Bell Hooks “Learning in a Shadow of Race and Class”
Bell Hooks main purpose of Learning in the Shadow of Race and Class is to portray how college is intended only for the privileged. She communicates what it’s like to be a woman of color in a sea of elites. She faces many obstacles in college, including stigmas of her race and social background. Hooks wrestles with the beliefs of money instilled in her at a young age by her mother.
Hooks shares her childhood background. Growing up in a working-class family, they often could not buy the things they wanted (138). Instead of simply telling her they couldn’t afford it, her mother would manipulate and shame her from wanting the things she desired (139). Hooks uses the example: “that lovely yellow dress I wanted would become in her storytelling mouth a really ugly mammy made thing that no girl who cared about her looks would desire” (139).
Her mother’s attitude about money caused her to feel unworthy or guilty about wanting the finer things. Shyers 2 In her first year of college she experienced race and class issues. Her roommate appeared terrified at the thought of sharing a room with a black girl. Hooks was given her own room after requesting a room change (139). Her classmates didn’t want to get to know her because of her the color of her skin. This clearly shows the atmosphere at the predominately white women’s college.
The popular girls made her the target of a prank, picking a girl and trashing her room (140). This shows how privileged the other girls were. They didn’t give a thought about how she didn’t come from money and couldn’t afford to replace the broken things. Afterwards, the girls tried to apologize. “Nothing they did to win me over worked. It came as a great surprise. They had always believed black girls wanted to be white” (Hooks 141).
The same ignorant beliefs can be heard in today’s society. In statements like “you’re pretty for a black girl” or “you’re lucky you got that good hair.” She was appalled at their disgusting behavior and it created a stubborn barrier. She wanted nothing to do with their world. When the opportunity of Stanford was presented to her, her family had to have a conversation about money. Stanford was across the country, so if there was an emergency, they couldn’t help her. They couldn’t afford to fly her home for the holidays (142).
This is something I take for granted, I have two sisters, one lives in Colorado and the other in Australia. I can Skype them whenever I want and my parents fly my younger sister home every holiday. On holidays at Stanford, Hooks would have to find a place to go. Most students would leave for ski trips or go home to see family (143). The school gave little thought to those who didn’t have money for travel. Shyers 3 Stanford was supposed to be a place where students of all classes could come together to work and grow (143). She was hopeful and allowed herself to think of the possibilities. This was one of the only positive insights she had. She was quickly disillusioned. It was a place where extreme wealth and class mattered. She learned those with privilege hated the working class and believed that they had nothing of value to offer (144).
Bell states, “the grown-ups in charge of us were always looking out for families who might give out their millions to the college” (143). She found the professors to be elites themselves only interested in teaching other elites (144). That says a lot for her point. How can education be for the working class if the teachers are not interested in teaching them? Her class kept her from connecting with other people. She says, “At Stanford, my classmates wanted to get to know me, thought it hip, cute, and downright exciting to have a black friend” (Hooks 143) They weren’t treating her like a person but like a novelty. She also tried connecting with a group of black students. They shared equal disdain for those who didn’t share their class. She talks about how this was the most difficult for her, “having been taught all my life to believe that black people were inextricably bound in solidarity by our struggles to end racism”( Hooks 144).
Throughout her college experience, the limited connections she made were with others of the same class background. Her roommate was willing to do whatever it took to be like them, steal, cheat, be abused by a boyfriend, it was worth it to her (144). Even if she managed to make friends in the same class as her, they still wanted to be in the privileged world and Hooks did not. She was alone in her beliefs and therefore had little connections with her classmates. Shyers 4 “I began to understand fully that there was no place in academe for folks from working class backgrounds who did not wish to leave the past behind (Hooks 145). This is so powerful.
After reading her story, I believe that race and class made it so hard to thrive in that atmosphere. She isn’t proud of graduating from a place that made her feel ashamed and uncertain of whether she managed to stay true to her values (145). Maybe had her mother treated money issues differently, she would have been more excited about her future. Her guilt and shame in her newfound path to privilege (145) is a direct result of how she was treated at college. Perhaps Kayne West said it best, “All these walls that keep us from loving each other as one family or one race- racism, religion, where we grew up, whatever, class, socioeconomic- what makes us be so selfish and prideful, what keeps us from wanting to help the next man, what makes us so focused on a personal legacy as opposed to to entire legacy of a race” ( West).
- Shyers 5 D’addario, Daniel and Francesca Trianni. “Kanye West Talks Hope for Humanity’s Future.” Times, 16 April 2015. Time.com/collection-post/3822917/Kanye-West/ Accessed 22nd Sept. 2018.
- Hooks, bell “Learning in the Shadow of Race and Class.” ENGL 1113 handout. pp. 138-45.