Via Lauren at Faux Real Tho, I read about this exercise in encouraging students to gain awareness of social class. As transformed to a meme, it's basically a somewhat more thoughtful version of the "spoiled" meme that we discussed here previously*.
As it's designed by a professor, it doesn't have most of the flaws that made the "spoiled" version so irritating (although as it's aimed at college students, it does have some generation-specific questions that are irrelevant to anyone born before about 1980 (eg. having a cell phone in college)). I didn't actually score myself on it, but it looks like there's only a handful of questions that I'd say no to, and yes, I'm pretty comfortable saying that I'm pretty privileged, both materially and in terms of social capital.**
That said, it's gotten a bunch of scathing responses (as well as some supportive ones). The authors of the original exercise and other class educators seem to pretty much dismiss their critics as privileged people who want to claim all their success as the result of their hard work, and thus deny the role of privilege/luck in their accomplishments. And I'm not going to dispute that the "bootstraps" story is one of the strands in the discussions.
But I think they're being overly dismissive of the people who say that the quiz includes too many things that "everyone" has, or things that the truly rich don't have, because they consider it declasse. Another way of phrasing this criticism is that the scale is designed to distinguish between deep poverty and middle-class backgrounds, but does a lousy job of distinguishing between middle-class and upper-middle-class or rich backgrounds -- going to Europe every summer doesn't get you more points than having saved for years to go once; owning a McMansion in McLean doesn't get you more points than owning a small house in Woodbridge.
And I think that's important, because the big economic story of the past two or three decades hasn't been about the poor falling further behind the middle class, but the rich pulling away from everyone else. (I'm not going to look for links now, but Paul Krugman's written extensively about this.) And those rich are very visible, which makes middle-class people are very aware of the ways in which they're not privileged. So it's not just denial that makes people protest this quiz.
Maybe in the academic context that it was originated, focusing on the privileges experienced by people who don't think of themselves as privileged is useful. (I read an interesting article recently that argued that support services at community colleges designed to help low-income students nonetheless reinforce privilege, because the students who are most disadvantaged, especially in terms of social capital, don't learn about them.) But in a broader context, especially a political context, it's a pretty lousy strategy to tell people who feel like they're losing ground that they're actually still incredibly privileged by comparison to others. Even if it's true.
* I'm reaching the stage when more and more often, I red these things and say "didn't we have this conversation already?" I think that's one of the reasons I've been posting less.
** There's another point I want to make about the distinction and overlap between these two types of privilege, but this is long enough, so I'll save it for another day.
Note that we're now on the second page of comments, so click the >> at the bottom of the page to read the most recent ones. I don't know how to override this Typepad setting.