Monday, January 25, 2021

Real Deal Q & A: Roni’s Late Privilege Response.

August 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Fat Acceptance

Finally! I’m so sorry I’m late with this guys (if you don’t know I’m talking about click here for the original Q&A post I’m referring to.). I had some personal business to take care of the last few weeks.

When I was in college one of my favorite classes was a special topics Cultural Diversity course. I went to a small school in the middle of Pennsylvania and although the University was more diverse then my home town it was far from providing a true higher education multicultural learning experience.

Always being interested in and never fully understanding the racial divide I excitedly signed up for this Cultural Diversity course my senior year.  One of the first activities we did revolved around privilege.

The professor (who was awesome I might add) made everyone line up horizontally outside on the grass. He then proceeded to ask us a series of questions. Depending on your individual yes/no response you were to take a step (or multiple steps depending on the question) forward or backwards.

I don’t remember all the questions and the number of steps that were associated with them but it went something like this…

Are you a man?

Nope.. I took a step back.

Are you white?

Yup.. I took a step forward.

Was personal safety a concern growing up?

Nope… I took a step forward.

Books readily available in the home?

Yup… I took a step forward

Referred to as Special Ed?

Yup… I took a step back.

Both parents high school graduates?

Nope… I took a step back.

Parents go to college?

Nope… I took a step back.

Parents divorced?

Yup… I took a step back.

Anyone in your family serve time in jail?

Yup… I took a step back.

I think you get the idea. By the end of the activity everyone who initially started in the horizontal line where now scattered. Some way forward and some waaaay back with a majority of folks somewhere scattered around the middle. It was an eye opening experience and I remember thinking how amazing it was that we (the class) all had severely different upbringings and experience yet were all here taking this course at a State University.

Now I don’t remember if there was a weight related question but if there wasn’t there should have be. No doubt the way people perceive weight and different body sizes affect individuals in a way “average” size people don’t need to worry. The same way a person without a disability will never fully understand how it feels to live with one or how a man will never understand how it feels to be a women, some one who is skinny will never understand how it feels to be treated differently because you are fat.

Doing that exercise in college helped me realize that everyone has their own battles and struggles, advantages and disadvantages. Some privileges are immediately visible (color of skin, weight, certain disabilities) while others are not (single parent home, parents education level, etc.) Personally, I’m finally (in my 30s I may add) overcoming my own personal disadvantages in life while acknowledging my privilege without feeling guilty. It’s quite a journey and I’m still learning, growing and meeting people (many commenters on this blog included) have helped.

Great question guys. You’ve given me tons to think about.



22 Responses to “Real Deal Q & A: Roni’s Late Privilege Response.”
  1. twistsis says:

    Roni, I love this post!

    I agree that every body has their own battles and unless you have gone through it yourself you simply cannot understand what that person is going through. people look at me differently because of my weight, some purely look at me bcause I am the weight they may want to be themselves or because they think I look terrible but they cannot understand what it is like for me to be this weight or how I feel about it unless they have gone through it themselves.

    In some ways I am privileged and in some ways im not, isnt this the same for everyone? I thought it was but I could be wrong, chances are…. I am! ha x


  2. crazylady says:

    ok this is my first comment on this site as to be honest up to this I’ve found the commenting on many postings a bit intimidating. Needless to say that’s probably more about me (can’t cope with confrontation!) than anyone else!

    I was and still am pretty clueless about the idea of Privilege. From the little bit of reading I’ve done so far, here and on other blogs, I think that seems to suggest that I am privileged though I do like twisterSISTERs response above think that everyone is probably privileged in some ways and not in others.

    Anyway I guess I just want to say that I think this post has helped me get a better picture on the topic but I know I have plenty more reading and learning to do!!

  3. Candice says:

    Great post! I’m still learning, too, and I love the idea of that exercise. I think the realization and understanding that *everyone* has their own battles and struggles is so important and useful.

  4. tom brokaw says:

    Hey but did he say – “You’re a worthless pseudo intellectual and ersatz academic who gets paid to teach cultural diversity in a U.S. institution:

    Take 38 steps forward.”

  5. clairemysko says:

    Hi Roni,
    The example of that exercise is so interesting because it hits on a point that has come up a lot in the other threads. When you have privilege, it is easy to be blind to it. So the act of physically stepping forward and backward and looking around you nails the idea that examining privilege needs to be active.

    You mentioned that you are at a place where you can acknowledge your privilege without feeling guilty. I would love for you (and others) to talk more about how you got there.

    From what I’ve experienced, discussions about privilege can become painful when people feel as though their individual battles and struggles will somehow be erased or minimized in the process, and so the conversation immediately turns to a defense of those life experiences. That’s also why I think it’s much easier to jump right to the “everyone has certain advantages and disadvantages” argument. We’re all human, right? But if we skip the part where we actually have to look long and hard (and keep on looking) at the specific advantages we do have in life, we’re also missing out on the opportunity to bring about true change.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. missincognegro says:

    Yes. This is a classic exercise on privilege. However, we need to move beyond the exercise, and begin to dig deeper. Unfortunately, most White people, especially, never seem to get to the task of digging deeper.

  7. missincognegro says:

    “Is it fair to generalise about one section of society either though?, i.e. most White people. Though I do accept entirely that this is likely the case in many instances. Is this kind of generalisation not part of the issues too?”

    @ Crazy Lady No, I do not think it is a generalization. If the majority of White people actually did the deeper thinking around race, there would be fewer problems with race. Whites see race in a superficial way, as well as in extremes. They recognize Ku Klux Klan racism, but, not their own prejudices, bigotries and individual racism. The deeper thinking includes their own prejudices, bigotries and individual racism. Having lived my entire life in the company of White people, what I make is *not* a generalization.

    • ronisweigh says:

      I’m in a rush this morning but I had to reply real quick…

      “Having lived my entire life in the company of White people, what I make is *not* a generalization.”

      Yes that most certainly is a generalization. Didn’t you make an assumption about me because I’m white? Isn’t that what we want to avoid no matter your race? You are generalizing your thoughts and formed a conclusion about me before we have even met.

      For you information… I have thought hard about these issues before and after that exercise. I’ve had extensive conversations about it with my friends and family. I’ve even witnessed and spoke up on racial discrimination in my home town (watched while a white sales person followed a black shopper around it was RIDICULOUS) I was also part of groups on campus for racial and homosexual equality. I’m even estranged from family members because I do not agree with their views on race.

      I do agree with you but I’d like to phrase it like this…

      However, we need to move beyond the exercise, and begin to dig deeper. Unfortunately, most PEOPLE never seem to get to the task of digging deeper.

      …because I think you are right… a lot of us don’t dig deep enough.

      • missincognegro says:

        @ Roni Let me re-phrase my statement: I think that White people engaging in the deeper thinking on race is more the exception than the rule.

        White people, as a general rule, don’t get up thinking about, worrying about, and stressing about race. They don’t because they don’t have to. Their very safety and well-being doesn’t depend on it.

        Roni, I give you mad props, and apologize to you. Furthermore, what I think is hard for you to accept and to believe is that your life is more the exception than the rule. If it were the other way around, race relations would be far better in this country. If the gun-toting nut jobs at the health care reform rallies, and the racist vitriol being spewed on mainstream newspaper message boards aren’t enough of an indication, that is more reflective of how Whites feel than your experiences and behaviors, Roni.

        The fact that the majority of White people polled on race consistently register that things are good in comparison to people of color bears out what I am saying.

        What one doesn’t experience, one doesn’t see, and what one doesn’t see, it doesn’t exist.

  8. crazylady says:

    Is it fair to generalise about one section of society either though?, i.e. most White people. Though I do accept entirely that this is likely the case in many instances.

    Is this kind of generalisation not part of the issues too?

  9. Ashley says:

    This was a really great post. Thanks for sharing!

    The activity you talk about here sounds like something we should be doing with kids as young as junior high or high school, getting them to see that we all struggle with different issues with different things, but we’re all very similar in that way, too.

  10. KM says:

    These posts are all about how much the authors think they know about privilege, and how awesome they are for being magnanimously open-minded enough to acknowledge their privilege in a limited fashion. Like, “Look at me! I’m white, but I know I’m privileged, isn’t that nice of me to admit it?” I feel like you’re missing the entire point.

    What I would rather hear are REAL stories of when you realized your privilege and it hit you like a ton of bricks. For example, I used to work as a dropout prevention specialist at a middle school. Many of the other dropout prevention specialists in the district were black, in a mostly white city. Each meeting we had, they would talk about the issues they’d had surrounding their race, about the problems they had with the administration’s treatment of black kids. One time, a woman said a workshop we’d had on gangs was racist and I said, “Really? I didn’t notice the presenter saying anything racist.” She told me, “That’s because you have white privilege, and you don’t have to notice.” At the time, I felt mildly offended and judged. I thought they were all playing the race card. I thought they were really negative, that they complained too much.

    Fast forward a year, when I was in the middle of a master’s in social work program and we were reading tons and tons of articles about privilege. I realized how wrong I had been. I HAD been privileged. I was the white person who was floating along without any problems, judging other people for talking about the problems they encountered. I reasoned that if *I* didn’t encounter issues, why should they? They were just overreacting. How horribly, horribly wrong I was. I had the privilege of ignoring a problem that they had to encounter every single day. I wish I had asked questions and tried to really understand what it was like for them.

    This is an experience that I will always remember in regard to race and privilege, and one that taught me to remember that just because something doesn’t happen to me personally doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

    But guess what? I will be blinded by my own privilege again, and again. That is the nature of privilege. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I am invincible to privilege, that I am the master of understanding cultural diversity. No. I’m going to make mistakes, but as long as I admit them and try to understand what happened, I’ll be moving forward.

    Can any of the blog authors recall a time in which they were confronted with their own privilege, and not in a self-congratulatory way, please?

    • KM says:

      I shouldn’t say ALL of the posts on privilege were bad. Just most of them. I’m more than a little frustrated with the turn this blog is taking when it had such potential.

    • lissa10279 says:

      I am not sure if this is exactly what you’re looking for but my senior year of college, I was a leader during freshman orientation where we did service projects around DC.The project I led happened to be preparing an inner-city school for classes to begin in September.

      Til I walked into the school in one of the rougher parts of the city, I’d never realized just how privileged I was.

      I won’t even describe the outside… But each classroom had a moveable wall separating it (clearly this was to make space for bulging class sizes). The desks and chairs were dilapidated, and there were no computers or anything around — just a lot of out-dated toys and games. The playground was literally a concrete jungle. I couldn’t imagine a child feeling safe or secure here.

      But the wall was what struck me the most. When I asked the administrator about it, she said it was hardest in the pre-K and kindergarten classes, which were over-populated and cramped…the wall didn’t drown out any noise whatsoever. I couldn’t imagine how teachers–many of whom were from Teach for America — could focus with the noise in the other room (and all we were doing was cleaning!).

      I talked with my group afterwards about how they felt, and we were all pretty shaken. We knew schools like this are everywhere, but til you’re IN one and see how much work is needed to make children feel safe and secure–and realizing they still maybe won’t feel that way there — it was hard. No kids were at the school when we were there, but I am sure that would have only made it harder to see those sweet faces and want to do more to help, but feeling helpless at how monumental something like education really is.

      I’ll be honest, on the bus ride back to the privileged upper northwest corner of DC where American is situated, I couldn’t help but feel really sad for the kids who would call that school “home” for 6 hrs a day … but it did open my eyes and the following year as an intern at the National Education Association, I really understood more of the challenges teachers (esp. in inner cities) face and why having a lobbying group like the NEA is so important — to protect teachers’ rights, of course, but also to protect our children and give them a better future.

      I’m not sure if this was the type of example you wanted me to share, but that’s one.

      The other example of when it hit me how privileged I was would be my trip to Peru and Bolivia in 1999 — as well as living in El Salvador, where I saw poverty to which I could dedicate several posts to — but I’d end up going all political so I’ll save it for another time/another place.

      Point is, when we think of poverty or privilege here … it’s to the nth degree/extremes in the developing world.

      The impoverished here would survive ok there; it’s heart-breaking, actually just how bad it is. And actually that’s where I really experienced globalization first-hand, too …seeing villages without phone lines, but people carrying cell-phones.

      People starving, barefoot and naked … drinking Coke from a bottle.

      The disparity between rich and poor down there is also shocking … definitely wake-up calls and both times after living abroad I experienced “reverse culture shock” where it felt weird to do certain things — like go to a bank without an armed guard at the front, for example. More later–hubby’s hurrying me out the door!

  11. lissa10279 says:

    This is awesome, Roni — the exercise your prof had you do really hits home for so many of us. Thank you for sharing.

  12. MizFit says:

    this comment really resonated with me:

    White people, as a general rule, don’t get up thinking about, worrying about, and stressing about race. They don’t because they don’t have to. Their very safety and well-being doesn’t depend on it.

    For myriad reasons.
    I married into a family who is BEYOND giving & generous.
    they build hospitals all over the world and are providing healthcare to people who would NEVER have access to it—for FREE.

    that said, I consistently think about this n otion of priviledge when around them in that I DONT THINK that they, white americans who have never struggled financially, can put themselves in the place of the other.

    (please note I said THEY not that NO ONE CAN)

    They are beyond generous and yet each time we interact I think precisely what the commenter I quoted said:


    Im not sure.

    I can not say that I do.

    I remember however waking one morning when I was around 7 years old to find that someone had spraypainted the word KIKE on our garage.

    I remember my parents outside working to scrub it off.

    I remember asking them what it meant, learning about this notsonice term and realizing that SOMEONE WHERE I LIVED had decided to mark this on my home.

    I remember never feeling the same sense of community & safety always wondering who had done sprayed this on my house.

    A tiny glimpse into the feeling aware and unsafe?


    a glimpse none the less? DEFINITELY.

    (morning thoughts/reactions. hope this makes sense.)

  13. Riri says:

    Ugh, this is like the never ending apology. MamaV scewed up. She apologized. Let’s move on friends.

    • Tori says:

      I think you’re totally missing the point. And it’s too bad, because it could be a learning experience for you, if you would let it.

  14. alex says:

    No, I get the point. Not only has this dirty laundry been aired. It’s been washed, ironed and folded.

  15. ronisweigh says:

    Totally agree guys.. I didn’t mean to re-hash any of the drama but I made a commitment to reply to the Q&A so I did. Simple as that.

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