Via Kathy and Mitch and a couple of other places, here’s the “Privilege Meme” that’s going around, I suppose to help one comprehend how privileged you are. The idea is to bold face the statements below that apply to you. I’ll do that, then I have some thoughts on the nature and definition of privilege at the end.
First of all, however, the original source of this meme is an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. The developers ask that if you participate in this blog game, you acknowledge their copyright. So acknowledged.
Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Not only that, but she eventually went on to get a Ph.D in Elementary Education and Administration.
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
Ummm, no, but my little sister is a veterinarian, the second Dr. in the family.
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Do comic books count?
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children’s books by a parent
Loved that Dr. Seuss Sleep Book.
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
You mean, other than “if you don’t stop making that face it will freeze like that”?
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Hmmm. Is Ned Flanders a positive portrayal?Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
(or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
I had some student loans, but there are a lot more costs to college than tuition.
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp
Had a private tutor before you turned 18
Only to get through eighth grade algebra, though.
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
If we didn’t have any cousins nearby.
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
Well, I worked for my dad for $1 (later $1.25) an hour from the time I was 12 until I was 16 (actually beyond) with the understanding that he would buy me a car when I was 16. Somehow or another I was under the impression that meant new car. Should have read the fine print.
There was original art in your house when you were a child
If you count the stuff we put on the refrigerator, that is.
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child
From the time I was 12, though it looked like maybe three people shared it.
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Nope, but took them anyway and must have done alright. I also took the CLEP tests before my freshman year — and tested out of 30 hours of credits, essentially entering college as a sophomore.
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
I can’t remember any. There were school field trips, though.
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family
Well, I didn’t know the exact dollar amount, but I know my dad kept asking me if I thought he was supposed to heat the whole county.(hide)
In the words of Napoleon Dynamite, “Lucky!”
In this day and age when I see the word “privilege” associated with something like this it is usually attached to a phrase such as “White Privilege” and an exercise aimed at myself or others accidentally born Caucasian. That seems to be the intent behind the original work that later became this meme, and the theme of certain writings you’ll find on the Illinois State University website.
The point is to make us feel guilty about being born with certain advantages. To which my response would be, “What is your point?” I hope this wasn’t the result of hundreds of thousands of dollars sunk into a research study of the obvious. I mean, couldn’t that money have been better spent on something like finding out why monkeys scream during sex? Perhaps a better response from me, though, would be “So what?” — as in “So what do you want me to do about it?”
Am I supposed to go around feeling meek and guilty for an accident of birth over which I had no control over? I mean, that was a decision made way above my pay-grade. Similarly, should I be upset over the injustice that Michael Jordan gets the privilege of being 6′ 9″ with mad skills, or that Sean Connery gets that voice? Or should I go to Japan and have people treat me differently, in overt or subtle ways, because I’m different? They probably would, and I’d probably be upset about it, but the only thing in my power to change about the situation is my attitude.
In the Fundamentals in Film class I do with the young men we have watched a number of movies that deal with racism, prejudice, injustice. Though they are ostensibly “privileged” young white men (actually, they’re not all white), I tell them repeatedly that no matter who they are or where they are, there are always going to be people who will discriminate against them because of their age, the way they talk or think, what they believe, the way they look; there’s usually going to be someone with some power and authority in their lives whose prejudices will impact them in some way. They can’t help but be affected by it, but it’s up to them just how much difference they’re going to allow it to make in their lives.
Looking back through the statements in the meme above it occurs to me that this particular statements have more to do with class than race. That is, the statements seem to assume (the HR folks at my politically correct company refer to assumptions as “blind spots”, btw) that “class” is determined by birth and environment. Those are undeniably large, but not determining, factors. Class in this country is one of the most fluid of the ways we classify ourselves or are classified by others. Decision-making and behavior can change this quite a bit.
Almost all of the circumstances above are the result of a decision made by a grandparent, parent or myself. Neither my father or anyone in his family went to college; my mother’s father got himself through college through hard work, ingenuity, a love of learning and a desire to better himself. (It seems unpopular or unjust these days to want to better yourself. Instead, judging by the way people vote, it’s far better to expect others to lower themselves to your standard.) The vision and aspiration was passed on, and my parents made college a priority for their children, at great cost and apparent sacrifice, though it hardly seemed like a sacrifice to them.
The “privilege” bequeathed to me and that helped me to succeed was not an accident or random fortune. It was bought and paid for in the way each generation was raised. It is the same “privilege” I’ll fight for in order to pass on to my children. I was lucky to the extent that I was born into a family where someone had already started the tradition. Other people will get the honor and privilege of being the one to start the tradition themselves.