Let’s explore our privilege

written by ARP editor Tami Winfrey Harris

The discussion that resulted from Liza’s post on privilege is such a good one that I thought it might be useful to further explore the topic. The Privilege Meme, which made the rounds in the blogosphere a few months ago, generated a lot of discussion and controversy. The post below originally appeared on What Tami Said. Look for other discussions about privilege linked at the end.

What do you think? How privileged are you? Is this meme a valid, though unscientific, indicator of privilege? Do the questions themselves reveal a privileged outlook?

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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 (Unsure about this one)
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 (this is tough–I would need to separate portrayals of black people from middle class black people, who really weren’t portrayed at all outside of The Cosby Show.)
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.

 

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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