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Do you have Class?

Brandy O'Briant

Recently the book To Kill a Mockingbird was removed from schools in Mississippi because the language made some people feel ‘uncomfortable’.  In a Facebook post, I commented that I believe good art SHOULD make people feel uncomfortable, make people think critically, make people alter their perspective for at least a moment.  It’s all well and good for me to take this stance as a member of the so-called left-wing elite intelligentsia.  I think everyone else should feel uncomfortable with faced with the ideals that I think are correct.  Right?

However, is there anything more troubling than coming face to face with those ideals in a book that presents them in a not so precious or righteous light?  In a light that is less than flattering and almost makes you feel like you are teetering on the edge of sanity?  Well, my organic milk-drinking, beard-sporting, over-educated hipster friends, the answer is no.  It’s damned prickly.  And it should be.

I refer to my recent experience reading Class by Lucinda Rosenfeld.  Goodread’s synopsis:

For Karen Kipple, it isn't enough that she works full-time in the non-profit sector for an organization that helps children from disadvantaged homes. She's also determined to live her personal life in accordance with her ideals. This means sending her daughter, Ruby, to an integrated public school in their Brooklyn neighborhood. But when a troubled student from a nearby housing project begins bullying children in Ruby's class, the distant social and economic issues Karen has always claimed to care about so passionately begin to feel uncomfortably close to home. A daring, discussable satire about gentrification and liberal hypocrisy, CLASS is also a smartly written story that reveals how life as we live it--not as we like to imagine it--often unfolds in gray areas.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of references to high-fructose corn syrup, organic milk, appropriate cereals, and the horrors of Chips Ahoy.  Many of the reviews comes with a warning…white woman privilege ahead.  And privileged it is.  Until Karen decides that her daughter deserves the other school down the road that is even more privileged.  The lengths Karen goes to secure enrollment for her daughter is both hilarious and gut-wrenching.  I said out loud multiple times reading the book, ‘Don’t do it!’

“Karen’s complex and contradictory relationship to eating had also grown more in the last few years, along with weight, teeth, and marriage—somehow become a dividing line between the social classes with the Earth Day — esque ideals of the 1960s having acquired snob appeal, and the well-off and well-educated increasingly buying “natural” and “fresh” and casting aspersions on those who didn’t.”

An East Coast riff on ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’, Class is the social satire that holds a mirror up to who some of us are, hits close to home, and can maybe inspire change.  Maybe.


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