|Chapter 1: Four Beginnings
I was born in Dallas, Texas, and brought up in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, an almost entirely white, middle-class suburb of New York City. Growing up, my experience of the wider world was pretty limited, but my mother, despite her attempts to downplay her working-class East Texas roots in the context of my dad's more patrician banking family, had a strong sense of social justice, equity, and fairness. One of her favorite stories about me concerns an incident that occurred when she was driving me to preschool in Austin, Texas. It was 1976. I was four, and she had recently become a subscriber to Ms. Magazine. On that day, I asked about a big building we were passing, one with huge columns like a temple. She told me that it was a Masonic Hall, slyly adding that Masons didn't allow women into their group. When she asked me what I thought about that, she swears that I yelled That's not fair! and demanded she pull the car over so that I could go in and talk some sense into them.
Despite my natural inclination toward speaking out, I was raised in a culture of silence. Middle class, white, suburban, and deeply affected by a family member's alcoholism, I always felt as though a secret lay simmering just below the surface of our outwardly calm and prosperous life. I have since found out that this is a pretty common experience for middle-class white people who become antiracist and antipoverty activists later in life. Many of us describe growing up as worried or angry kids, struggling against the shoddy logic and emotional repression that sustain illegitimate power relationships and underwrite white supremacy and economic exploitation.1 My parents are deeply decent people; they vocally challenged discrimination, worked on political campaigns, and raised two strong-willed, independent daughters. But our family was caught in the web of color-blind racism and class-blind classism: while my parents would not have tolerated a racist or classist joke, they had no close friends of color, and our family never discussed the source-or the impacts-of our money or privilege.
Growing up in a bubble of privilege made me intensely curious; explanations for the structure of our society never quite rang true. Like a little detective, I cross-checked facts, grilled witnesses, followed hunches, researched and read assiduously. I scratched surfaces, was slow to accept the party line, questioned everything. A relentless kid, I realized early that I was living in a sea of what feminist sociologists of knowledge call sanctioned ignorance, a set of culturally endorsed...