame real and all consuming is often not really about being black or female, but about being poor, or about being shown as being from the wrong class.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Max Weber and his view of religion (particularly protestant religion) and the impetus it provided the development of capitalism. The short version is that the Calvinists believed that the world was playing out under god’s eternal plan. Each of us is born in sin and so even the very best of us deserves to go to hell - you know, literally deserves this fate, so revolting in god's sight are we. This means we should live a frugal life, much as Jesus did and hope for salvation, even if we don't actually deserve it. So, given everything has already been planned, and god has already decided our fate, even before we were born, and since we all deserve to go to hell, how can we tell if we will go to heaven? Well, the short answer is we can’t. But, it sort of makes sense that if you are successful in this life, it might be because god is fond of you, and if that is the case, then perhaps economic success and frugal reinvestment of the profits into the continued growth of that success would be a kind of measure of god’s fondness for you and therefore of your chances of getting into heaven. And thus the great evil notion that is associated with Capitalism (the idea that economic success is identical with moral worth) was born.
This wasn’t the religion bell hooks was raised in. 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 religion required a deep respect for the poor – something that more modern versions of consumerist capitalism have done away with to a great extent. Today we judge and are judged by what we possess, and the poor believe they will be fine if they can only afford a new iPad or iWatch or designer label clothes. We measure our worth in the quantities of things we possess. It is Weber’s vision with the call to frugality removed and each of us seeking to live beyond our means. We need to be conspicuous in our consumption, it is the only way we can have any worth at all.
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. That hooks didn’t want that sent these girls into complete confusion. The book then follows her life as she became slowly better off, but then discusses the complications this presented her – not least in relation to how she felt about herself. You move away from your family and your class to become ‘educated’, but too often the cost of the education is that you become someone other than who you were, the pathway out is also a path away – while you may never be fully accepted into the new world, you have lost your rights to belong in your old world too. Again, this is a constant theme in literature (from Great Expectations to The Singing Detective) and in social theory – Goffman, Foucault, Claude Steele, Bernstein, Bourdieu all fill pages and pages on exactly this theme. However, it is a theme I never tire of, it is, in many ways, the story of my own life and so I always find something new to understand from it.
This is a brilliant book – she writes so insanely well, so clear, not academic, movingly. She says at one point that she found this a very hard book to write and a couple of times found herself doubled over in tears writing it. I can completely believe this. The shame associated with poverty, with being ‘from the wrong class’, is something that eats at your soul and something that leaves wounds that are more easily reopened than healed. 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.
A powerful and moving book.
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Read information about the authorbell hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins) is an African-American author, feminist, and social activist. Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, class, and gender and their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and domination. She has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through a postmodern female perspective, she has addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media and feminism.
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