Privilege, moi ? No, the “Privilege Meme”

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?

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.

3 thoughts on “Privilege, moi ? No, the “Privilege Meme”

  1. make you feel guilty about your privilege? clearly not the intent. instead, look at the amazing privilege you have, and then reflect on how you can share your gifts with others. even if your privilege is ‘bought and paid for’ primarily by your forebears, isn’t it an insult to them to squander it only on yourself? everyone needs help now and then, you and your family included, and our ‘privilege’ is what allows us to help others as best we can, to the best of our means, however meager. I highly doubt any of us can make a go of it entirely on our own, with no help from anyone outside our own families.

  2. Hi, Violet – welcome back to the Comments here, and congrats on being recognized as a conservative blogger! 😉

    It is a human failing that we often make assumptions without having proper context of the situation. No doubt my own bias and experience slanted my perception of the intent of the study. My biggest concern with the way the word “privilege” is wielded (not necessarily the same as the way privilege itself is wielded) is if it becomes an excuse for some to feel and act as if the deck is hopelessly stacked against them because they did not receive certain advantages that others did. The point I was making is that injustice is inherent in everything but that your fate is still largely in your hands – shaped for good or ill by the decisions and actions of your predecessors, but also (for good or ill) by your own decisions and actions, and that “class” is still very fluid in this country. Privilege alone is not the determining factor; even the most privileged can find themselves undone by bad luck or poor decisions (which are often then attributed to “bad luck”). My preference is to hold out hope that things can change, rather than discourage people that change is possible.

    (continued)

  3. I heartily agree with you that I have amazing privilege that shouldn’t be squandered. That is the privilege from the revelation that I was a sinner bought and redeemed by Christ. That is not a boast, but a humbling revelation because it means my good works and best intentions were as nothing without Him. It profoundly shapes the way I interact with others. It is my privilege to know and worship Him, and to do that by using my gifts to help others as my family and I do continually. I don’t write a lot about the things we do directly because they are generally private matters and being recognized for them is not why we do it in the first place. Suffice it to say that we give substantially of our time and treasure; have had many people stay in our home at different times for extended periods; have counseled and nurtured those in need and always in the hopes that we can pass on the thinking and life-skills that lead to privilege, and most importantly the ultimate Privilege.

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