Browsing through my news feed yesterday, I came across an interesting Buzzfeed quiz titled “How Privileged Are You? Check(list) Your Privilege.” While Buzzfeed is hardly known for professional research and validity, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give the quiz a shot.
I received a 42/100 with the label “Not Privileged.” I had to sit with this for a long time. What does that even mean, not privileged? I reflected on my answers for a while, and noted the areas in which the test would dock “privilege points.” Based on my reflection and highlighted experience, such points would be class, gender, sexual orientation identity, and religious oppression. The blanket statement of “Not Privileged” still didn’t settle well. Privilege is a massive umbrella with a number of factors stemming from it, right alongside of an equally massive umbrella of oppression with just as many factors imbedded as well. With that in mind, how can one determine who is privileged and who is not? Furthermore, what does that mean to the person taking the quiz?
Naturally with my terrible habit of reading the comments section, I saw outrage from all too many folks who received the result “Most Privileged” or simply “Privileged.” That term has become increasingly dirty over the past decade or so, and in many ways has created a sense of an enemy.
As opposed to sharing in the vitriol, I choose to look at those results in another way. Rather than being outraged that one would label you “Privileged,” why not view it as an opportunity to better understand your life experience? Furthermore, view it as a means of gratitude that you were so blessed to have lived with these privileges, and open a healthy discussion on the differences of your experience to another?
As a white woman, I know that I will never have the experience of facing oppression based on my race and skin color. While I can read all the articles accessible to me about the oppression of race, I will never know that experience firsthand. I realize that in terms of my privilege, I am lucky to never experience that suffering first hand. I also have the privilege of having both of my parents in my life, happily married. I graduated high school, went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and currently have the benefit of attending graduate school. I can recognize that these are areas of my privilege, and that far too many people in this world are not so lucky to have those opportunities. Just as I can recognize the areas of privilege in my life, I am aware of the areas in which I have experienced oppression. My gender has frequently been something that I have been harassed for, and perceived as an object rather than a human being. My sexual identity and choice of partners left me subject to insults, threats, spit in my face, and bottles tossed at me. Furthermore my spiritual beliefs have been mocked and used as a means to demean me. Class has been a consistent struggle, and I experienced severe bullying as a child and even through adulthood for my socio-economic status. With all of these factors and experiences under my belt, it is my belief that I am neither a “privileged” person, nor a “non privileged” person. I am a human being with experiences in both.
My undergraduate training was in Holistic Psychology, educating and influencing a humanistic and holistic perspective towards lived experiences and the therapeutic process. This perspective has become a lifestyle for me, and I view most everything through that lens. When considering a more holistic approach to the constructs of privilege and oppression, it is my understanding that suffering is not a pissing contest. There is no scale or chart to define one’s experiences. The privileges of one person vary from the privileges of another, just as one’s experiences with oppression vary from another’s. There is no price tag on suffering. Pain may present itself differently in each person, but it doesn’t mean that the lived experience is somehow less than or greater than another’s.
Consider Elizabeth Lesser’s Ted Talk, “Take ‘The Other’ To Lunch.” In this video, Lesser explores our human nature and encourages us to open up kind an honest dialogue by going to lunch with someone who does not agree with you (or in many ways, someone who’s experiences appear to be opposite of yours). In a civil manner, asking each other three core questions to illustrate what is truly in one another’s hearts is an excellent way to begin bridging the gap of understanding each other’s lived experiences.
Imagine what could happen if the feminist and the misogynist could have an open dialogue about where each other is coming from. Imagine the possibilities if a person with racial discriminatory views could speak with a person of color. Imagine if a person of wealth could speak with a person living in poverty. If we chose to allow another to share their story, and at least made the attempt to understand their experience, what are the chances that we could view the “other” in a different light? If we chose to use empathy towards each other’s pain, towards each other’s joy, do you think we might be less inclined to attack each other with such vitriol?
I understand that there are many who do not share in this approach, and that is completely understandable. I am by no means trying to force my perspective on anyone. My intention is simply to ask that you try it out, and see what you find.
- written by Meaghan Lis