The Politics of Access

Jose 12 Comments

So High Only Dogs Can Hear Me

All the popular blogs are doing it.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. Father went to college.
2. Father finished college.
3. Mother went to college. (for 1 class)
4. Mother finished college.
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
9. Were read children’s books by a parent.
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 assuming that sport counts.
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18 assuming that sport counts.
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
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
17. Went to summer camp (requirement for the middle school I went to)
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18
9. Family vacations involved staying at hotels. Much less than 50% of the time.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
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.
25. You had your own room as a child. I got the guest room in my teens when we didn’t have guests.
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course. (all free)
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16. (Dominican Republic, Miami)
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.
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

I actually did a Google search to get the original exercise, and I laughed really hard, because post after post had most of these lines emboldened or underlined, and I’m here with about 6 lines in bold. And as I graduated junior high school, a predominantly Latino school, I never knew I’d be inundated with products of such privilege. Maybe it’s the idealist in me, but I thought that having this kind of privilege would make it easier for some of my classmates to become more benevolent, especially since they had less worries economically and got a head start on much of the material we studied in our four years.

Unfortunately, that not only proved false, but it’s one of the many factors that played into my antagonism towards some of my classmates. They were so comfortable with their privileges, they more readily demeaned others who couldn’t / wouldn’t get certain items. And naturally, it only got worse in Syracuse, where stories about massive car wrecks only made me and my friends roll our eyes after the person who caused the accident would say “I’ll just get a new one from my Daddy in a couple of weeks. No big deal.” And when you have “Juicy” sprawled across your ass, it’s a really easy life … really.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t had a lot of luck in my own right. I went to a poor but well-managed public school, a good middle school with small class sizes, and a private high school with its share of good resources. I had a lot of opportunities that most people in my demographic didn’t get, nor even realized they could. I’m a product of these fortunate events, and I’m happy I got what I got.

In this country, there’s this politics of access. Those to the right of the issue say that everyone has access so long as they try their hardest. They’re the ones that usually ask “Why don’t these people work hard to attain what the rest of us have?” Those to the left of the issue are the ones usually asking “Why doesn’t everyone have the same access to these privileges?” I find myself to the left, since the politics of the left demands a lot of deep digging, and deflecting the images posted in front of us about the grandness of this empire. Underneath it all, there’s no equity, and underneath it all, we don’t do enough to reinterpret successful tips for the underprivileged in this country (and in dirty not-so-secret secret news: in order to have rich people, there must be poor, and thus with all the very rich people there are many destitute areas all over this country.)

You can give people access to museums for free (NYC does it), but will they have the proper education or historical background to understand what they’re observing at the museum, even with the little notes telling them what the artifacts and painting represent?

You can have free opera showings and Caucasian-centric musicals for the masses, but do you risk telling other cultures theirs is not good enough to be considered “cultured”?

You can give as much financial aid to some of your less privileged but promising students so they can attend your institution, but are we preparing the population who got in through a trust fund or as a legacy for the culture shock as well?

Because if not, access is simply a way of telling people “See, we did something” knowing that it would do nothing to ameliorate the problem, quasi-placating the critics and thrusting the responsibility on the victim.

I’m even aiming this at well-to-do Blacks and Latinos, many of whom forget from whence they came, but that’s another post altogether. The politics of access demands that some people have it and some many don’t, because if it’s something everyone has, it’s not that special and hence not a privilege. Yet, those who already get the privilege consider it a right of birth, and don’t know what to do with themselves when they lose those “rights.”

I suppose that’s the irony of not having anything; having something above anything is considered a privilege, and when you have nothing to lose, there’s nowhere else to go but up.  Right?

jose, who wants to know how to get  1/2 a million without the FBI catching feelings …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Jose VilsonThe Politics of Access

Comments 12

  1. Jonathan

    20 of these. I’d consider the other 14 to be signs of privilege… You said it, it’s whatever the next guy has…

    Tongue out of cheek, I’m not sure that 7,8,9 and 33 belong in the same category as the others.

  2. Taylor

    “deflecting the images posted in front of us about the grandness of this empire.”

    great line.

    regarding this one: “You can give as much financial aid to some of your less privileged but promising students so they can attend your institution, but are we preparing the population who got in through a trust fund or as a legacy for the culture shock as well?”

    What would you suggest?

  3. Mes Deux Cents

    Hi Jose,

    I’ve seen this on several blogs and every time I see it I think the same thing.

    By whose measure do we measure privilege? What does it mean if we went to summer camp? Are these things considered privilege in non-White communities?

    Someone on another blog mentioned that she was a member of Jack and Jill as a child, which is an exclusive organization for the children of Black families who have a history of success.

    She said that she did not consider that privilege because it would not help her in the world at -large.

    Of course I disagreed with her assessment because there are thousands of former Jack and Jill members in all sorts of positions of influence out in the world.

    My point is that why do we judge our privilege by other peoples standards? It’s another form of cultural supremacy.

    I don’t buy into this exercise at all.

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    Jose

    Jonathan, I definitely see what you mean. I know of people who have these “privileges” these days that still wouldn’t consider themselves privileged, but resourceful.

    Taylor, I’m still conflicted about that, to be honest. I’m not sure if we can require a multicultural class or an racial ethics class, and we’ll ever have the right people teaching those classes. It’s hard to require people to open their minds, but I also know that there’s been success doing so if it’s done indirectly, letting them discover the answer. I’ll get back to you on that one.

    MDC, I think this exercise has its pitfalls as much as the next exercise. Even one of the test creators acknowledges as much, stating that they just wanted to write down some social indicators of privilege. Strictly speaking, privilege is an extremely relative term, and as such, necessitates that we compare groups of people with other groups of people. (you can’t have privilege without other people having more or less than you). The exercise is far from perfect: questions about home life don’t show up and neither do questions about financial stability. Nonetheless, it serves its purpose as a conversation starter and these items do tend to show up time and again in successful families.

    Frum, you’re welcome …

  5. pissedoffteacher

    You beat me, I only can highlight 5, but I consider myself privilged. My parents were loving and supportive. They brought us to museums, the zoo, botanical gardens, etc all the time. They read to us and helped us with homework (when they could.)

    We didn’t have much money. We lived in the projects in the Bronx. I weny yo a big, inner city high school and got my college degree from CCNY. Privilege is what you make it.

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    Jose

    Alisha, probably. But again, it’s just an exercise, and a good convo starter.

    pissedoffteacher, that’s what I mean. I think the exercise is good for helping one reflect on how much privilege you may or may not have.

  7. Annmary

    You’ve pinpointed the irony of privilege. Even though I can’t underline or bold more than seven of those sentences, I must say that I am privileged in my own mind because my mama raised me with a good work ethic and an appreciation for everything I have. These are the lessons in life that usually don’t come with having things handed on a silver platter.

    Not to go back to teaching, but hey, that’s all I really know. I would always notice the “better off” children (the ones who bring their own gourmet organic lunches to school) were more prone to tantrums when things did not go their way. Meanwhile, my kids (the ones with special needs) would seem very content when I reward them with a sticker or when I read their favorite story during lunchtime.

    I think most of those privileges (as displayed by the list) occurs before 16, and most children who are blessed with them believe it is their right to be entitled to them and/or that it is the norm to have those items in their lives. There is nothing wrong with having those privileges – I intend for my son to have the best of the best, but of course, with those gifts in life, there have to be lessons of hardwork, persistence, and appreciation.

  8. El Viajero

    Ever heard the saying “Life isn’t fair”?

    Think it was just coined yesterday?

    This notion that all-of-a-sudden life should be fair and there’s some terrible wrong being portrayed if it’s not is ridiculous.

    What you are owed is an opportunity to do as good as you can and to provide for your family and even your scions as much as you can. Your job is to compete for priviledge. If you don’t have as much as the next guy or the next family, take a look and see what they and their family did that gave them this priviledge and emulate it.

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