Where We Stand — which stable did you enter?


A new year is fast approaching, and with it, a new semester of my Master’s program.  Since I don’t have time to read like I want to during the class, I try to get my textbooks ahead of time and read what I can before class, to help me immerse in the material better during the class.

I was really looking forward to this class — On international and intercultural communications — but this one text book is *really* getting me excited about this course. I didn’t realize intercultural meant class consciousness.

I’ve just read the preface and introduction, and already I all sorts of marxist agit-prop in the language that makes me know this is going to be a real exciting class. Of course, maybe somewhere in here we will actually discuss real cultures and cultural perspectives too (which is what I thought the class would be about).

Since this is going to be serious material, I thought I would start with something humorous, as well as class-conscious. After all, what class is more oppressed in our society than vegetables!

And with that to enlighten and liven up your thoughts, I turn to a quote out of the preface of the book:

Black folks with money think about class more than most people do in this society. They know that most of the white people around them believe all black people are poor, even the ones with fancy suits and tailored shirts wearing Rolex watches and carrying leather briefcases . Poverty in the white mind is always primarily black. Even though the white poor are many, living in suburbs and rural areas, they remain invisible. The black poor are everywhere, or so many white people think.

hooks, bell (2012-10-02). Where We Stand: Class Matters (p. 4). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

This woman’s racist comment above presumes to know so much about all poor white people and their classification of blacks.  I am glad she knows so much more about how I think than I do myself. I am sure it would shock her to know that for a large portion of the white working class and lower middle class their fear is not that of the black “poor”, but of being grouped with the White Trash that they have so recently escaped from, or are in danger of falling back into.  They have too many relatives still in that category that they would like to forget about, much like the rich black people and their poor relations she referenced earlier in the introduction.

Or how about this quote:

At the end of the day the threat of class warfare, of class struggle, is just too dangerous to face. The neat binary categories of white and black or male and female are not there when it comes to class. How will they identify the enemy. How will they know who to fear or who to challenge. They cannot see the changing face of global labor— the faces of the women and children whom transnational white supremacist capitalist patriarchy exploits at home and abroad to do dirty work for little pay. They do not speak the languages of the immigrants, male and female, who work here in the meat industry, in clothing sweat-shops, as farmworkers, as cooks and busboys, as nannies and domestic workers. Even though the conservative rich daily exploit mass media to teach them that immigrants are the threat, that welfare is the threat, they are starting to wonder about who really profits from poverty, about where the money goes. And whether they like it or not , one day they will have to face the reality: this is not a class-free society.

hooks, bell (2012-10-02). Where We Stand: Class Matters (p. 6). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

She is so early 2000s — doesn’t she know we live in a post-binary gender society. She has all her neat categorizations for everyone. There has to be an enemy, to be capitalist is to be a white patriarchal exploiter, etc., etc. But class consciousness doesn’t have these neat divides, these neat categories for people, and this troubles her.

At least in the introduction, where this quote comes from, she doesn’t bother to ask why that should be? Perhaps because classes are not legal or social entities that people consider themselves part of as they do families, churches, nations, companies and fraternal organizations.

But I think this last quote is perhaps the most revealing about her motivation and self-deception:

I began to write about class in an effort to clarify my own personal journey from a working-class background to the world of affluence, in an effort to be more class conscious. It has been useful to begin with class and work from there. In much of my other work, I have chosen gender or race as a starting point. I choose class now because I believe class warfare will be our nation’s fate if we do not collectively challenge classism, if we do not attend to the widening gap between rich and poor, the haves and have-nots. This class conflict is already racialized and gendered. It is already creating division and separation. If the citizens of this nation want to live in a society that is class-free, then we must first work to create an economic system that is just. To work for change, we need to know where we stand.

hooks, bell (2012-10-02). Where We Stand: Class Matters (pp. 8-9). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

My translation of what she is saying: If we want a class free society, we need to create an economic system that recognizes people by the class that they are in, and treats them appropriately and differently, to make them all equal.

She has moved from one economic bracket to another. But rather than see that this movement shows that class is just a construct, and can be changed, she still has this idea that she must identify with where she came from.

She and I are looking at the same thing, but our descriptions would make you wonder if we are looking at the same thing. I feel like King Tirian in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle talking to the dwarfs who refuse to be “taken in”.

“You see” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning rather than belief. their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

This is an appropriate time of year to talk of stables. Herod saw one thing in the stable, shepherds saw another, wise men a third, and Mary pondered what she saw more deeply than them all. In the simplicity and poverty three saw something grand, but it was the class-conscious one that saw the least clearly, saw a threat. Shepherds were fine to still be shepherds, wise men shared generously without thought of status, and Mary pondered, perhaps the wisest of all.

We would do well to follow the right examples from the right stable.

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