January 08, 2008

Privileged...?

Awhile back, some of us had a conversation about class in YA lit. And then e.lockhart posted a quiz about privilege and I read Liz's response to it just the other day.

I skimmed through all 31 question, and the quiz didn't hold many surprises. I didn't grow up particularly privileged, to my mind. The only 'original artwork' we had in our home was what we drew or painted and put on the fridge. Our parents didn't buy us cars, we didn't stay in hotels or fly anywhere. Some of the questions, though, are less about the amount of money and more about class. The question about the number of books in your home when you were a child made me wonder, is that privilege, really? In this day of libraries both public and private, bookmobiles and the like, doesn't every teen, at least, who really want books have access to them? Another question was having someone read to you -- does that denote privilege or literacy? Are the questions defining privilege in terms of literacy?

On one hand, it's good that the upwardly-mobile escalator isn't broken in most ways, but on the other, is a hand-me-down car, as is listed in question 21, something that means you're underprivileged? I didn't have a car until I graduated from college and bought one! Using public transportation is then classified as something for the underprivileged, despite the fact that if more people used it, both the privileged and the less so would be much better off. How bizarre what comes across as privilege.

Ignoring things like immigration status or family size/type, urban or suburban or rural settings, race, sexual orientation, or physical handicaps (there are studies that clearly show that people who carry something as innocuous as extra weight have distinct disadvantages) leaves this quiz less helpful than it could have been. Though it's inaccurate in terms of living, breathing people, in terms of characters in novels I read or write, I think it can be fairly telling. Are the characters you're writing always the three W's: White, Wispy (skinny) and Wealthy? Does your writing reflect reality or wish fulfillment? Does wish fulfillment always satisfy the reader?

I often think of this question when I read novels that name drop labels and brands. Does that say more about the author or the character? Hm. I haven't decided yet.


Now that the Cybils are over, many of us have tons of books and have to begin the task of digging ourselves out from beneath them. People, please don't forget your local juvenile hall. Check with your local branch or public library for information about kids in lockdown and the books they can use. Deborah Davis at Two Black Cats and a Cup of Tea has California and Seattle donation information. It's my privilege to pass along the books I've enjoyed to libraries and lockdowns. Things like THIS are what makes the difference between privileged and underprivileged...


Finally, the story of Diego Palacios made me smile. Monday morning, he glued himself to his bed. He figured gluing himself to the bed would mean he didn't have to go to school.

His mother, the paramedics and his teacher thought otherwise.

Poor Diego. Good try, though.

11 comments:

Tricia said...

I am laughing out loud (all alone in my office) about Diego, the poor thing. I'm sending this to all the teachers I know. Kids are so creative!

Thanks for sharing.

Colleen said...

I didn't take that silly quiz but I've seen it all over the place and it is driving me nuts. We had books because we went to the library every week and also because my parents got Reader's Digest Condensed books. Does that make us rich? And staying in hotels - well, a few times when I was older we stayed overnight at hotels. It was always Days Inn - always. And my father never paid more than $30 for a room (and we all fit in one room).

I just don't think the quiz reveals what it is aiming for. So annoying.

Sara said...

It's funny. My dad was a doctor---a surgeon, no less---but we grew up with the ethic that less was more. I rode a bus the entire four years of high school and a bike the first two years of college. My books came from the library. I never, ever owned a designer anything, nor did I even know what those coveted things were, because we didn't have a TV until I was 8 or so, and then I wasn't allowed to watch it.

I have no doubt that my father's income put me into the privileged class, and kept me living in a safe neighborhood, and gave me access to things like the glasses and health care I needed, but I think attitude matters way more than anything.

Thanks for the laugh about Diego. Poor boy. Poor mom.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Regarding that quiz: We had original art on our walls, but then, two of my grandfathers and one of my grandmothers were painters. What I think the reading and book questions have to do with are middle-class values focusing on education. We were in one of the lower-middle class brackets, and the attitude was that you could lose your possessions but you would always have your education. There were no extra tvs, cars, cell-phones (we didn't have them back then, and I seriously doubt I would have had one as a teen), but my parents stretched funds so I could have piano and ballet lessons and there were plenty of books in the house. Despite the lack of money at times, we were rich beyond compare.:)

a. fortis said...

You're right, this is an interesting quiz in terms of what it reveals about the quiz-writer's definition of privilege. According to the quiz, I grew up fairly privileged, but I don't think of my family as having been anything other than middle-class by any means. I felt very lucky in certain respects--my parents loved me, and they went out of their way to create as many opportunities for me--and us--given their means at any particular time. Like E. Lockhart, that meant lots of road trip vacations (and lots of Motel 6 stays)--plus a few big plane journeys. I owned some books, but we went to the library all the time.

The weird thing is, when I compare even my lifestyle now--wanna-be upper-middle-class, I suppose--to those in higher income brackets, it's obvious that there is a lot more variation in the privilege spectrum than this quiz implies. And whenever I travel, it reminds me of how well off even the underprivileged in this country are compared to the standard of living in many other countries, even many Western ones...

Anonymous said...

I saw that quiz, too, and if nothing else, at least it made me think. Which is perhaps its main purpose.

I grew up lower-middle-class by US standards, which means I was very well off by world standards. Some of the measures listed in the quiz are a bit strange, however--4 questions alone about whether your parents attended and finished college. My mother got an Associate's Degree at midlife; my father worked his way through college (took him 8 years of night school). How would that compare to a Harvard legacy?

Another strange question was something about whether "people like me are portrayed positively in the media." What does that mean? Should I go by race, sex, age, weight, physical attractiveness--many of which lead to different conclusions?

But like I said, food for thought, at least.

a. fortis said...

I thought that was an odd question, too (the media one). It actually made me realize how rarely people "like me" (exactly like me, anyway) are portrayed in media at all.

And yes--the circumstances and timing of one's college education can reflect drastically different backgrounds.

SevenImpossible said...

Must go see this quiz. Thanks for the link.

And the laugh over Diego. Oh my.

Jules, 7-Imp

Camille said...

I love your ponder, "having someone read to you -- does that denote privilege or literacy?"

My dad often recited this well known poem:

You may have tangible wealth untold:
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.
from “The Reading Mother” by Strickland Gillilan

rockinlibrarian said...

More about "what constitutes privilege?" -- my husband went to a private high school for dyslexic boys-- his parents scrounged up money to send him because they knew he couldn't get a proper education in a public school "Special Needs" classroom that lumped all Special Needs together. Most of his classmates, though, were very wealthy. But when care packages came, the rich kids all got wads of money, and my husband got homemade chocolate chip cookies. And THEN who was the one everyone ELSE envied?

a. fortis said...

What a great story! Now that is what I like to hear.