A few days ago I did the Privilege meme, devised by PhD students at Illinois State University as way to get people thinking and talking about privilege as a way to think and talk about class. The model is US-centric, which I found doing it, as a couple of questions weren’t relevant to me or the education system I came from. I did it out of interest anyway, but came away with a sense of unease that it hadn’t begun to reflect the privileges I grew up with in apartheid South Africa. Mandarine noticed this and commented:
This is sobering indeed. Especially when I consider that I used to believe South African whites were all spoilt kids, but that I score much higher (25/34) than you (18/34) on this ‘test’.
Actually Mandarine, white South Africans were all spoilt kids. I’ve devised some additional questions to the meme, which do reveal the level of our privilege.
Bold the true statements. You can explain further if you wish.
1. You had live-in domestic help when growing up.
Until my parents were divorced and then we had a domestic worker who came Monday to Friday. She bussed into the city from an outlying township.
2. That help was expected to clean house and take care of small children simultaneously.
Absolutely. I was strapped on the back of my nanny while she swept and cleaned.
3. You had two domestic workers: someone to clean the house and someone whose sole responsibility was child-care.
4. There was additional part-time domestic help in your home: someone to assist with domestic chores such as ironing or someone to garden.
Yes, a gardener came a couple of days a week.
5. You were not expected to take responsibility for any domestic chores.
I learnt how to cook and how to operate a washing machine at university. I was not expected to do any chores at home, though I did help my mother clear the dishes in the evenings when our domestic worker had gone home.
6. Your schooling received more government funding than the schooling of others.
7. Your tertiary education received more government funding than the schooling of others.
8. The training of your teachers and professors received more government funding than the teacher training of others.
9. Your schools had better facilities than the schools of others.
10. You lived in suburbs with running water, electricity, large houses and big gardens; suburbs where others were forbidden by law from living.
11. On leaving school or university, you were more likely to be hired for the job of your choice than others.
12. You presumed you would enter a profession on leaving university; blue-collar work was never an option for you.
I began working in 1992, and in 1994 the new government started its affirmative action programme for people who were previously disadvantaged. Had I stayed in South Africa, I would probably have had to work for myself or start my own company as most of my friends have done. Luckily, their privileged education means they have the tools and the wherewithal to do this.
13. You or your parents did not have to travel long distances to work because your suburb was near the city centre.
14. You did not have to travel long distances to school because there were many schools in your suburb.
15. You routinely went on holiday to the beach or the game reserve.
16. Your parents or friends’ parents routinely had overseas holidays.
In apartheid South Africa, privilege was bound up less with class than with race. It’s become more class-related now, as a black professional middle-class that enjoys many of the above privileges grows. However, as a product of apartheid, I have to acknowledge that I was unfairly privileged above others on the superficial basis of my skin.