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November 2007
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Making note of privilege

I’ve been reading Jeanne’s blog, Social Class and Quakers, since she began writing it in August. It’s one of a large number of Quaker blogs I read, a virtual substitute for the Quaker Meeting I feel I can no longer attend. Her focus is especially compelling to me, for a number of reasons, not the least of which are my work (helping people who are in trouble primarily because of their economic class), and my own life experiences.

Her most recent post is of a survey designed to point out the advantages we may have that have nothing to do with our own work but rather have been handed to us because we were born at a particular place and time to particular parents. Each applicable statement is in bold type. Jeanne posted the survey with permission from the authors; information is at the bottom of the post. If you decide to repost, please do include that attribution information.

Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
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
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
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
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 (not that I’m aware of)
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 (Mainly the free ones–with six kids in the house, it makes sense)
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

By the standards on this list, I think I’m privileged, especially due to my parents’ interest in our education. But there’s a complicating factor: I didn’t grow up in the US, and I always felt that we had a high standard of living–compared to our neighbors. When my parents bought our house in Mexico, for the vast sum of $5,000 US, we eventually got a floor, running water, converted the livestock room into a kitchen, put in windows, wiring for electricity, and set up the washing machine that had been given to us. We lived in relative luxury, the eight of us in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house.

At the same time, trips to the US demonstrated to me that we were, in fact, very poor by American standards. I continue to have a sense of not quite belonging here, even while recognizing the enormous advantages I have had simply by being part of my large, quirky, and awesome family.

People who work in nonprofits tend to not earn as much as their for-profit equivalents. I’m reminded of that when I see a local grocery store advertising checker jobs that pay more than my management job. Part of being in the non-profit ghetto is that I cannot afford to have my own place, in the event that I wanted to. But there are non-monetary rewards to my work, even on the most challenging days. So, I feel privileged. Or maybe thankful is the word I am looking for.

Attribution: based on an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University


Comment from Josh
Time: August 8, 2008, 3:58 am

“I continue to have a sense of not quite belonging here”

What do you mean by this, Christine?