Hypatia 18.2 (2003) 233-236
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Where We Stand: Class Matters. By Bell Hooks. New York and London: Routledge 2000.
Ever since the publication of Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981), bell hooks has challenged readers to self-reflexively interrogate systems of race, gender, and class power. Where We Stand: Class Matters continues this project and begins with the claim that, despite the increasing gap between rich and poor, there is no on-going critique of capitalism in the United States (1). hooks devotes the rest of the book to critiquing passivity in the face of class matters, as well as the widespread individual and collective failure to take responsibility for class inequality. She argues that our obligation as citizens who desire justice is to cultivate an ethic of solidarity with the poor that includes a commitment to living simply and sharing resources (130).
As with many of her other books and essays, hooks's examination of class integrates reflection on her experience of crossing class boundaries as she moved from her position as a child from a working-class family in a segregated black community to her position as a tenured professor and public intellectual. Some readers may not appreciate the way hooks repeats some stories from personal experience in the book, but as she notes, her awareness of class dynamics continues to be shaped by the rethinking and retelling of her experiences (146). In fact, hooks's commitment to seriously considering the implications of her political analysis for her personal life has always been one of the great strengths of her writing. By situating her discussion in the context of her shifting relation to class privilege, hooks exemplifies a central claim in the book that meaningful solidarity (as opposed to empathy) with poor people is possible only through a willingness both to critically consider where each of us stands within global class hierarchies and to challenge class inequalities through our actions. According to hooks, justice requires an ongoing consideration of class shaped by "a recognition that interdependency sustains the life of the planet" (130).
In her discussions of mass media, consumerism, housing, education, antiracism, and feminism, hooks attempts to show how both the absence of solidarity with poor and working class people of all races and a critique of class power has had a conservative effect on feminist and antiracist politics. While noting that some revolutionary feminists and anti-racists continue to critique class, hooks explains how class elites in both feminist and black liberation movements have [End Page 233] appropriated and ultimately distorted the language of liberation in order to secure their class privileged status.
For example, hooks discusses how an emphasis on racial uplift has been used by the black bourgeoisie, who have access to white mainstream media, to deemphasize class hierarchy within black communities and thus to avoid acknowledgment of how class privilege mediates the pain of racism in their lives (98). hooks critiques a class-based civil rights movement that perceived desegregation as the path to racial uplift (2000, 91), noting that "[d]esegregation was the way to weaken the collective radicalization of black people that had been generated by militant civil rights and the black power movement" (92). hooks's emphasis throughout the book on the importance of sharing resources and eliminating class hierarchy should make it clear to readers that she is not suggesting that the rule of separate but equal was in any way just or preferable to an equitable distribution of resources. Rather, hooks is concerned with a shift in community values occasioned by desegregation, a shift away from an ethic of communalism and toward liberal individualism and materialism (92). As hooks makes clear, racial solidarity and uplift can only be achieved when the realities of class hierarchies within black communities inform black liberation struggles. Denials of class hierarchy and privilege within oppressed groups ultimately betray poor and working-class people in oppressed communities (99).
In her discussion of feminist politics and class, hooks emphasizes how revolutionary feminism engages class differences in its critiques of patriarchy and how this work...