I read this book because there’s a book club meeting for it at my school in a couple days. It was cool just thinking about class for a while, by itself, as something that is not just money but also values and self-presentation and thoughts about the future. Race and gender come up throughout the book because they cannot really be removed from the concept of class, tho it is the one identifier that can theoretically change. hooks writes from the perspective of someone who grew up poor in a poor neighborhood with a lot of siblings and is the only one who went off for a doctorate degree and transcended that class boundary. To do it, she had to go away to school for college and learn a whole new world. But even being poor there as a student in her 20’s she was not technically considered lower class. So it’s more complex than just being broke or not.
I liked how she brings up early American feminism and the fact that some people think feminism is women wanting to vote or to be able to work outside of the home. But that’s just one angle of what feminism actually is and was. Those specific efforts were made by women challenging their gendered realities as upper-class people. To poor women, it would be a dream to stay at home with their kids. To rich women, it would be a nightmare to have to work a terrible job instead of a meaningful career. So, then, those two groups of women have more in common than it seems. Women of all races and classes really want freedom and autonomy, and so do men of all races and classes. That circles everything back to the fact that these identity markers are used to make us think we are more inherently, naturally different from each other than we all really are.
One thing she doesn’t do in this book, which is really important, is show how middle and lower class people are not that far away from each other. They are in solidarity in so far as being nearer to homelessness etc. than than they are to actually wealthy people. Instead, hooks suggests everybody stop obsessing over being rich. For her, middle class people live more simply to honor the poor, which is valid, but not really explained. She doesn’t reach out to the topic of globalization which allows for people to even “live simply” in the U.S. The only reason you can easily buy a few quality things is because of global capitalism. People are literally slaving away outside the U.S. (and inside) to make that possible. So it’s not just a matter of NOT buying a new car for no reason or a bunch of clothes. One car and one garment cause harm.
Then hooks encourages poor people especially not to get distracted by what they think rich people do with their money. TV and media can make people think they’re closer to rich people and richness than they really are. Again, being rich is made to seem attainable, but the fact is everyone can’t be a capitalist. Within capitalism, most people need to be exploited for their labor. So she seems to understand the plights of the poor in general, but she also kinda assumes most poor people spend recklessly. Maybe it’s not their fault, but she thinks that’s what they do. Like she brings up a friend who gets government assistance and is broke and feels broke. And when hooks talked to her about budgeting, the woman was like, yea well I have no money. So hooks brought up that she smoked cigarettes. I was sitting there like, BITCH fuck you.
hooks also has problematic views on prison just in general (which I knew already from previous books). I liked the stuff she brings up about shame and poorness. Like that in the bible, the rich are the ones who will struggle to get into heaven. There is really no shame in being poor, and she’s certain about that. But then she shames people involved in drug dealing. She says something like oh you know they want fast money or whatever and that’s how they land themselves in prison. I’m sorry what? You ever sold drugs before? Go do that then tell me that’s easy money. It’s HOURS of outdoor work, people skills, and constant danger. And the reason people go into that line of WORK (it IS work) is because they’ve been purposefully excluded from the economy so they had to create and survive within their own.
Best line: “If you do not know something exists, you do not know to ask about it.”
-Rachel Wagner 2021