Saturday, April 25, 2009


There's a privileges meme doing the rounds at the moment (here, here, here, here). My answers are below, but first a few random thoughts. I believe the point of the exercise is to let yourself see how privileged you are, but what it brought to my mind is how relative the idea of privilege is. I don't mean the "children in Third World countries would love to eat your broccoli" idea, but how my idea of privilege/class changed according to my surroundings.

I am the oldest of four children. Growing up, we never had a lot of spare money, but we never starved either (though I remember more than a few weeks when Mum would say "toast for dinner, I don't get paid until tomorrow"). I guess we were lower middle class. When I was at primary school, many of my classmates were from housing commission areas. As such, I considered myself quite privileged. Looking back, I'm not exactly sure what the differences I saw were, but I definitely felt lucky.

When I got to high school, I think we fit the class demographic very well. I was 'average' and so ideas of class never came up. I do remember feeling very lucky to still have two parents though, since practically all my friends' parents were separated.

Going to university was the first time I really felt a strong class difference. In the land far, far away, you don't have to be rich to go to university so that wasn't the factor. The tuition fees are quite low compared to the US, and you can defer paying them until you start working, when they are paid like an extra tax, relative to your income. My problem was that I decided I wanted to live in a residential college (think Harry Potter style dining hall) and so I managed to get scholarships, bursaries and part-time jobs to cover the fees that my parents could never have paid. Now, I just had romantic ideas of living in an ivy-covered castle, I never considered what sort of people lived there. Suddenly I was thrown in with kids from real private schools, often boarding schools. Kids who were used to an 8pm dinner (not tea) with a glass of wine. Kids who said "Just get your parents to buy a new one" as I stressed over my old computer I had taken out a $1000 loan to buy 3 years ago. Kids whose maids had sewn name tags on their clothes. Kids who had no idea of the value of money. And I am using kids here quite deliberately - for people my own age, they were incredibly sheltered. That was the first time I realised that the common idea in our country of 'classless society' only holds because most people don't associate with people outside their 'class'. It is not necessarily a limiting difference, but there are differences. (My family thought I spoke 'posh' the first time I came home from college.)

So, over my life from 5 to 23, I have been the upper class, the standard class and the lower class, and yet, our actual situation never changed. Is privilege always a function of comparison with your peers? I realise all the above relates to class rather than privilege directly, but that's how the questions seem to be directed.

As a matter of fact, I feel very privileged. My parents encourage me in everything I do (even when they don't understand it) and were always interested in my education (though they think I've had enough now and it is time I left school). I have wonderful friends and mentors scattered all over the world and I get paid to do something I love. Everyone should be this happy.

The questions:

The items that apply to me are BOLD

1. Father went to college

2. Father finished college

3. Mother went to college

4. Mother finished college - I'm not sure what college means here. Mum has some tertiary education, since she taught primary school, but it is not the equivalent of a university degree and she couldn't teach now without upgrading her qualifications.

5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor

6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers - probably the same, but I'm not sure

7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home

8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home - We used to buy boxes of books at garage sales and no one in my family can walk past a second hand book shop without at least sticking their head in. We didn't have many new books, although that was the most common birthday present for me and to a slightly lesser extent my brother and sisters.

9. Were read children’s books by a parent - they say so. I don't remember, but then I was reading to myself before I hit 3 year old kinder so they must have taught me.

10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 - We were all allowed one extracurricular activity. I tried dancing, singing and acting before I joined and stuck with scouts. Tomboy is a better description for me than graceful or musical :)

11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18 - yes, just not at the same time (see above)

12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively - I guess. My sisters abhor my (lack of) fashion sense, but I am assuming this question concerns race?

13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18

14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs

15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs

16. Went to a private high school - I went to a Catholic school, not government, since the religious aspect was important to my parents. We were not considered a private school by the 'real' private schools though. I'm not sure how they defined the difference - though I'm sure they had some sort of justification for charging 15 times as much in fees.

17. Went to summer camp

18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18

19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels - most family vacations involved long road trips, cramming 6 people into 4 person cabins at caravan parks on the way. We might have stayed in motels on Our Big Adventure? (see #30)

20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18 - most being the oldest child, but school uniforms were usually second hand.

21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them - my first car was older than I was - and my parents paid half (of $1000) as my 18th b'day present.

22. There was original art in your house when you were a child

23. You and your family lived in a single family house

24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home - they are still paying the mortgage, 13 years after I left.

25. You had your own room as a child. - once my parents decided I was too old to share with my brother

26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18

27. Participated in a college entrance exam (eg. SAT/ACT) prep course

28. Had your own TV in your room

29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College

30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16 - my mother had her heart set on one big family holiday together, before I was too old to take time out of school (when it was cheaper to travel), so they took out an extra mortgage and my one commercial flight before 16 (well, two counting the return) was over 10 hours - to Disneyland!

31. Went on a cruise with your family

32. Went on more than one cruise with your family

33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up. - Dad loves museums - tram museums, steam museums, science museums. I don't think I ever went to an art gallery though

34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family. - as the oldest child I was mum and dad's confidante and was well aware of our family finances from quite a young age. (Edited because yes, I read that one backwards.)

From "What Privileges Do You Have?", based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you please acknowledge their copyright.


  1. I think there have been studies done to show that people who are slightly better off than their neighbors are happier than those who are slightly less off than their neighbors, even if they are the same, asset-wise. So I guess it is normal to compare yourself to others.

    I have experiences similar lurches through levels of privilege depending on where I was (though our status has changed somewhat over my life), but I was definitely shocked when I went to college and found people who would feel sorry for you if you didn't say "Italy" or "Monaco" when you asked where you were going for Spring Break.

    An another note, I think you have the last one backwards? (UNaware of heating bills...)

  2. Oops, yes, you're right. Fixed.

    You know, Europe was so far away from us that even the rich kids didn't generally get that far. It was a fairytale land. Funny to think I am now living there :) (I was envious of their slightly closer overseas holidays though.)

  3. I've read maybe the same thing PhizzleDizzle read, and the take-home message to me was that poverty is all relative. It doesn't matter what you actually have, it's really all about how you're doing relative to those around you. If you think about it, in most ways even the poorest people in first-world countries are better off than the richest people in the medieval times, but they're not happy because relative to what everyone else around them has, they're poor.