bell hooks on writing about your own social class

You learn early on in the academy that, if you are from a working class or impoverished background, and you are white, you just don’t get to discuss social class. It’s hard telling where I learned it: when I first lived in the college dorms of young women from families who had, to me then, unbelievable status (parents who were lawyers, even teachers!), the subtle assurance they all had they deserved to be in college and would be able to stay there. Or perhaps it was the first time in my planning theory class in a PhD program when I said something about hunting as a means to provide food for poor rural families and the Harvard- and Berkeley-educated peers sneered about how “things are down on the farm”–complete with Tom Joad accent for effect.*

You’re just better off leaving behind what you came from and pretending to pass as somebody from elite classes. Why? Oh, the stupidity. In the US, coming from real poverty is shameful. Boring-ass bootstrap stories about how somebody came from what is, in reality, the lower middle class to become affluent or accomplished or famous–those are fine and sanctioned. Real poverty–the kind that involves dirt floors or no indoor plumbing reeks of the rural and the gutter. And nobody wants to hear it, let alone really confront the idea that real poverty has any meaning.

I’m reading bell hook’s Remembered Rapture right at the moment, and it’s moved me more than any of her previous writings, which is pretty amazing as her work has always been an influence. Here’s a quote from this morning:

While I have no regret, I am saddened that writers from poor and working-class background must still count the emotional costs should they dare to reveal that which the world would choose to leave unspoken, with no written account. We all know that there are times when counting the costs acts to silence and censor. Writers from working class backgrounds, women and men of color who have only recently found our way to the printed page (in the last twenty years) who do not choose to leave behind these worlds or make of them fodder for the entertainment of a prurient privileged class are continuously struggling to find ways to bridge gaps and maintain ties.

*I used to think that I hated planning theory. I now realize that I rather like planning theory and just rather disliked some of the people you find in planning theory classes in PhD programs. Especially since, as a chubby woman scholar with the rural Midwest, I was supposed to spend my time self-deprecating and reassuring all the males around me that they were, indeed, ever so much smarter than me–when, no, they weren’t. I fortunately had a compatriot, a terrific man from rural Canada, who was better at navigating the various egos than I was, but who kept me from thinking that I was completely crazy as he saw and recognized the casual classicism that surrounded us.

Extreme environmental games and class privilege

Ok, I’m happy that French sailors managed to rescue Abby Sutherland, but the whole thing annoys me, and with reason, from an environmental justice perspective.

I quote Bill Cosby quoting his father when confronted with his son terrified from riding on the roller coaster his father told him not to get on: “Who put ya on the goddamn thing in the first place?”

So you go hiking by yourself and you wind up in trouble and you have cut off your hand? Woo. Get a book deal out of it and expect the rest of us to see you as a brave survivor (ok, fine) instead of some idiot who went hiking without a buddy. Who DOES that? Walk away from your family and stroll, completely unprepared into Alaska, starve to death and have Jon Krakauer write a book about you because you’re so interesting. We care about you if you starve, given how you have courted starvation. The homeless people hungry outside the door? Nah. Too prosaic.

Here’s Mr. Sutherland’s brilliant justification on why he let his daughter do something so ridiculously stupid for the thrill of it:

“I never questioned my decision in letting her go,” he told reporters Friday. “In this day and age we get overprotective with our children. If you want to look at statistics, look at how many teenagers die in cars every year. Should we let teenagers drive cars? I think it’d be silly if we didn’t.”

link: Young Sailor Is Rescued –

Overprotective? Overprotective is refusing to let your 16 year-old ride public transit. Over-protective is swooping into their schools to try to browbeat teachers into giving your kid an A when they’ve earned a B. Saying no to an unsupervised solitary sail around the world? No, not overprotective.

1) It’s stupid to sail by yourself, no matter what your skill level and no matter how good of shape you are in.

2) It’s really stupid to let your 16 year old kids sail around the world by themselves to try to break records so that you can spend your time basking in media attention.

3) Sixteen year-olds have parents to keep them from indulging in their “I’m invincible because I’m so special and the world has never seen anything or anybody like me before” routine.

4) Danger and risk are playthings among those whose class privilege protects them from the consequences of danger and risk on an everyday basis.

So by indulging in some sixteen year-old’s “need” to prove herself against nature, we nearly killed a French ship captain rescuing her. Of course. It’s just her due: she’s playing, he’s working, and there’s no romance or interest if the guy with the sweat on his collar dies on the water, but her risks, well, those are special special special!