How Privileged Are You?

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Privilege in society comes in many forms. My own privilege as a white person was illustrated powerfully to me when I participated in a Dance of Racial Reconciliation (DORR) workshop sponsored by the CRC’s Office of Race Relations. They had all participants stand in one line against a wall, then the facilitator began reading a series of statements such as “I see people of my ethnicity pictured in the newspaper regularly,” and “I have never been bullied because of my ethnicity.” When each participant heard a statement that was true for him or her, he or she was to take one step forward. After a number of statements were read, we who were white had considerable distance separating us from our brothers and sisters who were of other ethnicities.

A couple years ago, a colleague of mine, Mariano Avila, introduced me to the Power Flower. It’s an exercise that groups can use to understand the level of privilege of individual members. The Power Flower looks at ethnicity as one among many ways that people receive privilege.

The basic idea of the Power Flower is that we humans separate one another in a variety of ways including ethnicity, social class, gender, first language, disability, sexual identity, and many more. Not only do we make these distinctions, but we give greater privilege to some people based on these distinctions. For example, society tends to give much more privilege to a white, middle income, non-disabled, male who graduated from college and speaks English with a local accent verses a Latina, lower income, female who uses a wheelchair, speaks English with a Spanish accent, and did not complete high school.

I found this concept so helpful in my work as Director of Disability Concerns that I took the Power Flower, modified it, and used it in various settings since I learned about it from Mariano. I've attached a copy of my handout to this blog. 

With this background, my interest was piqued when I saw the title of a blog by Leona Smith Di Faustino, "What is your privilege?". In the blog, Di Faustino describes a buzzfeed survey, "How Privileged Are You?", that one can use to take a quick inventory of one’s own level of privilege. It looks as if the creators of the buzzfeed survey took the categories of the Power Flower to create the survey. Di Faustino was impressed, "As BuzzFeed isn't a place I go for riveting critical social analysis, I was quite impressed with the anti-oppression framework the quiz presented. . . . When I was working in the community doing prevention work, I'd always try to find innovative ways to explain power, privilege, and oppression to my audience. Be they 10 years old to 80 years old, it was hard to get folks to look at these factors in our society from a broad perspective, it became doubly hard when trying to weave in how they contribute to sexual violence. If I wasn't careful, the conversation could quickly unravel into a dialogue that focused on polarizing the issues based on race and gender exclusively, where the dominant was inherently evil and everyone else was oppressed. It's hard for people to step back and look at the intricacies of privilege and the power they have based on it."

The buzzfeed survey, the Power Flower, and my own worksheet look at "intricacies of privilege" far beyond ethnicity and gender. If we Christians are serious about becoming the agents of reconciliation that Christ calls us to be in 2 Corinthians 5, then we will need good tools to help us understand the ways that we humans both oppress and privilege one another. An exercise together examining our level of privilege will help us take the first step. 

If everyone in your church took one of these surveys, where would people fall on a privilege continuum? Would the most active members also be those with the most social privilege (according to these surveys)? Would those who are farthest at the margins also be the least privileged? Is that the way the Lord would want it? What could your church do about this?

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