In early February of 2017, I participated in a ‘Privilege Walk.’
It’s an exercise examining an individual’s levels of privilege or disadvantage. I had finished speaking on an adoption panel and Sue Orban, the panel moderator asked all of us to participate.
Each question requires the person to step forward or backward depending on their answer. It’s popular because it demonstrates the intermingling of privilege and benefits.
The differences are one’s people don’t think about consciously. Or are culturally ingrained and unnoticeable.
In other words, everyday advantages we don’t realize we have.
Here’s a Privilege Walk video.
The value is in both examining one’s opportunities in relationship to those around you and thinking about your own privilege. Questions are tailored specifically regarding, gender, class, sexual orientation, mental wellness, and physical ability. For our drill, the questions combined some the above, plus specific adoption-related ones.
At its conclusion, you realize, everyone experiences both privilege and marginalization. The questions are based on Peggy McIntosh’s book White Privilege: Unpacking the Knapsack.
It’s a non-confrontational method analyzing inequalities along a host of social, ethnic and cultural normative spectrums.
Everyone begins on the same line and you notice, though you may think you were similar to the person next to you, their life experiences may be starkly different.
Here are some of the questions;
- I can choose bandages in flesh color that more or less matches my skin.
- The culture of my ancestors was studied in elementary school.
- I usually see members of my race and ethnic group portrayed on television in a positive light.
- I or my ancestors made a choice to come to America.
- I have never spent any time in a foster home, homeless, or an orphanage.
- When I go to the doctor, I can share my family’s medical history.
- I am aware of all my siblings.
- I can shop in any store without fear of being followed.
- I received vaccinations that were timely and stored properly.
- I was born into a family with access to medical care.
For our version of this exercise, we used a game board and very small cut-outs that resembled feet which we moved up and down on a grid, all starting from the same point.
Sue asked questions about ourselves and our children or the ones people were adopting. We moved the two different feet on the ladder forward and backward according to our answers.
Since this was an adoptee panel, the purpose was viewing the privileges of the adoptive family, which their future child did not have.
I answered questions for myself and Sonali. At the end of the exercise, I saw a clear delineation between my experiences and all the privileges in her life. If Sasmita was doing the drill, the differences would be even greater.
Unfortunately, conducting it this way, I did not experience one its core objectives, seeing my privilege or marginalization compared to people next to me.
But I tasted the concept.
It was a good reflective exercise contemplating the many advantages and disadvantages I have as an Indian adoptee growing up in the United States. I am privileged because even though I’m brown-skinned, I was raised in a white, middle-class neighborhood. A lot of their privilege extends to me.
For an everyday example, take Band-Aids. I’d guess that nearly all non-minorities I know never thought about a Band-Aid’s color. But for myself and minorities, it’s always annoyed us that they don’t blend with our skin. You always know if I’m wearing a Band-Aid because it contrasts with my skin.
One drawback to the questions was their black and white nature. There was no room for a gray area. The answers to some questions are complicated. I understand the reason for the straightforward format, but it makes answering some questions more difficult.
There was a question about wanting for food. I answered what I remember. But what I don’t know is whether I lacked food before my adoption. I could only answer from the time I was adopted and onwards.
And not all the answers have to do with privilege on their face. Some were based on proper planning or parental choices. But keep digging deeper and choice itself for many is a privilege.
Most of the benefits we receive are invisible, but they are no less powerful or helpful in our lives. The Privilege Walk drill, helped me view them afresh.
Have any of you participated in this exercise? Please share your thoughts.