It has taken me all this time to do the well-worn class privilege meme. It first circulated all over Blogdonia about a year and a half ago, but I just wasn't ready. I found it embarrassing and awful, and avoided it like the plague.
I finally decided to go ahead and take it anyway. I knew it would be unpleasant!
I initially read of this quiz (and accompanying online discussions) at Bint Alshamsa's blog.
How many privilege-steps would you have to make?
Step into Social Class (this is an updated version)
A Social Class Awareness Experience
Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka
Indiana State University
(NOTE: it is taken for granted that you are in college or did attend, since this test was first given to college students.)
An activity designed to help the participants gain awareness of the vast range of social class that exists within themselves and others. This has been updated based on the wide range of feedback we received as this was becoming a popular experience.
A big room with space to move for all participants
Chairs to sit for discussion
Pay attention to how you feel. Angry, sad, happy, winner, loser . . .
No talking – we will talk about this a lot when it is over
Line up here and take a step forward of about 1 (one) foot or one foot length for every fact that applies to you.
For blogs, bold the following facts that apply to you:
Part I, when you were in college:
Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor. (no blood relatives, but do have in-laws)
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 (as I've said here before, they forced the violin on me to shut me up about the drums)
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
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
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
If you have been to Europe
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
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
There was original art in your house when you were a child (by relatives, not by recognized "artists"--but it WAS original!)
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house (off and on, not consistently)
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
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
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family
Now everyone recognize that you are at the same place academically.
Everyone turn around.
Everyone has permission to talk.
No one has permission to accuse any one or any group of anything.
Everyone must use “I” statements.
Note that the people on one end of the room had to work harder to be here today than the people at the other end of the room. Some of you had lives of more privilege than others. There is no one to blame, it is just the way it is. Some have privilege and some don’t.
(this can be said now or later, I don’t know where it will be appropriate)
What were the feelings that you had during this experience? Who was angry?
(Anger will be a primary emotion at this point.)
What, specifically, makes you angry?
Who are you angry at?
Who was happy?
This experience was about creating awareness of privilege. What it is, what it does, and what it means. Having privilege does not mean that you worked less hard. All it means is that you had a head start, so maybe it does mean you didn’t have to work as hard . . . .
During the next week notice how your high school years helped or didn’t help your experience in school/at work . . . .
Explanations and Notes:
All of the step taking was about things not requiring effort on the students’ part, but were things done by others.
FIVE WHOLE POINTS. How did I feel, taking this test? Bad. Which is why everyone else did it a well over year ago, and I've been too ashamed to do it until now.
Chaser of The Paper Chase (who also got only five points!) added another level and I got some more points! :P
Part II, in childhood:
If your body does not bear long-term signs of malnutrition. (14 root canals)
If you had orthodontia.
If you saw a doctor for anything other than emergencies or school-mandated shots.
If you heated your home with clean-burning fuels or had properly vented heating.
If you grew up in a house without vermin.
If you had running water.
If you had a basement or foundation under your house. (sometimes yes, sometimes no)
If you had an indoor toilet.
If your parents and immediate family were outside the criminal justice system.
If you yourself remained outside the criminal justice system.
If your parents had a new car.
If you never went barefoot so that you could ’save your shoes for school.’
If your parents never argued in front of you about having enough money for food to last out the month.
If you ate hunted and fished meat because it was a recreational activity rather than as the major way to stock a freezer.
If your laundry was done at home in a washer rather than in a lavandaria. (Laundromat) (sometimes yes, sometimes no)
If your hair was cut by a professional barber or hair stylist instead of your parent.
Four more points!
Seriously, I find this terribly depressing. janevangalen at Education and Class commented:
Speaking of that “privilege meme” that’s still buzzing around out there after oh so many days (even a blogger from Atlantic Monthly chimed in today, critiquing the exercise from her perspective as the graduate of a private school attended by “ultra-privileged” classmates for not reflecting her particular experiences)…
The protocol of the meme has been to “bold” the items that apply to you and to then say a bit about your background.
When something like this is done in person –as it was designed to be –a moderator can facilitate discussion among those whose lives have followed different paths and ensure that all voice are heard. A central point of an exercise like this is typically to generate conversation among the people in the room that would not take place otherwise.
But the people in this virtual room who keep batting this thing around seem to be people from very similar backgrounds.
While I’ve seen all sorts of assumptions made about how others live and what they value (and about how easy it would be for parents anywhere to find free museums to take their kids too “if they cared enough”. Have these people ever been outside a city?), I’ve not yet seen, in all of these hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of posts and comments, anyone who has thought to say:
So, most of the things I’m reading on this are written by people who “score” relatively highly on this meme.Might it not be bold to even wonder whether one might have it wrong?
But I wonder: what does this all look like to people whose backgrounds included very few of these things?
Indeed, I believe there is plenty wrong, but I don't know how to define it. For instance, why so few questions about the nature of families? No mention of traditions or religion; skills inherited or learned within families...no mention of family inter-relationships. I consider these crucial. Why doesn't the test? (Does this fact mark me as low-class also?)
Undine at Not of General Interest wrote about the subsequent internet discussion over this meme (which I found painful and tried to avoid):
As I've said, it took me a long time to do this. If I'd had to do it publicly in a class, I can easily imagine a few fibs here and there, so that I would fit in with the majority. I can also imagine attempting to "sit it out"--which is, in fact, exactly what I did when I first encountered it online.
A lot of people responded by saying, "Well, I had X but I worked for it myself" or "I didn't have a television set but I had books" or "This test is measuring the wrong things." There are lots of good points on all sides, so read the comments, too, at both places, which like the posts are excellent.
I think that what the exercise is trying to do--reveal the existence of class privilege to students in a real way--is important, but one thing was troubling: if you were a student, and especially if you had been bullied in the past for being different in some way, how would you feel about being forced to do this exercise in class? The teachers who chimed in on the comments all said versions of "oh, we don't make it mandatory; they can sit it out if they want to." Some said that they just had students write the answers on a piece of paper and turn it in.
Right. Would you sit it out, if you were 17 years old and your grade was on the line? Would you sit it out if you could see that your instructor thought this was a crucial part of the class and was clearly enthusiastic about the exercise? Would you write nothing or refuse to turn in the paper, again, if you believed that you'd be losing the good will of your instructor--and a grade--for doing so?
Since the admitted object of the exercise is to make students aware of and uncomfortable (in a good way, the authors imply) about their class privilege, most students would probably learn from it and shrug it off. Some are probably going to have their every statement greeted with eye-rolling about class privilege from then on, as I've witnessed when students in my classes volunteer information about trips to Europe or other markers of privilege.
But for a few, those who have been singled out and bullied for having the wrong haircut or being too smart or wearing the wrong clothes or being the nondominant race, it's going to make them feel like dodgeball targets all over again. Remember dodgeball, where some were out there flinging balls at the opposite team and aiming for those cowering in the corner, the ones you knew couldn't catch the ball on a bet, the dodgeball targets?
John Scalzi, who surprised me by defending his private school education as no big thang (!) provided the link to the follow-up Social Class Knowledge Quiz, with a derisive snort. (WARNING: Link is to a Word file!) As a confirmed coffee junkie, I knew the coffee question, but that was it for the "Blue Questions." By contrast, I knew all of the answers to the "Red Questions."
Whenever I use these types of exercises in class, it's painful. For example, for years I have used "unpacking the knapsack of white privilege" and unpacking the knapsack of male privilege" and there are *always* students who are offended.
To address privilege in some way is to threaten people's notions of what they "earned themselves." They have to face the fact the have not earned much of what they take for granted. It hurts and it is threatening.
Ultimately,so what if you earned the money for your car yourself--that's great. But it's not necessarily a sign you don't have class privilege. I worked in the fields with my parents for *nothing*. No allowance; no chance to get wage-earning work for car. People who tell me they "earned" their sports scholarships--sure, you worked very hard: but the leisure time you had in which to engage in those sports was bought for you by your class privilege. Oh, it's hard to hear that when these are things people are (understandably) proud of!
My favorite reaction to this discussion on the blogosphere was a grad student who is ALWAYS theorizing about race/gender/blah. When I added some point to the exercise--points that noted just how much more impoverished people can be than middle class people assume fellow Americans can be--somebody suggested this grad student should go look at my list. She said dismissively "I've read that list"--and then went right back to abstracting. It was the typical academic reaction to class privilege: it's too hard to face in practice, so we will chatter about it. It drives me crazy sometimes; I feel helpless enough as it is without having people I usually respect respond to these like this. I don't know how my colleagues of color stand it sometimes.
An example of the tenor of Scalzi's commenters can be summed up by one outburst from someone named udarnik:
"Accused" of privilege? No, you are RECOGNIZED AS HAVING privilege.
This is not just a conversation starter, as the loaded term “privilege” indicates. Some of the questions are meant to make people feel guilty for having parents who cared about education and the welfare of their children, and instead of abusing those kids as privileged, the profs need to commend the other kids whose hard work landed them in school despite lacking some advantages.
I would have resented the hell out of this as an undergrad. Why should I be accused of privilege in a faux-Marxist confessional because my mom was a schoolteacher and my dad was an adjunct prof?
But hey, his parents' educational background didn't land him in school, his "hard work" did!
((((runs away screaming)))) See, this is why I hate this thing. It just makes me upset.
Did you do the quiz the first time it appeared on the net, or is this the first time you've ever seen it?