Case #3 Instructor Commentary
Using “Where We Stand: Class Matters” to better understand persuasive writing and social criticism
One of the hallmarks of a learned individual is their skill at communicating and analyzing the communication of others. Students in a Master of Arts or Master of Science program are expected to hone these dual skills as part of their graduate work. Let’s use bellhooks’ introductory chapter to better understand what is needed if we are to become effective social commentators, critics, and perhaps activists…skills also critical to becoming better human service professionals. I often comment on papers submitted by graduate students, that the paper would have been stronger with better organization or more concise and clear narrative presentation. In thisassignment, you were asked to review a brief chapter and use that chapter as a starting point for your own discussion of the status of social class and class conflict in contemporary U.S. society. Let’s begin by looking at the organization or structure of the chapter. I will illustrate my point by taking the first sentence of each paragraph from the hooks chapter and presenting them without the benefit ofthe other material from the original text:
Everywhere we turn in our daily lives in this nation we are confronted with the widening gap between rich and poor. As a nation we have become passive, refusing to act responsibly toward the more than thirty-eight million citizens who live in poverty here and the working masses who labor long and hard but still have difficulty making ends meet. More andmore, our nation is becoming class-segregated. The rich, along with their upper-class neighbors, also live in gated communities where they zealously protect their class interests—their way of life—by surveillance, by security forces, by direct links to the police, so that all danger can be kept at bay. Most folks in my predominately white neighborhood see themselves as open-minded; they believein justice and support the right causes. When longtime small family businesses close down because the rents are too high and yet another high-priced gift shop or hair salon opens, they may feel regret but understand this to be the price of economic progress—the price of real estate constantly zooming upward in cost. [Neighbors tell me the lack of diversity has nothing to do with racism, it’s just amatter of class.] They really believe all black people are poor no matter how many times they laugh at Bill Cosby, salute Colin Powell, mimic Will Smith, dance to Brandy and Whitney Houston, or cheer on Michael Jordan. Black folks with money thing about class more than most people do in this society. When shopping at Barneys, a fancy department store in my neighborhood, and a well dressed whitewoman turns to me—even though I am wearing a coat, carrying my handbag, and chatting with a similarly dressed friend—seeking assistance from the first available shopgirl and demands my help, I wonder who and what she sees looking at me. In my neighborhood everyone believes the face of poverty is black.
My other home is in a small Midwestern town, a liberal place in the conservative state ofOhio, a state where the Nazi party is growing strong and flags hang in the windows of the patriotic haves and have-nots. The closest most folks can come to talking about class in this nation is to talk about money. Racial solidarity, particularly the solidarity of whiteness, has historically always been used to obscure class, to make the white poor see their interests as one with the world of whiteprivilege. This uncertainty is shared by those who are not poor, but who could be poor tomorrow if jobs are lost. At the end of the day the threat of class warfare, of class struggle, is just too dangerous to face. Often times I too am afraid to think and write about class. Class matters. [Race and gender can be used as screens to deflect attention away from the harsh realities class politics...
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