Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Invisible Privilege: A Memoir about Race, Class, and Gender - by Paula Rothenberg

Book Cover ImageAuthor Rothenberg examines her life as both a perpetrator, and victim, of privilege while growing up in a weathy Orthodox Jewish family in New York, then as a college student, as a professor, and as a parent. Unaware of her privilege as a child she simply accepts things as they are. A succession of black cleaning ladies is just ordinary life to her. She also learns as a young child not to tell when she is victimized by a sexual predator, a tough lesson with consequences she will face much later in life when it prevents her from earning her doctorate. As an adult she looks back on these experiences and sees them through different lenses.

There is a lot about reading, and books, in this memoir. Education, to varying degrees, was important to Rothenberg's family and she was encouraged to read by her mother, who was also an avid reader. Most of the early passages about books though, are about purchasing, or owning books, although she does say that her grandmother used Womrath bookstore's "lending library" to read countless mysteries. She also tells of her summers spent at the family's second home in Connecticut, when she was "allowed...to buy stacks of books to see [her] through until school began again" and admits that "to this day, books are the one thing I can buy without any feelings of being extravagant" (p.65). Late in the work however, while describing her suburban home in New Jersey and her children's schools she recognizes that the schools in the "white neighborhoods" were the ones with "new science laboratories, extensive libraries, and well-equipped gyms and caferterias" (p. 206), and that children of privilege will have parents who have time to volunteer in the school library, and in fundraising efforts to buy more books. (It is also true that these same parents can afford to buy books for their children - not that a bookstore is any substitute for a library!) It is a sad truth that too often libraries are places for the privileged, and it grows ever more true as libraries become easy targets for budget cuts. (See my post on defunding libraries.)

A final look at libraries comes almost as an afterthought when she describes taking her young daughter to the public library to do some research on poet Paul Laurence Dunbar for Black History Month. She seems to think of going to the library only after exhausting all the resources she has at home. They do find some information, but are not surprised that there are no children's books about him. In a follow up visit (many years later) she does discover some books on Dunbar in the Children's Collection. Let it never be said that librarians do not respond to the needs of their communities.

Find out more about this work at http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/rotinv.html

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