Oh, how we have not changed…
One of the many reasons that I love reading hooks is her attention to personal, lived experiences. She applies sociological concepts to her life and uses her own life to explain and explore concepts of race, gender, and equality. For me, it was interesting reading this book while the news of Mitt Romney’s “47%” remarks was making headlines. We are the 47% and yet, I feel as if I give back as much as I can to my community and to my society…and always ask myself where I can give more.
One of the major points that hooks makes I find particularly poignant is about happiness, necessity, and what makes a person successful. Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen my personal lot in life improve significantly. I’m now part of a two-income household and we even have a little bit of discretionary income. Yet, when some new expense comes up, we struggle to figure out how to pay for it. We never talk about being rich…we talk about having enough. The American Dream has always been this weird dichotomy of wants versus outright greed. It is touted as this ideal, having enough to support your needs and many of your wants; and yet we encourage this thinking of “the one who dies with the most toys, wins.” There’s never been a balance between helping yourself and helping others because the marketing of the ideal has always been contradictory.
It is so unfortunate that class has become the basis of loyalty. It is better to gain a step up on the ladder of social class than it is to dismantle the ladder and level the playing field. That is the basis of the inequality crisis. We have enough, we have enough to go around…and around and around and around, but the fear of losing and the fear of being taken advantage of superseding our ability to give a hand up to those in need. As Michelle Obama so succinctly explained in her DNC speech, we run through the door of opportunity and hurry as fast as we can to slam it in the face of the person behind us.
I think the #Occupy movement has done so much to bring the issue of class to the forefront of American public discourse. Whether we are running away from “class warfare” and acting as if that is some sort of horrible concept or if we are speaking clearly about the lack of adequacy in the lives of most Americans, #Occupy put these ideas on cable news, in graduate classrooms and in the vocabulary of my middle-school-age children.
We have to talk about class. It won’t just go away. As we talked about in our first class meeting, we can ignore the rungs of the ladder…or we can name the problem in order to fix it. The privileged call it class warfare but as the idiom goes, that only seems to happen when the poor fight back. We as a society have to stop acting as if some people by the very nature of their privilege deserve an overabundance of the Earth’s resources. We have to stop acting as if “America is the greatest nation on Earth” and that this somehow entitles us to 80% of the world’s food, energy, and natural gifts.
The poor and middle classes are not the ones who feel entitled. It is not the younger generation of educated, indebted workers. It is those who have rarely if ever, wanted for anything in their lives who feel and act as if they are entitled to the labor of those chasing the carrot known as the “pursuit” of happiness.
Hooks reminds us that there is a blessing in hard work, value in traditional ways, there is perspective in a background of “girl-ness” or Blackness. There is perspective to be gained by those who do not have those experiences, who have never felt the rage of being discounted due to skin shade or exasperated at being called sexist for pointing out the privilege of whiteness or maleness. Hooks hopes for the egalitarian society we have the potential to be. I hope one day my children will see that society.