A Memoir About Race, Class, and Gender
Life began for Paula Rothenberg in a privileged home in New York City, but it took her to the battlefields of the culture wars on behalf of the underprivileged. Now this veteran of that cultural clash examines the subtle and complex ways in which issues of race, class, and gender impact people's lives.
A prominent figure in the creation of women's studies and multicultural studies as academic disciplines, Rothenberg is perhaps best known for her textbook Race, Class and Gender in the United States, which was widely attacked by conservatives defending traditional curricula. Now she shows how higher education upholds race, class, and gender bias and, more generally, analyzes the ways in which many white people's unwavering belief in their own good intentions leaves them blind to their societal privilege and their role in perpetuating class difference.
“Rothenberg tells about growing up female in New York City in the 50s and 60s, years when racial and sexual prejudice were the norm. . . . The stories—especially concerning her parents—are moving.”
—Washington Post Book World
“Rothenberg unflinchingly uses her own life to teach about the personal, political dangers of accepting the role of exception.”
—The Women’s Review of BooksSee all reviews...
“Rothenberg writes with refreshing candor: in one vignette, for example, she acknowledges that her family ties gave her the financial wherewithal to buy a home. She argues convincingly that a decision to ‘teach tolerance’ in response to the sometimes hostile relations between college students ignores ‘the real differences in power and opportunity’ that originally caused the divisions. And her criticism of the ways well-intentioned liberals ‘jealously guard’ privilege for their own children is often potent. . . ”
“A very readable account of one woman’s thoughtful reflections on her life experiences through the lens of race, gender, and class. Through her stories, we understand the complex intersection of oppressions and the ways in which most of us experience life in both oppressor and oppressed roles. As a woman, Rothenberg dramatizes her personal journal toward feminism and experiences of anti-Semitism. As a white and privileged woman, she shares insights into the invisible privileges she benefits from. . . . Rotheberg tells marvelous and illustrative stories . . . . Invisible Privilege models a courageous honesty and a self-reflective process that each of us can and should undertake.”
“Paula Rothenberg is one courageous woman! First, her pioneering anthology integrated multiple levels of inequality. Now, Invisible Privilege illustrates how the personal is political in its most profound sense—intimately theorized, scrupulously honest, autobiographical without becoming solipsistically self-absorbed. A work both moving and mobilizing.”
—Michael Kimmel, author of Manhood in America
“An unusual and amazingly useful analysis of the profound effects of ‘invisible’ privilege in a country with deep, complex, and often unacknowledged histories of gender, race, and class division. A powerful, insightful, and courageous memoir.”
—Chandra Talpade Mohanty, coeditor of Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures
“This compelling memoir is an important contribution to the emerging field of whiteness studies. Like George Lipsitz’s The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, Rothenberg’s autobiographical account illuminates and analyzes the ways in which white privilege has functioned in her own life and how readers might begin to understand the concept of the construction of ‘whiteness’ more broadly.”
—Beverly Guy-Sheftall, editor of Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought
“This engaging memoir unflinchingly conveys the ambiguity and paradox that are inescapable when someone who has led a life of privilege devotes her life to the critique of race, class, and gender privilege. Rothenberg draws the reader into her story and allows us to experience firsthand the excitement of political and intellectual struggles that have transformed the academic landscape. The result is a memoir that is as important for its theoretical insights as for the window it provides into history.”
—Tom Digby, editor of Men Doing Feminism
“Rothenberg reflectively describes her process of coming to see how dynamics of power and privilege have shaped key experiences of her life. The chapter on living in Montclair, New Jersey particularly shows how accumulated subtle inequities for some relate to substantial unearned advantage for others. A rare combination of self-reflection and systematic analysis.”
—Peggy McIntosh, Wellesley College Center for Research on WomenSee fewer reviews...
In this candid look at social and academic realities, Rothenberg shares incidents from her own life and the lives of family and friends to show how privilege is constructed and to reveal the forces that make us unaware of it. Through recollections of her childhood in an upper middle class Jewish family and her college years in the early sixties, she tells how she discovered that the world one takes for granted as "everyday life" is in fact riddled with privilege of which we are unaware.
Reviewing the social upheaval of the seventies that challenged fundamental assumptions about gender roles, race relations, and even the nature of the family, Rothenberg tells how she gained a new understanding of what it meant to be an educator and activist. In sharing events surrounding the publication of Race, Class and Gender, she offers an inside look at the culture wars and brings her story into the '90s with a cogent discussion of hate speech and the "political correctness" controversy.
Rothenberg recalls the early mobilization against sexual harassment and recounts what it was like to create one of the first feminist philosophy courses. She also offers a hard-hitting critique of current teaching practices and a response to critics of multiculturalism and feminism—as well as a look at how de facto segregation continues in American education in the form of tracking.
Both deeply personal and broadly social, this finely crafted memoir will capture the interest of anyone who cares about the future of education, race relations, feminism, and social justice.