November 4, 2007

Looking at my social class privilege

To support my sweetie, and with encouragement from another fFriend, I'm posting my responses here to an exercise about looking at privilege.

Here's the relevant information for you to know:

1. This exercise is based on one developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University (see the "looking at privilege" post in the above paragraph, for additional links).

2. The exercise's developers hold the copyright and have given permission for it to be posted, with links, on the Quakers and Social Class blog. They ask that those of us who participate in this blog exercise acknowledge their copyright, which I'm doing here.

3. If you cut-and-paste this exercise on your own blog, please leave a comment on the relevant post, pointing readers to your own post.

4. Copy and paste the list below into your blog (or as a comment in the relevant post), remove my own personal comments, and bold the items that are true for you. My own replies are below.

The Exercise

NOTE: I have bolded so many of these items (27-1/2 out of 34) that I am indenting the ones I have experienced to make them more visually distinctive from those items I didn't experience. --Liz
Father went to college
Father finished college (and law school)
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor (father, uncle, cousin)
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 (I actually don't recall books except for children's books and my father's tax books)
Were read children's books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18 (art, tennis, swimming)
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively (???) (though these days, some wealthy characters in the media are portrayed as greedy)
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 before you turned 18
Family vacations involved staying at hotels (eh-hem: NOT hotels but a family-owned vacation house)
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 (No, but I used the hand-me-down family car for a year or two when I was an upperclassman at college. And the three kids shared a used car, purchased by my folks, once we were all old enough to drive.)
There was original art in your house when you were a child (a small Picasso, a small Calder print; plus much original art from my grandmother and family friends)
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house
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 (Eh-hem: My parents and grandparents had invested in equities and savings bonds for me and my brothers, not mutual funds or IRAs)
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
. . . . . . . . . . .

In going over this list, it strikes me that I could have bolded nearly all of the remaining items, meaning that my parents had the means to provide a television for me, a phone, a credit card. I think my parents--especially my mother--had a sense of appropriate boundaries around what young children, adolescents, and teens should or shouldn't have access to.

It's also clear to me that I have to work very hard to see past the privileges I myself grew up with and learn from people who experienced the world differently from how I did. For example, I had unknowingly internalized the message that a wealthy person can have a great deal of control in a relationship by controlling the flow of money. Eeew!

At the same time, I found myself drawn to television shows that had a message about caring for one another (e.g. Little House on the Prairie). As an innocent child, it appears I didn't aspire to be wealthy and control money: I aspired to be a person with a kind heart and a gentle, moral lifestyle.

Blessings,
Liz

6 comments:

Heather Madrone said...

I guess I was half privileged (17 out of 34).

When I was a young teen, my family hit hard times. There often wasn't enough food in the house, all of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my mother's friends' kids, and there wasn't any money for extras.

I worked my way through college, working 30 hours a week during the school year and all summer. There was still a lot of month at the end of my money.

Neither of my mother's parents had a high school education and both worked while they were raising kids. My grandfather was a machinist and a union member and my grandmother was a civilian employee of the navy. They managed to send both of their kids to college, and both my mother and her brother earned advanced degrees. Thus education, but not frills, were very important to my mother.

Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college (and a master's degree)
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home (in my own bookcase)
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
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 (??? I have no idea)
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 before you turned 18
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 (a painting by a college roommate of my mom's and some paintings of mine)
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house
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

MartinK said...

Hi Liz: well as long as it was only a small Picasso.

This is a neat exercise, I think it actually helps us to understand one another and how we see things.
M

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Heather -

Thanks for participating.

And Martin -

I noticed my qualifier of "small" in front of "Picasso," and I decided to leave it as is: I wonder if it is somewhat common for a person with privilege to downplay it in one way or another...

Blessings,
Liz

Jeanne said...

Liz,

It's common for everyone bolding anything on this list to explain it in some way as not a privilege given to us by our class heritage, including me.

Martin,

My recollection of the Picasso in Liz's folks' house is that not only is it small, it's completely and unexpectedly unimpressive. I remember thinking, "That's it?"

Heh.

Brian said...

6 out of 34 for me.

Were read children's books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 (piano) 


Went to summer camp (Bible Camp)


You and your family lived in a single family house (that my Dad built when I was about 9)
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home (They were still paying it off)
You had your own room as a child (From age 9 on)



I grew up on a farm in an economically depressed region of the midwest. To this day I still remember the flavor of "government cheese". But if you would have asked me my social class as a child, I would have said I was born toward the higher end, for several reasons:

I had loving parents, while many of my friend's parents were abusive.

My parents were part of a multi-generational farm family, which meant (compared to the town dwellers) we were part of the "landed class".

Most importantly, my family was highly respected in our area for their hard work and honesty. It meant I was taught early on about living up to that reputation. It also meant doors were opened for me which were not opened to others.

I was fortunate enough to go to college on scholarship, and then went on to get my doctorate. To this day I am the only person in my family with a college degree.

I'm now a professor, and I'm an alien to the class of my birth.

Liz, I've just come across your post, so I haven't yet many of the related links, but I can say this: my wife and group of social friends are all of the same class as me. First-generation, "there but for the grace of God" scholarship college graduates. I grok my community. We speak the same language, and see the world the same way. I have colleagues who grew up in your social class, but they aren't part of my circle of friends. I always have a bit of a guard up when I am around them, fearing that I might show my bumpkin roots.

Of course the interesting thing is, when I go back to visit my home town, I can see the shields go up. I'm an alien there too. I can never completely go home.

Will Barratt said...

We are at Indiana State University, not Illinois

Will Barratt

Social class is a dynamic and complex thing and our purpose has been to enhance awareness of this multifaceted fact of life.