?

Log in

No account? Create an account
What I Learned From the Privilege Meme - Mo's Journal
January 3rd, 2008
11:42 am

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
What I Learned From the Privilege Meme
So I found the privilege meme pretty interesting and the discussion mostly fun, both here and elsewhere.

Here are two things I learned, with discussion of each:



1. It's a Flawed Exercise
This is no surprise. They're all flawed, these quizzes and memes. There's no way that 20 or 30 or 40 questions can encompass whatever it is they're trying to encompass. OTOH, what's interesting to me is how and why they're flawed. So when I take one of these, whether it's on privilege like this one is, or Which X-Man Are You? or What Breed of Dog Are You? I ask myself some questions: What is the quiz measuring? How well does it do that? Did I get the results I expected? Why or why not?

I think that kind of analysis is at least half of the fun of these things. So with the privilege one, I tried doing me and my kids. To summarize my view of myself and privilege: I believe I had a pretty privileged upbringing, both economically and intellectually, albeit with some serious family dysfunction thrown in. I was on my own from my late teens and lived hand-to-mouth for a while (something I have in common with a couple of my fictional characters, although I always feel I should add when I say that that I supported myself by working in a library). And basically I've been trying for most of my adulthood to claw my way back into the upper middle class.

Since I think of myself as somewhat downwardly mobile, I was surprised to find that my kids scored higher on the privilege quiz than I did, and I wondered why. Here are some of the conclusions I've come to, partly in discussion with you all:

- The quiz conflates intellectual, cultural, and economic privilege. I think I actually had quite a bit of all three as a child, but my kids have more in some areas and less in others.

- It's designed for people younger than me (thanks to thefourthvine for pointing that out). Some of the things on it are more achievable at lower socioeconomic levels now than they were when I was growing up, and others weren't even possible in my youth.

- It doesn't distinguish between ability and actuality. In some cases where my kids scored and I didn't, my parents were well able to provide the privilege (e.g. tutors) but I didn't want or need it.

- It's very ethnocentric - designed for a particular time and place and population. This didn't affect my results or my kids so much, since they're growing up in the same country I did. They're growing up in a very different milieu (I lived in a rural area until age 7 and then a suburb of a small city; they live in one of the largest cities in the world) and that affects the answers, but the effects kind of cancel each other out, since some privileges identified in the quiz are more accessible to city-dwellers and some less so.

- It tends not to capture the high end of privilege (again, not a factor in me vs. my kids).





2. People Have Surprisingly Strong Feelings About This One.
As I said above, they're all flawed but usually I find people are more amused than angry about the flaws. With this one I heard a lot of anger and a lot of passion. My friend L. was upset that it seems that having professors in one's family raises status/privilege but high school teachers are considered markers of lower class - it's a marker of privilege if one is higher class than one's high school teachers. She is a high school teacher :-) with many professors in her family.

My friend kestrelsparhawk is so angry at the middle class frame of mind of the quiz that she will have to take a few days to calm down before she writes about it! She also is angry at the conflation of intellectual and economic privilege, while I was just interested to see that that combo is what the people who developed the test included.

Some folks seem to be angry at the ethnocentrism, even though it was clearly marked as designed as an exercise for students in a public university in Illinois. Some seem upset that anyone would think that they don't have some of the privileges listed; some seem upset that anyone would think that they do. Some are angry at what was included; some at what wasn't.

So why the strong feelings? Certainly it's at least in part because the topic itself is one people have strong feelings about in contrast to a lot of the other quizzes. Well, some of us have strong feelings about the X-Men :-) but more of us have strong feelings about privilege and class. As rebeccaam says:

"I think the whole concept of privilege is about as loaded an issue as you can have in our society. It's something that people crave deeply, but also consider a negative in many ways. We're an intensely competitive society in terms of accomplishment and expect accomplishment to be recognized and rewarded. Accomplishment is a measure of personal worth, and a major buttress of self-worth. Any implication that we succeed by virtue of privilege goes right at self-worth. But also we want to be recognized as having attained privilege - - all those badges matter a lot. We also have an immense amount vested in seeing our society as "fair" [ha!] and flat. It's a big, conflicted mess of stuff that gets rolled up into this."



Or, as the above-mentioned high-school teacher friend L. says, "I think these questions are fascinating. I think... that people get angry about them because they sometimes seem unfair. But the questions/analysis isn't as unfair as the underlying inequities in $ or education or whatever."

Good point.

Tags: ,

(21 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:marag
Date:January 3rd, 2008 06:25 pm (UTC)
(Link)
::nods:: Oh yes, it's certainly flawed, but I'm much more concerned about the underlying inequities than I am in whether or not the quiz conflates various kinds of privilege :) And you *do* have to consider who it was written for, of course.

I'm fascinated to see people getting so angry about the questions.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:January 3rd, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
(Link)

I'm fascinated to see people getting so angry about the questions.


Me, too. And it's coming from all different places, which is even more interesting.
From:fantasyenabler
Date:January 3rd, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Yeah, I can see people getting upset about this one. It's a pretty touchy subject, no matter what "side" of the privilege line you believe that you're sitting on.

I thought it was interesting though, just to see what some people consider "privileged." It's always intriguing to see where people differ in these regards. I just look at it as gathering more data about the world in which we live.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:January 3rd, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I just look at it as gathering more data about the world in which we live.

Yes, and it gets at some things we may not know about people we know, even those we know well. Sometimes there's an assumption in a group (not an lj flist, generally, but a lot of other groups) about shared experience that just may not be there. Something like this illuminates some differences.
From:fantasyenabler
Date:January 3rd, 2008 08:18 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Something like this illuminates some differences.

*nods head enthusiastically*

I'm all for illumination. At this point in my life, I tend to think the most valuable a person can have is perspective. It can show you a more objective truth about where you are in life than all of the programmed doubts and misgivings and expectations we all carry in our heads. You learn what beliefs are good and healthy and what beliefs need to be kicked to the curb. You also learn to be more tolerant when you encounter beliefs that seem counter to everything you've ever been taught about life. So yeah, I appreciate illumination, even if you also discover what well and truly squicks you in the process.
From:fantasyenabler
Date:January 3rd, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC)
(Link)
"most valuable asset a person can have" is what it should read.

I hate when my fingers and my brain get out of sync. It happens all the dang time. ;)
[User Picture]
From:thinking_lotus
Date:January 3rd, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I don't think it's a flawed exercise. I think it works as it was designed to work, ie as a way to stimulate discussion about what privilege might be and who might have privilege. I don't think it's intended as a definitive measure of privilege. There's no passing score.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:January 3rd, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I suppose flawed is in the eye of the beholder. It definitely does seem to spark discussion.

So which X-Man are you? And which breed of dog?
[User Picture]
From:hippediva
Date:January 3rd, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Very interesting analysis. I think my reaction was similar to yours: I'm 54 and I found the whole thing rather oddly skewed. My biggest obstacle was their definition of 'privilege'. Since when is it a 'privilege' for your parents to read stories to you? That's just ridiculous!

Mostly, as you noted, things like a paid college education were a helluva lot more accessible to average families back in the 70's when a year's tuition at a private college was 5300 bucks a year (as opposed to 15 grand). It seems to me that the whole study is based on inflation, not 'privilege'. I call shenanigans!
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:January 3rd, 2008 09:39 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Since when is it a 'privilege' for your parents to read stories to you? That's just ridiculous!


I disagree on that. I think it's a huge privilege and I'm very glad I had it and my kids do, too. But it's not an economic privilege.

Mostly, as you noted, things like a paid college education were a helluva lot more accessible to average families back in the 70's when a year's tuition at a private college was 5300 bucks a year (as opposed to 15 grand).

I often reflect on the fact that I managed to put myself through college by working part-time during the year and full-time in the summer. It was certainly a struggle, but it was feasible there (Canada) and then (1970s) and I did it without any loans. When I finished school I worked for a year and then went to library school. The $3000 loan I took out in library school was the only debt I had entering my professional life. And at $45 a month over 7 years, there was no way I couldn't pay that if I was gainfully employed.

It's just not possible here and now for kids to put themselves through college unless they do it very slowly while working or they take out considerable loans. I think that's lousy. I do think higher education is a privilege, but I don't think it ought to be. I think there should be free public education through college. There was in NYC and California for a lot of years.

Love your icon btw, although the movie was just way to gory for me!
[User Picture]
From:hippediva
Date:January 3rd, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
(Link)
*giggle* I loved Sweeney---then again, I've had a thing for that show since it premiered in 1979. Bring on the day-glo gore! ROFLMAO!

Yeah---my mother went for her masters in library science at CW Post when I was about 11 or 12--she was already working at the local library and became the Children's librarian there by the time I was graduating HS. The cost of college in the US has become ridiculous---but that's a whole 'nother ball o' wax and, I think, indicative of a culture that is headed backwards to the 19th century where a university education was the province of only the well-heeled. *snerk* And I personally believe that it is a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of our dubious PTB since the 80's.

I guess my quibble is with the word 'privilege'. Reading aloud was de rigeur for most families I knew and education was a priority---my dad's was completely taken care of by the GI bill post-WWII and Mom's was hard-won. I think they considered it part and parcel of their parental responsibilities to make sure my sister and I got the best education possible. It wasn't a matter of 'privilege' to them: it was a very necessary part of parenting. A change of semantics, perhaps? And values!
[User Picture]
From:thinking_lotus
Date:January 3rd, 2008 10:58 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I guess my quibble is with the word 'privilege'. Reading aloud was de rigeur for most families I knew and education was a priority---my dad's was completely taken care of by the GI bill post-WWII and Mom's was hard-won. I think they considered it part and parcel of their parental responsibilities to make sure my sister and I got the best education possible. It wasn't a matter of 'privilege' to them: it was a very necessary part of parenting. A change of semantics, perhaps? And values!

If your parents are working all the time, to have money to keep the electricity on, there might not be anybody home to read to you ... I suggested reading Katherine Newman's The Missing Class for case studies. Since welfare reform, staying home because you don't have childcare is not an option. And while I suppose people shouldn't have kids if they can't afford them, well ... easy to say.
[User Picture]
From:hippediva
Date:January 3rd, 2008 11:08 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Interesting. In my own case, my mother did not start working outside the home until I was 11. And by then we were living in an extended family situation with her parents, so there was always someone at home whether we liked it or not. *G* And, once again, I have to cite the inflation issue (which I am completely convinced has been skewed in 'official' reports for at least 30 years now). Electricity bills didn't eat up huge chunks of income, even WITH old-fashioned oil burners. Ditto groceries, property taxes, insurance, etc. etc. My parents owned their own home right after they were married---it was possible then. It really was a different world and I don't think this 'meme' does anything but type what HAD been quite the norm of most middle-class families as 'privilege'.
[User Picture]
From:thinking_lotus
Date:January 4th, 2008 02:52 am (UTC)
(Link)
I don't think it's inflation by itself as much as a combination of wage stagnation with some inflation. Inflation has actually been pretty low and some things have actually gone down in price. Although apparently all that's about to change.

Anyway, I was using the phrase "keep the electricity on" as a metaphor for "pay the bills" or whatever.

My mother was home till I started high school. Life was much easier after that.

Edited at 2008-01-04 02:55 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:January 5th, 2008 01:13 am (UTC)
(Link)

If your parents are working all the time, to have money to keep the electricity on, there might not be anybody home to read to you ...


And if your parents are illiterate, they can't read to you.

And if they are literate but don't understand that reading to kids fosters their literacy, they might not think to read to you.

And if they think of reading to kids as a way to entertain them until
they can read, they might stop once the kids can read.

And if they think of reading to kids as just a way to entertain them,
they might turn on the tv instead, because then they can do something
else that needs to get done at the same time.

Lots and lots of kids do not get read to by their parents. The large
body of research that shows that being read to as a child is a great
predictor of life long literacy comes from looking at plenty of peopel
who were *not* read to as children as well as those who were.

Perri Klass - author and pediatrician - is the founder of a literacy
program based in pediatricians' offices. They give a children's book
to the family at every office visit and the pediatrician or nurse
practitioner *reads* it to the child during the visit. The idea is to
instill in the parents that this is an important thing to do by having
a person in highly respected position model it.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:January 4th, 2008 02:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
*giggle* I loved Sweeney---then again, I've had a thing for that show since it premiered in 1979. Bring on the day-glo gore! ROFLMAO!


I'm not much of a Sondheim fan. I think he's a brilliant lyricist, but his music kind of leaves me cold. I think West Side Story was the perfect combo - Sondheim lyrics and Bernstein score.

I have low tolerance for movie gore and low tolerance for jokes about cannibalism in any venue, so it wasn't my kind of thing. But my daughter wanted to go and she loved it, so I suppose it was worth it.
[User Picture]
From:lilacsigil
Date:January 4th, 2008 08:04 am (UTC)
(Link)
Since when is it a 'privilege' for your parents to read stories to you? That's just ridiculous!
That's what I thought, until I moved to a tiny rural town where a small but significant portion of adults are illiterate, and there are houses with no books at all. About half of the 15-year-olds who are employed by the business where I work are extremely reluctant readers and try to look for things by colour or shape, and I know at least one 10-year-old who can't write her own surname, which is not a long or complicated name. People refer to thumbing through a magazine as "reading a book". Some farmers bring documents into my workplace so that we can explain them. Everyone seems to manage numbers and cash well, but reading is seen as difficult and not often very useful.
[User Picture]
From:libgirl
Date:January 3rd, 2008 11:23 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I find this whole thing very curious indeed. I haven't posted my results yet (that's on my agenda for this evening), but I have looked at it. As far as a good bit of this goes, I agree with you in regards to the could versus would issue. My parents could take us to Museums and Art Galleries and things when we were growing up, but they didn't. Part of that was distance to them, part was my Dad's aversion to driving much; but we still had some of those opportunities because they were provided through the school.

The other thing that I noticed is that my sister's answers and mine are very different. We're 5 1/2 years apart that made a huge difference in how this questionnaire measures our privilege. She had private art lessons for years, for example, but by the time that was an option for her, I was already in college. It wasn't in anyway an option when I was growing up, but it was something that became available by the time she was at that age.

But we had the same parents and the same value systems. Also, I don't remember my parents reading to us, but I read to my sister. And we were both reading for ourselves by the age of 5. I'm not really sure how to talk about this, or how I want to. My sister and I rarely had clothes that were bought new, and if we did, they were on layaway for months prior. But that was because my parents had a skewed (and in my opinion, terrible) way of handling personal finance. My father's considerable salary went to the big bills--mortgage etc., and my Mom's just-barely-minimum wage was expected to feed, clothe and entertain the whole family (and pay for any gift-giving). It's a method that caused me all sorts of tears and angst growing up and even now the thought really disturbs me. It's almost certainly one of the reasons their marriage didn't make it and one of the things I'll avoid at all costs--but what does it mean about any perceived privilege?

My father made good money most of my pre-teen and teen years, but that money was never funneled down into the family. It either went straight to bills or to the things that he chose to spend it on (computers for example). So, I wasn't privileged in those ways, but I could conceivably have been.

I think part of the reason that people are so upset about this, or could be, is that this is value thing. I think a "privileged" upbringing has a value connotation that may or may not apply. You could have had two parents who were professors and paid for everything and you were always given anything you wanted, and still have had a rotten upbringing. Or vice versa.

Also, I think that this questionnaire isn't actually getting to the heart of what it wants to investigate. I see more and more often, particularly in college-age students today, the view that it's the parents' responsibility to pay for college. It's not a privilege, it's a given. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but it's certainly a prevailing stance and one I didn't benefit personally from. It also lacks the ability to see nuances. My sister is going to an exclusive private college and probably will do the same for Graduate School. And she's doing it via hefty scholarships and equally hefty student-loan debt. She's not receiving a penny for tuition or books from either of my parents (either because they can't or won't help).

My father is from the self-made school of thought. He made his own success and we're expected to do the same. After the age of 18, we may still live there (while in college) rent-free but all health-care etc. is our own responsibility.

Wow. I'm sorry. I've gone into a huge ramble now and I should definitely stop while I'm ahead.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:January 4th, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC)
(Link)
This was interesting to read, and really shows how there are so many differences among families not captured by a quiz like this.

On the parents paying for college thing: as I said elsewhere, I don't think it's really feasible now for kids to fund their college educations themselves without significant debt. And an undergraduate degree is considered the entry point to work in many fields where previously a high school diploma was sufficient. So if parents can't pay for college, kids are left with either having that huge debt or going to college slowly while working, or not going. I would like my kids to have a college experience if they want it, and I'd like them to be able to do so residentially and I don't want them to graduate with huge debt. So that's why I'm trying to come up with enough money to fund their college. It doesn't mean they won't work - Doran is working now on break and needs to get a summer job, too - but I just don't think it's feasible for them to put themselves through college like I did. The money they earn should cover spending money, incidentals, etc. but with a public university education here costing $20k a year (and I think it's a fine education and still much less than private) I don't think I can expect a kid to fund a significant part of it him/herself.
[User Picture]
From:vanessa_musing
Date:January 4th, 2008 03:42 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I graduated college in 1997, a 4-year State college. My parents didn't have the resources to help, and on principal my Dad wouldn't have helped anyway (self-made and all that). I worked when I was in high school to save money for college. I joined the Air National Guard for GI bill assistance that wouldn't delay my college years (that would be different now, for sure). I worked as a restaurant server 25-35 hours per week my entire college career. I also had a small merit scholarship my first 3 semesters, but lost that when my GPA fell below 3.5 (3.47, yes I was upset!). I tried very hard to avoid debt and it was a difficult road sometimes. 2nd semester of my junior year, I ended up borrowing $5000.

Also, I made the personal decision to move out on my own during school. I could have stayed home and that would have made it easier financially. I also could have taken more of my courses at the local community college and saved tuition costs. I did consciously choose an engineering degree partly for the reason that I could get a good paying job with just a 4 year degree. I never saw graduate school as a viable option, getting a 4 year degree was huge enough for me.

This stuff is so variable and expectations can be so different between families. The fact that I chose to go to college was my responsibility, considering I was the first in our entire family to attend right out of high school (my Dad attended as an adult, graduating while I was in high school)
So I think it can be done.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:January 4th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC)
(Link)
So I think it can be done.

Well, as I said, I did it on my own and I think in some places and at some times it's possible. But for my kids here and now I don't think it is, without large loans or delaying graduation or living at home during college, none of which I want for them to be stuck with. It is just not feasible - here and now - for an 18- or 19-year-old to earn the $20k (after taxes) needed each year with part-time work and summers.

And even when it is possible, I don't think it's necessarily a *good* way to go to college. I was able to manage with 15-20 hours of work a week during they year and 60 during the summer but I lived in *constant fear,* because I was living totally hand-to-mouth and anything that stopped my income - even temporarily - would mean I was sunk. I worked sick, including with high fevers, because I couldn't afford to take a day off. I was in terror of slipping on the ice in the long winters and breaking my leg. I don't want that for my kids.
Mofic Powered by LiveJournal.com