Privilege, redux

Via Lauren at Faux Real Tho, I read about this exercise in encouraging students to gain awareness of social class.  As transformed to a meme, it’s basically a somewhat more thoughtful version of the "spoiled" meme that we discussed here previously*.

As it’s designed by a professor, it doesn’t have most of the flaws that made the "spoiled" version so irritating (although as it’s aimed at college students, it does have some generation-specific questions that are irrelevant to anyone born before about 1980 (eg. having a cell phone in college)). I didn’t actually score myself on it, but it looks like there’s only a handful of questions that I’d say no to, and yes, I’m pretty comfortable saying that I’m pretty privileged, both materially and in terms of social capital.**

That said, it’s gotten a bunch of scathing responses (as well as some supportive ones).  The authors of the original exercise and other class educators seem to pretty much dismiss their critics as privileged people who want to claim all their success as the result of their hard work, and thus deny the role of privilege/luck in their accomplishments.  And I’m not going to dispute that the "bootstraps" story is one of the strands in the discussions.

But I think they’re being overly dismissive of the people who say that the quiz includes too many things that "everyone" has, or things that the truly rich don’t have, because they consider it declasse.  Another way of phrasing this criticism is that the scale is designed to distinguish between deep poverty and middle-class backgrounds, but does a lousy job of distinguishing between middle-class and upper-middle-class or rich backgrounds — going to Europe every summer doesn’t get you more points than having saved for years to go once; owning a McMansion in McLean doesn’t get you more points than owning a small house in Woodbridge.

And I think that’s important, because the big economic story of the past two or three decades hasn’t been about the poor falling further behind the middle class, but the rich pulling away from everyone else.  (I’m not going to look for links now, but Paul Krugman’s written extensively about this.)  And those rich are very visible, which makes middle-class people are very aware of the ways in which they’re not privileged.  So it’s not just denial that makes people protest this quiz.

Maybe in the academic context that it was originated, focusing on the privileges experienced by people who don’t think of themselves as privileged is useful. (I read an interesting article recently that argued that support services at community colleges designed to help low-income students nonetheless reinforce privilege, because the students who are most disadvantaged, especially in terms of social capital, don’t learn about them.)  But in a broader context, especially a political context, it’s a pretty lousy strategy to tell people who feel like they’re losing ground that they’re actually still incredibly privileged by comparison to others.  Even if it’s true.

* I’m reaching the stage when more and more often, I red these things and say "didn’t we have this conversation already?"  I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been posting less.

** There’s another point I want to make about the distinction and overlap between these two types of privilege, but this is long enough, so I’ll save it for another day.

Note that we’re now on the second page of comments, so click the >> at the bottom of the page to read the most recent ones.  I don’t know how to override this Typepad setting.

 

30 Responses to “Privilege, redux”

  1. Jeanne Says:

    I’m really curious about your statement that it’s “a pretty lousy strategy to tell people who feel like they’re losing ground that they’re actually still incredibly privileged by comparison to others.”
    I was the person who originally modified the quiz specifically for my readers: Quakers interested in a discussion on class. And I would say that it’s been a fantastic strategy.
    An uncountable number of people have blogged about this quiz–just Google “privilege meme” and see. I didn’t have the patience to get to the end of the search. Hundreds if not thousands of people have read it and commented on it. I see this reflected in the numbers of people who have visited my blog, as well.
    In the comments on my blog, in the memes on others’ blogs, and in their comments, I see a rich conversation happening. I see middle class people finally getting their undies in a bunch over the injustice of an economic system that is supposed to be a meritocracy but isn’t.
    I see posts like yours pointing out that, surprise surprise, the middle class are oppressed too.
    Sure, Mr. Krugman and other policy wonks have talked about this, but social class hasn’t been talked about in any democratic way, publicly by the people, to this extent in a long time.
    This was never my intent–I’m trying to influence a very small community of people (about 100,000 folks in the US). But I’m thrilled to see the discussion spread to a broader audience; I’m excited to see that people are talking about class.
    The one thing that befuddles me is the vitriol expressed toward my little quiz adapted from Will Barrett’s exercise. Why aren’t more people angry at the system that rewards the privileged and slaps away most who try to make themselves better (rather than the quiz or the quiz makers)?
    Jeanne

  2. bj Says:

    E–
    I also think it’s *not* “lousy strategy to tell people who feel like they’re loosing ground that they’re actually still incredibly priveleged.” I think we need to do that (even while talking about the separation from the rich v middle).
    Now, I don’t like the quiz because it doesn’t pass the standards I desire for sociological accuracy. I think a quiz like that should have stats attached to it as you answer each of the questions. So, for example, when you answer that you have a cell phone in college, it should describe the proportion of the population that has that privilege, and the characteristics of that group. I think this is a flaw in the quiz, and one that people are picking up on when they complain about it. Is it true that the answers on the quiz really separate groups of people (even between the really poor and the middle class)?
    When I read through the quiz, I thought it showed the effects of middle class privilege itself, in the options it offered as privilege. One really needs to see a privilege meme written by someone who is really not priveleged. Then, we’d see more of how we’re really priveleged. For example, one question that separates people in my own milleu is: “Do your parents speak English?” You cannot imagine how your options are limited by this until you are the child translating for your mother and father at a contract negotiation (or at the DMV, or in front of your teacher).
    I am privileged (though in different ways than the truly rich girls I went to school with), and I can see the many ways in which both my (and their) privilege shapes our choices and paths. I think that’s an important discussion to have both because it helps us understand others, and, because it might help us figure out how to reach those who make different choices because their choice weighting functions are different from ours.
    bj

  3. Jackie Says:

    “Maybe in the academic context that it was originated, focusing on the privileges experienced by people who don’t think of themselves as privileged is useful.”
    I’ve been seeing this conversation happening all over like you, and as an educator who has used this in classes successfully, it’s been really frustrating for me. The purpose you state above is exactly the purpose for which the exercise was designed– trying to make it stretch to something else is not appropriate. Also, the point bj makes above about statistical context is one of the activities that a good instructor does with the class while they process the exercise– that’s what I always did.
    In short, it’s an incredibly useful exercise for young, privileged students who have not previously thought about their own privilege and need a “broad strokes” approach to encourage them to be self-analytic. It is NOT a refined tool for sophisticated debate, though clearly it is still thought-provoking.

  4. Jeanne Says:

    I find it very interesting that the least privileged folks reading the quiz (and taking the quiz) are finding it evocative and helpful and the most privileged are picking at the quiz, pointing out its faults (at best).

  5. Christine Says:

    I agree with bj that this quiz separates lower-economic and middle classes because it fails to include accurate questions on what constitutes being upper-class today. As a person who went from middle class to upper class due to marriage I think the questions are really limited. The questions don’t reflect working parents or SAHMs, the excesses of childhood today, etc. Geographically it can be confusing, rural vs. urban. My dad was an inner city kid, but thanks to the Boys Club he went to summer camp and field trips to museums and galleries of NYC. How does that apply to a kid in a rural area?
    One question that is left out of this quiz is “did you have a part-time job during high school or college?” That is a big determinating factor in whether or not someone is priveleged. College is also not portrayed that accurately due to the omission of such questions, “Did you get financial aid, did you attend city, state or private college, did you commute to college?”
    Some of the questions are quite outdated and generationally mixed. When I grew up no one had cell phones except yuppie stockbrokers – granted it was the 1980s. I am curious about classroom discussion on this topic or as a result of the quiz. I find there are alot of people at many ages clueless to class in general and the issues that surround it, especially on a global level. But overall I think the quiz serves the purpose of looking at characteristics that form class rather than salary.

  6. Kai Jones Says:

    One really needs to see a privilege meme written by someone who is really not priveleged.
    Yeah, that. If I wrote a privilege meme there would be questions like, “Did you get to eat every day during your childhood?” and “When you got a part-time job before age 18, did your earnings go for basics like food and electricity or did you get to spend them on entertainment?”

  7. jen Says:

    Jeanne, what’s with all the anger? Your defensiveness in this comment thread is not helping your cause.
    I guess the thing that makes me squeamish about the exercise as described is that it’s not only about raising consciousness WRT those who overcame obstacles — it also seems specifically designed to humiliate anyone who came from a cushier background. This strikes me as spiteful. I should probably read all the other comments in other places, although I’m somewhat mortified by the idea that I might agree with Megan McArdle on something.

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  9. Elizabeth Says:

    I didn’t mean to dismiss the value of exercises like this in raising awareness. And Jeanne, I’m glad that you’ve stimulated a lot of conversations about class, which I agree is a sorely neglected topic in American society. Thank you.
    But, from reading the comments in various places, it’s clear that while some people found this exercise highly useful, others found it excessively didactic, condescending, or just disconnected from their experiences. And I don’t think it’s helpful to just dismiss this second group as unenlightened rich people who are just angry/embarrassed at having their privilege exposed, without asking whether maybe there are some flaws with the instrument that make it a less effective tool for reaching these people.
    Particularly if your goal is to actually reach a broad swath of people, and change their thinking and behavior, and not just to comfort yourself with how much more enlightened you are than they are.
    And while John Scalzi’s attitude is sometimes hard to swallow, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t get poverty in America. He’s the one who wrote the “Being Poor” essay that I (and about a million other people) linked to after Katrina:
    http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/003704.html
    I think the suggestions of additional questions to add are very interesting. Another person added a bunch of them to the list:
    http://lisachase.blogspot.com/2007/12/social-class-meme.html
    Some that I might add:
    * if you are in this country legally
    * if you have never failed to fill a prescription because you couldn’t afford it
    * if you can take a day off from work when you’re sick and still get paid
    * if you can accept or make a personal call from work
    * if you know someone who would loan you $100 interest-free
    * if you expect the police to be on your side
    * if you’ve never been sexually harassed
    * if you’ve never been sexually assaulted
    * if you don’t know which grocery store sells milk for the lowest price

  10. jane Says:

    I really am so interested in why this meme was circulated so widely. And I’m equally curious about why so many people have invested so much energy in critiquing it on the grounds that it falls short of being an entire sociology course, an entire economics course, internationally relevant, relevant for all generations, or sensitive to the particular experiences of the wealthiest.
    Will Barrett (and Jeanne, who first posted it on her blog as part of a complex and ongoing conversation within her community about class) have always been very clear about how this list developed, and even though that background information got dropped from many of the posts, any of the folks who’ve written page and pages about its shortcomings could know this in a few key strokes:
    It was designed by student services staff (not a professor, although I’m not sure that distinction is all that important) for a staff development exercise for dorm resident assistants at a public midwestern college that serves many first-generation college students, a place where first-generation students can often experience deep humiliation and alienation because of assumptions that others make about them.
    And while I also might have included other items on the list (or even done some other form of exercise) if I were developing something similar, I’m still so puzzled: why all of the furor over how shortsighted the authors of this exercise obviously must be, and almost no discussion at all about how first generation college kids (and we’re honestly not talking about “deep poverty” here. Hardly.) do face barriers that are often invisible to others?
    How did the experiences of those who do face considerable obstacles when they try to cross class barriers in college get pushed off to the side in all of this talk about “class”?
    I’ve seen a lot of really good suggestions for what else could be included in something like this to push issues of class further.
    But this “thread” has been out there for weeks now, and the conversation hasn’t gotten beyond critique to the obvious next step of then talking more deeply about class and the invisibility of the vast social spaces between urban poverty and the upper middle class.
    Why is that? I mean this as an honest question. No snarkiness intended.

  11. bj Says:

    I don’t see any furor here. No interest in following the discussion to McArdle, where I basically would interpret criticism as an unwillingness to accept that where you end up depends a lot on where you start out, even in our meritocratic society (and I do believe that we have one of the most meritocratic societies in the history of humankind).
    I criticize the meme because I am interested in more rigorous discussions of the subject, and I think a lack of rigor impairs the discussion (and, yes, I am an academic).
    I found the link Elizabeth posted fascinating, because it showed what privilege looks like from the outside. I mean, my first thought on reading Kai’s question(“As a child did you get to eat everyday?”) was to assume that Kai could not be have grown up in America. Are there really children in America who do not get to eat everyday? In this land of plenty? A measure of my enormous privilege (and my children) that I can be surprised to hear that there’s a child out there somewhere in the US who didn’t get to eat today.
    (I guess the McArdle types would say that’s their “choice”, I suppose, inherited through their parents. But, that’s no help to me. I don’t think children make choices, and I don’t want a child to go hungry because of their parents choices.)
    bj

  12. bj Says:

    And, to continue to side discussion on why some people hate this discussion, there are at least two causes. The first is the belief that what matters is what one accomplishes — not what it took to get there. So, they want to value the fastest mile (not the effort that it took to get to the fastest mile). The second is simple self interest. The people in the middle worry that if they are judged not by where they are, but by how far they’ve progressed, they’ll loose the race (and of course, know that the super-privileged don’t have to play the game at all). I, personally, have some sympathy for the first point of view, but not for activities that are entry tests (rather than accomplishments of their own).
    Take college admissions, for example. I once heard Leslie Stahl interview two kids at UT (Texas). One had failed to get in because she hadn’t reached the top 10% of her suburban school, while another had reached the top 10% of her barrio school. (remember UTs guarantees admission to the top 10% of students from their high schools). Leslie Stahl ended the discussion by asking the barrio girl, who grew up with parents who didn’t speak English, and studied by candlelight (really!) whether she felt she had an “unfair” advantage in getting into UT, where she was doing well. The girl was flummoxed (as was I).
    In a related question — the chief maker of the CogAT (a group “intelligence” test used for admissions into gifted programs) argues that the CogAT should be measured compared to the baseline for your “peer” group (difficult to define, I know). But, he states clearly that a high CogAT score for someone from a strong educational background might mean the same thing (for access to education) that a lower CogAT means for a less advantaged child. The CogAT isn’t the fastest mile; it’s a correlate, an attempt to figure out who we should train to run the fastest mile. And, as such differing opportunity might mean that the different scores make individuals equally qualified.

  13. Amy P Says:

    Both the Megan McArdle and the John Scalzi threads are worth reading. There’s a lot of vigorous discussion (I was one of the people coming up with alternate questions). Based on those threads, I don’t think it’s fair to say that the people who are critiquing the privilege questions are privileged folk who just can’t handle the truth. The questions are that flawed. To take only one example, one of the questions is whether you’ve been to Europe. I could go off on that one all day, but here are two small issues:
    1. Quite a few Americans “visit” Europe via military service, either their own, or a parent’s.
    2. Europe’s big, and includes places like Belarus and Albania and Macedonia. If you were born in Albania and immigrated to the US, you’d probably have to answer yes to that questiona and take a step forward. Back around 2000, I had a stint as an in-house ESL instructor at a big bank, which was offering English classes to their low-level mail processing and data entry people, who were nearly all refugees from the former Yugoslavia (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia). Some of them liked to travel back to the old country for dental work since it was so much cheaper there.
    Anyway, it’s well worth looking at those threads.

  14. bj Says:

    I chimed in to complain about the questions — but I do think obsessive consideration of the questions is rather weird. It’s not a diagnostic tool published in the DSMV. I guess, it would matter if we were going to use one’s social class inventory to determine what level of CogAT qualified you as gifted. But, no one is actually suggesting that. If we were (going to use a social class inventory to determine eligibility) I guess we’d need to refine the questions.
    Any such questionnaire, even obsessively studied once like language inventories or DSM questionnaires, are going to have example questions where one individual’s “yes” means something different from someone else’s. That doesn’t undermine the questionnaire if the statistics work out on the whole.
    (and, of course, this questionnaire was a talking point for discussion, and not a diagnostic tool).
    bj
    did the quiz, it puts me at 17. Where does that put me on the privilege scale?

  15. Amy P Says:

    Also, as I think I mentioned on MM’s thread back when, one way to “visit” Europe would be as a US serviceman wounded in the Middle East and evacuated to a US military hospital in Germany.
    I have a pretty good idea how I have benefited from privilege, or to put it differently, from generations of effort from ancestors who hacked farms out of wilderness, worked extra jobs, sent kids to college during the Great Depression, didn’t gamble or drink away Army earnings during WWII when every day could be the last, married one spouse and stuck to that person through thick and thin, built houses themselves, built businesses, read, studied their Bibles, took kids to church, etc. There were bumps along the way (I have LOTS of alcoholic Swedes in the family tree), but eventually my dad’s side of the family successfully made the jump, and my generation of cousins on that side is doing really, really well. That’s privilege–generations of ancestors doing uncool, unglamorous bourgeois things, and passing the fruits of their toil and their sacrifices on to you. I think it’s downright pernicious to ask college kids to apologize for that kind of privilege, or to envy those who have more privilege than themselves. We ought instead to be doing the sort of analysis that I was doing at the top of the paragraph, asking kids to figure out how they got to college, and telling them that it is in their hands to positively affect the lives of their children, their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children, who they will (if they are lucky) live to see. They can change their family trees, if they make the right choices. There are lots of obstacles, but I would argue that this “privilege” discourse encourages kids to throw their hands up and despair. It is not an “empowering” exercise.

  16. Amy P Says:

    My great-grandfather was a nice guy, but an alcoholic for many years. His wife pursued non-traditional outside employment and sent all four kids to college during the Depression (only two graduated). Their son, my grandpa, chose not to drink. Had he followed his brother, father and his aunts and uncles and other relatives into the bottle and from there to an early grave, his children’s and grandchildren’s life would have been completely different. In a way, all the “privilege” that I have ever enjoyed (indeed, my very existence, since my parents met at college) flows from the fact that my grandfather decided not to drink.

  17. Christine Says:

    I find the Cogat testing interesting since many people have been complaining about standardized college entrance exams (SAT, ACT) for years and how it is skewed towards a certain class of people. After reading criticism of the comments I am wondering if class needs to broken down even further than lower, middle, and upper. I can think of about 15-20 divisions for middle class alone. Also these questions are going to be interpreted differently due to the reader’s class, so in presenting them, the author must first define each class specifically.
    Amy P. I agree with you that people should not have to apologize for some advantages they have had due to ancestry and not inherited wealth. There is so much more than priveledge in the discussion of class. How did people historically move up the class ladder? Talent, ingenuity, intelligence, innovation, etc. Not everything is based on money.

  18. Kai Jones Says:

    bj: Yes, I grew up in the US. No, I didn’t eat every day. We were that poor, *plus* my mother didn’t make good choices. And that’s one aspect of privilege that is often overlooked: children are at the mercy of their parents’ choices. If you had parents who were responsible adults–who gave you shelter and food and clothing, and kept you safe from harm, that’s one level, and I didn’t have that. Next level up is regular medical and dental care. Education after that. Encouraging reading in the home, exposure to the arts and museums, science and history *as pastimes instead of formal education* is another level.
    If you were born to parents who didn’t abuse drugs (and therefore didn’t feed you, pay attention to you, give you loving care and encouragement), that’s privilege too. And lots of kids in the US grow up without that privilege.

  19. Amy P Says:

    Kai,
    That’s a nice summary of the different levels of privilege, although I would quibble that “regular medical and dental care” is actually more expensive than “reading in the home, exposure to the arts and museums, science and history as pasttimes instead of formal eduction.” My siblings and I got lots of the second (which is super cheap if parents are educated), but our medical and dental care was less satisfactory.

  20. Jackie Says:

    The point is not that reading is more expensive than dental care (obviously!), the point is that having the time and/or knowledge to provide those is mainly possible for those who are not spending most of their time on subsistence-level activities or who have parents who recognize the importance of activities like going to museums.
    And also, no one who uses this *classroom tool* IN a classroom is asking kids to “apologize” for their privilege or “envy” anyone else. It’s encouraging kids to be self-reflective and to recognize the differences between them and other people *at birth*. I’ve known people who used it and called it the “equal playing field” activity, to disprove the idea that you can even the playing field, or that everyone in America starts out with the same status simply by being born here. Asking students to think critically about “facts” they take for granted IS empowering.
    I’m also a little appalled at anyone in this thread who honestly did not know that there are children in the United States who will not eat today. There are even children in your state, your city, or your town who may not eat today! Even if you live in Maryland (like me), one of the wealthiest states in the country! Why do you think free lunch and free breakfast programs got started and are so valuable? Do you have any idea how many homeless children there are in the United States?

  21. Amy P Says:

    At least in the form I read it, the questions are just too flawed. Any students with a working critical faculty will poke it full of holes, so they won’t get much out of the exercise, beyond disrespect for their instructors’ knowledge of the facts of life. Take for example the assumption that living in a single family home is a mark of privilege, when in economically depressed areas in the US, you can buy a single family home for less than a car. In our new home town in Texas, the cheapest I’ve seen was less than $10,000 for a house, and I’ve heard that that type of pricing is not unusual in places like Detroit or really depressed parts of New York. I suppose there’s some good in going through the questions and discussing whether they actually work, but then there’s no point in doing the step forward/step back stuff.

  22. Amy P Says:

    “The point is not that reading is more expensive than dental care (obviously!), the point is that having the time and/or knowledge to provide those is mainly possible for those who are not spending most of their time on subsistence-level activities or who have parents who recognize the importance of activities like going to museums.”
    There are exceptions who find healthcare and dental more challenging to provide than cultural enrichment. My parents would be examples, as would the hyper-frugal, hyper-bookish homeschooling moms with large families whose blogs I read now and then. I also think that if a parent is at a high enough educational level, “enrichment” can happen more or less automatically, without any extra outlays of time or money being made. Enrichment is not something you think about when your school-age child asks for the definition of an unusual word or when you keep up your end of a conversation with a toddler (Yes, you are a kitty cat! Meow!), but it’s happening all the time, even with your mind isn’t really fully engaged. An educated parent can go pretty far just by being an educated parent. I’m not saying that educated parents should stop there, but that there is a certain basic minimum of enrichment that is very easy for educated parents to provide, that might be quite out of reach for a less educated parent, even if they were to work really hard at it.

  23. bj Says:

    There’s a tendency to conflate monetary privilege with all privilege. In fact, having an environment that offers you the other things confers privilege in the absence of money. In several objections I’ve seen, people state that something doesn’t cost very much (single family homes/reading at the library/. . .) as examples of how those questions are not assessing privilege. But they do, even when you are poor. Take two children who are poor: the one who gets read to as a young person is at a different starting point than the one who doesn’t.
    And, why is inherited capitol of other sorts different from inherited capitol of money? They all confer privilege. All leave you at a different starting point in the playing field.
    I think Amy is bringing the bigger issue to light when she mentions being proud of the work that her ancestors have done to lead her to her place in life. I am, too (well, more of my own ancestors, rather than hers :-). But, I recognize that work as a bonus that leaves me (and my own children) at different points in the “race for success.” If a child who didn’t get to eat every day and I had ended up in the same classroom at my rather elite college, it would have meant something different (and, something more) about his/her ability than it meant about mine. I can’t say that it would mean that child was more able than me, because you can never know what challenges you can overcome until you are faced with them. But, the child would have proven more ability than I had (and that *might* even be true even if my SAT scores were a 100 points higher).
    Again, I objected to the questions on this quiz on statistical grounds, and I still do — but, I think that only means a better quiz should be developed, not that the conversation is impossible or worthless. I myself have realized that one can quickly become very comfortable in whatever level of privilege one has (CEO’s who forget what it’s like to fly commercial, and find life impossible without it; people who travel first class, and forget what it’s like to be in coach; people who travel by airplane, and forget what it’s like to travel by bus . . .).

  24. Amy P Says:

    I definitely prefer Faux Real’s grittier versions of the quiz, but I choke a bit at “If there was original art in your house,” which is one of the original questions. Weird. To begin with, art is famously hard to define, since you can make pretty good arguments for children’s school projects, paper cutting crafts (like they do in Poland and other places), handmade quilts, needlework, calligraphy, flower arrangements, photographs, scrapbooking, etc. I’d also note that a number of these items are lower-middle class and middle-middle class markers rather than upper-middle class markers.
    In the interests of full disclosure, my mom did an art degree and painted watercolors up until my younger brother was born and we moved into a very unfinished house (roof, electricity, and drywall, but no running water or light fixtures initially), so we had a lot of paintings around the house. She did a very nice sketch of my dad, as well as a reproduction of a Gaugin oil, the latter of which hung in my bedroom when I was a teenager. It’s not at all clear to me why the small original sketch would merit a step forward, while the big Gaugin oil wouldn’t. I don’t think a lot of thought or imagination went into the original list of questions.

  25. Jackie Says:

    Amy, your argument is still flawed– having educated parents is yet another sign of privilege. Education is one of the factors that can give you privilege, even if it does not necessarily raise your income level.

  26. Amy P Says:

    “Amy, your argument is still flawed– having educated parents is yet another sign of privilege. Education is one of the factors that can give you privilege, even if it does not necessarily raise your income level.”
    I’m not sure which thing I said you are replying to, but yes, having grown up with little money but with rural bohemian parents with somewhat impractical degrees (an MA in art and an MA in math) who themselves were the children of farmers, I do get the concept of cultural capital. I really get the compounding, snowballing nature of cultural capital and how the more you’ve got, the more you’ll get, and (having seen how quickly so many recent Eastern European immigrants with lousy immigrant jobs are able to catapult their children into good colleges) I’m pretty clear on the fact that cash is almost worthless in comparison to cultural capital. What I am arguing is that privilege and cultural capital are good, and we should be working like crazy to maximize the amount of privilege and cultural capital floating around our society, rather than stigmatizing privilege or “middleclassness.” With regard to the problem of poverty, “bourgeois” values are right on par with the invention of the wheel and fire–they’re that important, and it’s no kindness to the poor to hide that fact.

  27. Amy P Says:

    I lost a post yesterday, but I’ll try again.
    Jackie, I wrote a bunch of stuff upthread, so I can’t quite figure out which posts you disagree with. It should be pretty clear that I am a huge believer in cultural capital, which is much more valuable than cash. In fact, without significant cultural capital, cash is almost worthless. For evidence, see all those lottery winners, musicians, and athletes who blow through millions in a few years and then go through horrific IRS problems, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. On the other end, I’ve seen many examples of Eastern European immigrants who come to the US with almost nothing and work cruddy jobs (since their degrees are worth nothing here), but who are able to catapult their children into good colleges because of the cultural capital they bear. The transition to middle/upper-middle class only seems to take half a generation. (Asian immigrant families seem to follow a similar trajectory, but I’m more personally familiar with ex-Soviets and other Eastern Europeans.)
    My position is that cultural capital is extraordinarily valuable, and we should be trying to maximize the amount of it floating around our society. The million dollar question is what is this cultural capital, and how do you spread it around?

  28. Elizabeth Says:

    Sorry for being late to respond to some of the comments — between being violently ill, a crazy week at work, and a child’s birthday party, I haven’t had a minute to spare…
    I don’t think the quiz is terrible (certainly not compared to the “spoiled” version I looked at earlier), and my intent in posting wasn’t to tear it apart. Rather, I was also interested in how many comments it had gotten, especially negative comments, and wanted to explore why.

  29. amy Says:

    Eh, I can’t find the other thread on this subject at the mo, but I’ve realized what’s been missing from my life: Broadway musical soundtracks, and none of this Lion King nonsense, either. And I had an epiphany, while cleaning to _Kiss Me Kate_ — I now have the world’s best discipline tool. Every time the kid throws a fit, I put on a sultry:
    “Why can’t you behave…tell me, why can’t you behave?
    Why the hell should you be jealous
    When you know, baby, I’m your slaaaaave…
    I’m just mad for you, and I’ll always be….”
    hee hee hee. The diabolical mother with cultural capital.
    Actually we had a bit of a Wrong Turn with West Side Story last night — the girl wanted to know what Maria’s friend was talking about in “A Boy Like That”, and I gave her an expurgated version; then she found the liner notes and demanded I read them, for real, in kid language. So I obliged — kind of — and we got to the idea of rival groups, and how they keep people inside….
    And then (smacks forehead) I had the genius idea of telling her how her grandma and bubbe had wanted me to marry a Jewish man (her father, of course, is not one), but I loved who I loved. Within five minutes we had a devolution through the Quakerish “everyone should be friends everywhere and welcome everyone” lessons she’s been learning at school and daycare, and tears because her father no longer comes to synagogue and isn’t going to stay and be friends after he drops her off at Sunday School.
    Oy vey. Well, she’s no dummy, anyway. Lenny strikes again.

  30. dave.s. Says:

    William Weston used the exercise in his class: http://gruntledcenter.blogspot.com/2008/11/privilege-exercise-2008.html

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