BuzzFeed’s “How Privileged Are You?” quiz exposed to Pauline Gaines the blind spots in her understanding of privilege. She also discovered the ominous limitations of such a test.
I take so many Buzzfeed quizzes that I almost need a 12-step program. I’m a single mom, with a chronically stressful life, so these quizzes provide a blissfully mind-numbing escape at the end of the day. Most of my scores are not all that surprising: why, yes, Mick Jagger is my ideal rock-star hook-up, and I’m sure he feels the same way about me!
Last week, when I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I happened upon a friend’s posting of a new Buzzfeed quiz, How Privileged Are You?, I took it, and this time, my score surprised me. I got a 66 out of 100, which puts me in the “You’re Quite Privileged” range. Yet, despite my packaging – white, thin, youthful-looking Prius driver – I have always thought of myself as an outsider.
An adult adoptee, I grew up feeling marginalized. This was before adoption was accepted in our culture. It was something freakish and shameful, something no one felt comfortable talking about. The Buzzfeed quiz didn’t incorporate adoption into the questions; if it had, I suspect that my score would have been much lower.
Another reason I didn’t expect a high score is that my sense of privilege is skewed. I have always lived in high-end cities, and attended swanky schools, and have been surrounded by affluent friends. My ex-husband is spectacularly wealthy, so my kids travel back and forth from an apartment to one of four homesteads. So, because I don’t have the pocketbook of those in my peer group, I don’t feel privileged.
But when I took the quiz, I bumped up against the privilege I didn’t know I had. And that, I think, is the point of the quiz: to get people thinking about the hidden nuances of privilege, and the ways we take our privilege for granted. It had never occurred to me, for instance, that paying an accountant to prepare my tax returns is a privilege. Or that being comfortable making out in public with a male partner is a privilege. Or that being raised in a mainstream religion makes me privileged. Or that not being anxious in an airport security line makes me privileged.
I wasn’t surprised only by my own score; I was also surprised by some of my friends’ scores, especially those who “pass” for privileged. I wanted to know how taking the quiz made others reflect upon their privilege, or lack thereof. So I asked a bunch of people to share their reactions to their scores, and this is what they told me:
Scott Musgrove, PsyD, white gay male:
“As a gay man, I was not surprised to see questions regarding sexuality, but I was stunned by the questions about being sexually assaulted and criticized for my religion, both experiences I have had. It hadn’t occurred to me that these experiences reflect a lack of privilege, likely because they’re related to trauma and long-term challenges. I guess that is a reflection on how men are socialized to compartmentalize those areas that are taboo, or, at least in my Southern culture, ‘not appropriate for discussion.’ As a former dancer, though, I scored pretty steadily on the body image points.”
Sandy Riccardi, straight white female:
“I was part of a Christian cult for 20 years. I lost jobs because my cult maintained that if you didn’t go to church on schedule every Sunday and Wednesday, and a Bible discussion on another day, you were uncommitted and therefore on a path to hell. I was an aspiring actress in New York City. It was hard to keep a waitress job with that schedule, much less audition for shows or even do the job the show might require. I couldn’t curse, so if a role called for cursing, I had to say I wouldn’t say “that.” That lost me jobs. I was shamed by people who knew we were a cult, struggled mightily if I found myself in a town without one of “my” churches. I joined this cult willingly. I brought this loss of privilege on myself, sometimes trying to convince myself that it was all to bring glory to God, which is all I wanted to do. I remember thinking, when I joined, that I had never done anything this far from my mainstream, somewhat privileged upper-middle-class white, highly educated life.”
Liv, bisexual white female:
“The biggest reason I scored low is because I identify as bisexual. I am currently in a fully heterosexual and monogamous relationship. I have never had a fully bisexual relationship, but I have had a few dalliances, and if circumstances were different vis-a-vis my current relationship, I wouldn’t rule out a relationship with someone of the same sex, and I would be open to a polyamorous relationship. Only my closest friends are aware of this, and my family doesn’t have a clue. Not because I’m ashamed of it – I think pretty much everyone would be pretty accepting. I haven’t mentioned it because it’s not relevant to my current life.”
Jackie Summers, African-American straight male:
“I’m aware that being male affords me some privilege, as does being hetero. Much of that is nullified in reality by race/class. Everyone quotes the stat about women making 77 cents on the dollar for men. What they mean is WHITE men. Black men make 77 cents on the dollar too. Black women? Another story altogether. Do I have to worry about my safety? From the ‘hood, no. From police? YES.”
Brandy Klipfel, Hispanic straight female
“Initially, I assumed that this would center around wealth. Of course, some questions would definitely imply wealth but even with my half-Hispanic poor background, I felt sad every time I checked a box related to things I hadn’t gone through or couldn’t begin to understand. I am an ardent supporter of gay rights and religious freedom, but it doesn’t mean I know what it’s like to walk in the shoes of someone who is gay or someone who ‘looks middle eastern/Muslim.’ I think many people would benefit from taking this quiz and considering those who can’t check off all/some of the boxes.”
Lisa L. Flowers, Caucasian straight female:
“As a child, raised in the Deep South, I knew I was privileged compared to blacks. And felt shame. I knew that our world was just some white guy’s picture of life and not really what life was like elsewhere. I intentionally sought out people who were different, because I felt so misunderstood and alone. I often went to bed hungry. I was homeless as a child. I was ridiculed for being on the “free lunch” program. I just returned from Malaysia where I spent five days negotiating the release of my boyfriend. Simply because he was black. I am working towards finishing a second Masters and then a doctorate in hopes of obtaining a position abroad. I want my son to see the differences between cultures, lifestyles, and privilege because I believe one person can make a difference.”
Cliff Mazer, PhD, straight white male.
“Okay, I got a 72. Pretty fucking privileged. Luckily my mental illnesses may have kept me from showing up as a full-blown snooty-snoot. A stress-free, never-traumatized rich white guy is about as far up on the cat perch as it gets.”
Justin Cascio, white transgendered bisexual man in a gay marriage.
“I’m remarkably happy for someone suffering the effects of chronic trauma, which might as well be the opposite of privilege.”
Jamie Utt, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, avoided the quiz altogether. Here’s why:
“I actually hate this thing for a number of reasons. First, it doesn’t do us any good to hyper-simplify the concept of privilege into a linear quiz, and doing so (especially with how some of the questions are phrased) can only further validate people who write off their privilege in one area of their life because of the lack of privilege in other areas.
The biggest problem is that it conflates all forms of privilege as existing on one scale or spectrum. This scale implies that our privilege in one area can be “balanced out” by our lack of privilege in another area, but that’s not how it works. Privilege is better thought of as a matrix of intersections of different aspects of our identities.
This just further legitimizes those who claim, ‘But I’m not privileged,’ when confronted with their White or male privilege because of the other areas in their life where they don’t have privilege. After all, they only scored a 46! Ugh…”
Regardless of the quiz’s shortcomings, it did get people talking. After reflecting on the thoughts of the people quoted in this piece, I realized, with some chagrin, that I have some pretty big privilege blind-spots. I’ve minimized the privilege I do have because I focus on the domains that I lack. But when I step out from the rarefied circles in which I travel, I see the advantages I take for granted. I have a job that keeps a roof over our heads, and food on the table, and pays my health insurance. I have one job, not two or three, and enough spare time to write.
And – take Buzzfeed quizzes.
Lead photo: Flickr/art around