The Privilege Meme


Memes don’t often tickle my fancy, but this particular one, though unconnected with any of the usual subjects of the blog, struck me as rather interesting.  I came across it as it floated through the blogosphere, invading such blogs as Charlotte’s Web and floatykatja’s Pina Colada Blog.  It was devised by PhD students at Indiana State University – Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, and Stacy Ploskonka. If you participate, they ask that you please acknowledge their copyright.

Bold the true statements. You can explain further if you wish.

1. Father went to college.
2. Father finished college.
3. Mother went to college.
4. Mother finished college.

I’m assuming that college is in the American sense of higher education, rather than the British sense of further education (and some higher education institutions). Mum has sundry academic qualifications. Dad doesn’t, but has gained membership of various chemistry-related professional bodies through experience.

5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
I suppose so – I’d classify my family as middle class. The professions of parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents that I know of are teacher, quality control officer, telephone engineer, secretary, mechanic, chef and book keeper.

7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.

9. Were read children’s books by a parent.
I’m not entirely sure how many books we had at home, but enough to fill several bookcases downstairs, plus quite a number of books for us young ones in our room. I don’t actually remember being read to, but I know I was and am grateful for it – how can a child who is not read to develop a love of reading?

10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18.
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.
Well, this is interesting, and it rather depends how you define lessons. I did all sorts of things as a member of the Boys’ Brigade, and received proper instruction in canoeing and sailing as part of this – I even have the certificates to prove it. Private lessons, though? No. Not for music, sport or anything else.

12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
I’m not sure. I’m sort of an average, nondescript person, and don’t tend to identify myself with any of the ‘types’ that we tend to see on TV and the like.  I’m neither too high nor too low a class to be portrayed negatively, I would say, except possibly as “well meaning bumbler” in a sitcom.

13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
No, I didn’t get a credit card until after I left university.

14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs.
Well, I went to university from 1997 and was part of the last year of students before we had to pay for our own tuition fees. My accommodation costs were covered by the good old student loan, my parents helped me out with money for food, and I made up the rest by working part time. So my parents paid some of my costs, but not the majority.

16. Went to a private high school.
No, no, no. And again no. Many people tend to assume my educational background is more privileged than it is. I attended a comprehensive school. A very good comprehensive school, but still.

17. Went to summer camp.
If you count Boys’ Brigade camp, which I attended once.

18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.
Nope.

19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.
Certainly not. Canvas all the way for us, apart from at ‘Spring Harvest’ (a Christian conference/holiday thingummy over the Easter period) which involved staying at Butlins or Pontins sites. I have stayed in a hotel twice in my life. Once when our car broke down and we couldn’t reach the next campsite, so the AA kindly paid for overnight stay in a rather grotty establishment, and once on the night after a friend’s wedding.

20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them.
I’ve never had driving lessons, let alone a car, so that one’s out. I am the oldest child in my family, but I got hand-me-downs from various older boys in the church.

22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.
I suppose some of my mother’s embroidery, or the wooden parrot which an Italian p.o.w. made for her when she was a young girl might count as original art, but not in the privilege sense. The parrot, by the way, is very cool, and balances perfectly on a little strip of metal – you can even set it rocking.

23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.
25. You had your own room as a child.

Yes, our house was owned by my parents, or at least they owed the mortgage company for it. I believe they own it outright now, and the household consisted of myself, mum, dad, sister and the occasional pet. Little sister and I shared a room until we moved house when I was nine or ten years old, then we got our own bedrooms, which was very exciting for both of us.

26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.
A mixed bag there, all of which were untrue. Televisions and telephones in bedrooms only became reality once I started living in shared accommodation, and I’d never even thought of the idea before then. The other two items are terribly American, but the British equivalents do not apply.

30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16.
31. Went on a cruise with your family.
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.
I flew to Spain with school when I was doing my GCSEs, so was probably less than 16 at the time. I remember my parents saving up for that trip, which was very beneficial and terribly daunting at the same time. I have never been on a cruise, but I had many trips to the big London museums with my parents as a child – the free ones, of course! I still love the Natural History Museum deeply.

34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.
I was aware that heating cost money, but not how much money.

Hmm, that’s just under half of the statements that I can say ‘yes’ to. I’m not entirely sure how to interpret that, but I do know that I am very privileged. Perhaps not compared to members of the Shadow Cabinet or our various Princes, but even by being born in the UK, I had so many advantages that many people elsewhere do not. And a middle-class upbringing, with a loving, stable family who encouraged my education, is something that should not be taken for granted anywhere in the world. I was exposed to learning and culture by my parents, even if not on a grand scale, and we had more than enough money to get by. If that isn’t privilege, I don’t know what is.

    • floatykatja
    • April 24th, 2008

    The more of these questionnaires that I read, the more I realise that there is a clear distinction between cultural and monetary privileges. To me, having books in the house, and going to the theatre, museums and art galleries, were ordinary, everyday things. Not that I didn’t enjoy or appreciate them, but I just can’t imagine a childhood without them. However, a television or a phone in the bedroom, or staying in hotels when going on holiday, were completely alien ideas to me.

  1. Floatykatja

    Pierre Bourdieu, a French Sociologist, writes about economic capital, cultural capital, and social capital – so we wrote about economic privilege, cultural privilege, and social privilege when we developed this. BTW – it is Indiana State University – it is interesting how things change as they pass along the meme space.

  2. Will, apologies. University name duly corrected in my post.

    I value my cultural capital/privilege highly, but is that simply because I’m aware I have it. If I was hugely economically privileged by Western rather than world standards, would I prize and desire wealth more? I wonder.

  3. I have been impressed by how similar the “privilege” experience has been for folks in this neck of the blogosphere. It seems that we all had books available, and went off to museums, but didn’t really grow up rolling in dough. Perhaps it is this childhood experience in common that makes us all interesting to one another, and makes our blogs interesting and literate to read.

  1. April 30th, 2008
  2. August 21st, 2008
  3. August 30th, 2008

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