Privilege is a funny thing to quantify. Those who hold it generally can’t see it, which is what makes it problematic. Privileged people are oblivious to the special treatment they receive — be it on the basis of race, gender, religion, or class — relative to others. That makes it next to impossible to address the inequality that the difference generates.
Those who have the self-awareness to see this inequality typically draw attention to that divide, and devote themselves to decreasing it. Their efforts have led to such equality movements as the French Revolution and the push for suffrage.
Yet even as non-royals gained power in the revolution’s aftermath, not everyone had the means to participate in the newfound political system. Although suffrage extended voting rights to women, there were still restrictions on who could cast a ballot.
Privilege comes from belonging to an “in” group that others don’t. Groups are created by the differences between people, and as long as there’s diversity, there will be those who belong to the “in” group and those who don’t.
This takes us to the popular “classroom analogy.” Yes, some live closer to the goals that mainstream culture sets up, but what about those who can’t make a shot at the garbage can at all? What about those whose experiences don’t fit into the categories you’ve created?
For instance, a couple of weeks ago, The Peak ran a privilege quiz on the back cover. To be able to sit comfortably with access to this sort of newspaper, fill out your quiz, and see answers that match your life experiences is itself a kind of privilege.
When you try to define privilege the way these quizzes do, and take it upon yourself to classify people into categories based on that, you have yourself taken advantage of the concept of privilege. Your understanding of the topic might be sound, but you unfortunately miss the very point of your argument. You’ve failed to check your own privilege.
I find the conviction and judgement present in the tone of many privilege quizzes disconcerting. As with conducting research or presenting an argument, one must acknowledge their bias; privilege is no different. If you wish to speak of privilege, it’s important that you have the self-awareness to speak to your own.
What’s also troubling is the tendency to speak of privilege as some original sin that people carry around, like it’s something you need to feel guilty about. In assigning numerical values to privilege, and telling people that they need to “check” themselves if they received a certain result, you’re not actually educating anyone about it. You’re just creating new “in” groups of people, forming judgments based on each other’s scores.
No one person has the same experiences, opportunities, and privileges as another, and having privilege doesn’t make you a good or bad person. There may be commonalities among people which can be used to organize them into groups, but no one person will ever have everything.
At the end of the day, it’s unreasonable to ask someone to “check” something that they cannot properly see. Yes, some can acknowledge their privileged position relative to others, and learn to be cognizant of and respond to the inequalities that cause strife in society. But you can never truly “check” privilege in a manner as simple as taking a quiz, because it’s too vast and diverse to be sufficiently categorized.
Suffice it to say, these quizzes are based on a privileged understanding of privilege.