Sunday, February 10, 2008

Meme on Privilege: The Old, Tired "Class v. Race" Debate

One of the blogs that I saw this on posted this with the title 'Has Class Trumped Race?" Or something to that effect. This question and quiz, and the tired comment I got from a fundraising colleague a little while back, has prompted me to respond. (I got this from Claire Light's blog, by the way). I'll do the quiz / privilege exercise in a minute, but just need to get this whole class/race thing off my chest first with a few organized points. Call them my informal race v. class rebuttal points:

1. Yes, Class is just as important as Race
2. Big BUT, however, is that Class is often (obviously not always) based somewhat on Race
3. If you look at the proportion of people of color in this country who are poor, you will find that more people of color are poor as a percentage of their total population in the US than white people.
4. So then, which is 'more' important--class or race? I ask you, especially you middle- to upper-class white people and people of color who either feel guilty about your privelege or can't deal with the fact that you have it to examine the information annd to answer that question for yourselves.
5. My answer? Neither is more important, but class in this country is NOT separate from race a lot of the time. I'm not saying it's totally dependent on race, but I don't think you can have a progressive, let alone radical, discussion about shifting power or the economic/class system in this country if you don't talk about how racism impacts the economic opportunities of communities of color as well as encourages poor white people to work AGAINST their own self-interests.
6. And to my white 'allies' out there who insist that Class is 'the real issue' and not 'Race', I ask you to really look at yourselves, and to check your shit and start actually listening to people of color and what we have to offer in this conversation instead of talking to us and trying to tell us what to do.
7. There, I got it off my chest. Now for the privilege quiz! (The 'bolded' items are the things that apply to me; I guess the more bolded items you have, the more privilege you have. The questions in terms of range and topic are interesting--e.g. the 'heating bill' question I thought was really good. Try it yourself!)

When you were in college:
If your father went to college.
If your father finished college
If your mother went to college
If your mother finished college
If you have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
If you were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
If you had a computer at home
If you had your own computer at home
If you had more than 50 books at home (counting Encyclopedia Brittanica, right?)
If you had more than 500 books at home
If were read children’s books by a parent
If you ever had lessons of any kind
If you had more than two kinds of lessons
If the people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
If you had a credit card with your name on it
If you have less than $5000 in student loans
If you have no student loans
If you went to a private high school
If you went to summer camp
If you had a private tutor
If you have been to Europe
If your family vacations involved staying at hotels
If all of your clothing has been new and bought at the mall
If your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
If there was original art in your house
If you had a phone in your room
If you lived in a single family house
If your parent own their own house or apartment
If you had your own room
If you participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
If you had your own cell phone in High School
If you had your own TV in your room in High School
If you opened a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
If you have ever flown anywhere on a commercial airline
If you ever went on a cruise with your family
If your parents took you to museums and art galleries
If you were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

I have to say, doing this kind of depresses me, because it brings me back to my high school and college days when I had friends (partially because I went to private school with kids that were richer than me, although because of scholarships--which I didn't have in high school--I also went to high school and college with kids that were much poorer than my family was) who actually got to go to Europe on their parents' dime or take really cool unpaid internships while I worked at Macy's all summer or who got to go on family vacation and shit and I didn't get to do much of that stuff at all. I know that I still have a lot more privilege than many people in this country and most people in this world--especially since I'm college-educated--but I also know there are a lot more people out there who have WAY more privilege than I do and who just take it for granted, and are also WAY less aware of their privilege than I am. Kinda depressing, but then again it's all about how you look at it. I have to say that the time in my life when I was 'poorest' economically also happened to be when I was happiest as a child, and the people in my life that are the most 'working class' are probably the most easy people to get along with for me. It's all relative I guess.


Latoya Peterson said...

6. And to my white 'allies' out there who insist that Class is 'the real issue' and not 'Race', I ask you to really look at yourselves, and to check your shit and start actually listening to people of color and what we have to offer in this conversation instead of talking to us and trying to tell us what to do.

And this is the exact reason that I decided to do a five part series on this question. The answer is blatantly obvious to almost all POCs, and yet I still find myself in the same tired ass conversations.

Hope you decide to come over to Racialicious and participate...

Efren said...

I read this, and I thought, "Yes, this is extremely obvious." And yet, people don't get it?

And that's one of the reasons why it's going to be interesting being a UCSF student, surrounded by (mostly) privileged apolitical Asian folk ...again! *sigh*

Anonymous said...


I don't know how to even begin talking about class in the US without centering on race. When you're right, you're right.

Apologies for taking so long to respond to this. The silence of the white people who love you on this one (myself included) has been a bit deafening. Were you worried that all the white folks who read your blog disagree with you but were afraid to show up out loud being un-PC. Or maybe worried that it wasn't appropriate to publicly claim the "white person with a clue" label in public. I'll admit to not being sure about that one but I was hoping someone else would take that space and absent that... Hopefully, some folks have sent you messages off-blog.

So that's the main thing I wanted to say: that I agree with you on what you put out as your main point.

I'm not sure if I should stop here or raise some questions that came up for me around some of the specific secondary examples you used. Maybe more later...

Comradely regards,