by Nara Cowing //
“Check your privilege.”
This is a common mantra that people recite without providing a tangible way of doing so. You can reflect on your experiences and those of others, you can take a moment to be thankful for what you have and acknowledge that everyone faces and overcomes different societal boundaries. You may even want to stop arguing with someone over something you do not fully understand because of certain privileges you have.
Often, people have decided to quantify and measure the various societal privileges one may have. However, these “privilege quizzes” are harmful and do not accurately sum up the intersection of privilege or lack thereof.
One popular example of these quizzes is the Buzzfeed “How Privileged Are You?” quiz. It provides a checklist of 100 statements – such as “I am white” or “I can afford medication if/when I need it” – that one may check off if they apply. In the end, you receive a score out of 100 that tells you how privileged you are.
Ultimately, many questions on this checklist were confusing. I’m half white, so I benefit from white privilege and light-skinned privilege to a certain degree. However, I’m also half non-white and have been the victim of racial bias. Do I check the “I am white” box off or not?
I do not work a salaried job because I’m a full-time university student, but by not checking off that I work a salaried job, the quiz assumes that I lack privilege because I am currently unemployed. On the contrary, being an unemployed college student gives me privilege because I am not required to work full-time to pay for my tuition this semester. Additionally, I just turned 18 and have never independently done taxes, bringing less meaning to checking off the “I have never done taxes myself” box.
Even so, many of these statements are accurate ways to check one’s privilege. Statements such as “I have never lied about my religion as self-defense” helped me to acknowledge the privileges I have.
However, aspects of privilege are more fluid and complex than this quiz makes them. There is simply no way to quantify privilege. In different contexts (geographic location, upbringing, personal experiences related to one’s identities, etcetera), the manifestation of privilege can evolve and help or harm individuals in different ways.
This particular Buzzfeed quiz seems to equally weigh all aspects of privilege, equating all different forms of discrimination. However, there is no one way to equally measure racism versus sexism versus homophobia versus xenophobia versus religious discrimination. None of these societal problems have an exactly equal meaning within any given community or nation.
People often throw the phrase “check your privilege” around as a way to appear as if they are taking responsibility for their place in society. I know people who have taken this quiz or similar ones and then simply moved on. They assume that by taking this quiz and “checking their privilege” they are doing enough. But know you have privilege without doing anything about it continues to enable the system and the power it has over marginalized groups.
Knowing that you have white privilege without using it for something should not ease your conscience nor make you feel any more “woke” about racial injustice. Acknowledge your privilege, but what’s next? It is up to you to decide what action (or lack thereof) becomes of that knowledge.