Mo (mofic) wrote,

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: meme, privilege
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