Tuesday, August 25, 2009

From the vault: Exploring my privilege

[Editor's note, as we get closer to my blogiversary on Sept. 13, I will be pulling out some old, favorite posts "from the vault." This one was originally posted on Feb. 8, 2008.]

No doubt many of you have come across the Privilege Meme that is making its way around the blogosphere. The exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker and Stacy Ploskonka at Indiana State University, explores the markers of privilege as a way to encourage discussion about class and, to some extent, race. (Read more about this exercise here. Also look for a link to a social class quiz on this page.)

Participants are asked to take a step forward--in this case a virtual one--for each statement that is true for them. Below, I have bolded the statements that are true for me.

Take a step:

If your father went to college before you started
If your father finished college before you started
If your mother went to college before you started
If your mother finished college before you started
If you have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
If your family was the same or higher class than your high school teachers
If you had a computer at home when you were growing up (To be fair, in the 70s and 80s, home computers weren't as ubiquitous)
If you had your own computer at home when you were growing up
If you had more than 50 books at home when you were growing up
If you had more than 500 books at home when you were growing up
If were read children's books by a parent when you were growing up
If you ever had lessons of any kind as a child or a teen
If you had more than two kinds of lessons as a child or a teen
If the people in the media who dress and talk like you were portrayed positively
If you had a credit card with your name on it before college
If you had or will have less than $5000 in student loans when you graduate
If you had or will have no student loans when you graduate
If you went to a private high school
If you went to summer camp
If you had a private tutor
(US students only) If you have been to Europe more than once as a child or teen
(International question) If you have been to the US more than once as a child or teen
If your family vacations involved staying at hotels rather than KOA or at relatives homes
If all of your clothing has been new
If your parents gave you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
If there was original art in your house as a child or teen
If you had a phone in your room
If your parent owned their own house or apartment when you were a child or teen
If you had your own room as a child or teen
If you participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
If you had your own cell phone in High School (Again, not so much with the fancy technology in the mid 80s)
If you had your own TV as a child or teen
If you opened a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
If you have ever flown anywhere on a commercial airline
If you ever went on a cruise with your family
If your parents took you to museums and art galleries as a child or teen
If you were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

What this exercise underscores for me is that I--a black woman in America--have been very privileged, despite sexism and racism. While I certainly can congratulate myself for the good decisions I've made along the course of my life, I should be honest about how my class privilege has given me a leg up. Certainly, my middle-class background has made it easier for me to transcend the stigma of my race and gender. Conversely, a black woman raised in poverty has a steeper mountain to climb. I don't think anyone reading this is unaware of the important role that class plays in this country, but sometimes it is useful to have a quick reminder of where you stand.

Something to note: A number of bloggers have discussed this meme and pointed out the biases inherent in the questions. Racial bias is especially apparent in the social class knowledge quiz (link above) that includes questions about NASCAR and Bill Engvall, two markers of the white working class that mean nothing to a lot of people of color. There is also some age bias to be aware of, given that the exercise was created on a modern college campus. Questions about computers and cell phones are not particularly relevant to me as a Generation Xer and less relevant to Baby Boomers and others.

Check out LaToya's post on Racialicious.

Visit Rachel's" Tavern.

Stop by Education and Class for criticism of bloggers' responses to the Privilege Meme.

Also, stop by the Quaker Class blog that started it all.


AKAmamma said...

These are great questions regardless of the biases mentioned. Many people fail to recognize privilege and believe poor people just haven't tried hard enough. If we can recognize privilege then it is easier to recognize success. We should not let other people, like Malcolm Gladwell in the Outliers, frame what success is. It should not be where we are today, but how far we've come.

I wrote about success after reading the Outliers. I think you will see that we are on the same page with respect to privilege.

Anonymous said...

This was a fascinating excersize, but it is remarkable to me, that both of my parents had so few of the things listed, but yet, both did extraordinarily well. Maybe it's what made my life feel so real and connected as a child, because I was a part of a multi-class world.

It had a heterosexual bias naturally, and I think that would be an interesting subsection.

I liked this test, because it actually made me stop and think and be greatful for the life I had as a child, and the life I have now as a result. And I had to smile about computers and cell phones, late boomer that I am. However, I was struck by the fact that my partner did have a computer in her home in the 70s, yeowww.... So it is no accident that she is such a geek genius today... lesbian geeks, goddess love 'em.

I wish we could hand out these little lists to everyone in America, because reading to kids, going to art galleries, and going to hear a great chamber concert or orchestra costs nothing. And reading and reciting poems to kids is more powerful than most parents could ever imagine.

You don't need money to do many of the things on the list, but what is sad, is that this coded class based information is "hidden" a lot of times. Just as wealth and its secrets is "hidden" from the middle class.

Thanks Tami for posting this. And although it was supposed to be somewhat of a critique, it made me smile. -Satsuma

DaisyDeadhead said...

Here's my post/thread from back in May, which got pretty long and more critical.


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