Money Hungry

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Hook begins chapter for of Class Matters discussing what it feels like to want things when there is no money to spare. This can be from actually being poor, or from “dominating males” in “patriarchal households” that withhold funds as a means of exercising “coercive control” over the wife and kids. She uses her father as an example of this. He didn’t let his wife know how much he made, and only gave her what he thought she needed. But she doesn’t give evidence that he actually had more money than he was giving. If he was withholding it for himself, there should have been signs of what he was using it on. Not that these things don’t go on, but she likes to use patriarchal as a slur, instead of a true categorization, so it gets hard to take things she mentions on the subject at face value.

Her parents lived better than their parents. But money was the chief source of stress. As she mentioned in previous chapters, Hook found her way out of that stress by giving up her material desires and taking whatever was offered. She became so fixed on poverty and asceticism that she visualized herself joining a religious order.

During her college days she had a household by age 19. She and her partner split household work down the middle in feminist fashion, but Hook took care of décor and furnishings. She felt the need of a home and sanctuary. Her partner wasn’t into homemaking. Since they both were students, they didn’t have much income, but  rather than feeling class conscious, they visualized themselves as bohemians, beyond class.

She agonized about the debt she amassed buying clothes. Her partner felt debt was “the American way.” When she wanted them to buy a house, their money fights reached a peak. Hook got very intense into budgeting, and they stopped fighting about money. Her tensions about money resurfaced when she separated from her partner after 12 years, and realized she had more in school debts than she had ever earned.

She lived frugally at Yale and then Oberlin, and when she bought a house, found a simple one that kept her out of debt.

During my Oberlin years I wrote more books and became more engaged with Buddhist thought and practice. I liked combining liberatory narratives from Christian teachings with Buddhism. In both cases, living simply and sharing resources with others was a basic tenet of spiritual faith and action. Living simply did not mean a life without luxuries; it meant a life without excess.

hooks, bell (2012-10-02). Where We Stand: Class Matters (p. 59). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

This is a very worthwhile statement of hers – not the Buddhist and Christian commingling, but how a simple life can have luxury, just not excess. She did learn, when she had more money, how easy it was for her to be seduced by more things and greed.

I felt I was falling into the trap many individuals from poor and working-class backgrounds fall into when we move into more privileged class positions. Constant vigilance (that includes a principled practice of sharing my resources) has been the only stance that keeps me from falling into the hedonistic consumerism that so quickly can lead individuals with class privilege to live beyond their means and therefore to feel they are in a constant state of “lack,” thus having no reason to identify with those less fortunate or to be accountable for improving their lot.

hooks, bell (2012-10-02). Where We Stand: Class Matters (p. 60). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

With all this conversation, I find it interesting her comment about moving from the working class to the upper middle class. How she made it so high is never really explained, especially from and academic employment perspective.

She ends the chapter with comments about living economically self-sufficient without getting greedy, so she can continue to identify with those who remain economically disadvantaged. Both poor and rich must avoid letting the desire for things overtake their life.

A good ending to the chapter. But what just popped back at me was the whole part about identifying with the economically disadvantaged. When I was poor, I didn’t think being poor was the most important part of me. I think that is what bothers me most about her statements. I believe people should identify with the poor – not as the poor but as people. Identifying with “the poor” is identifying with a stereotype, one that can too easily a façade that isn’t real, and no longer treats the poor as people.

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