You might have taken this quiz recently through the Buzzfeed website which asks the question “How privileged are you?”. It is essentially a checklist of 127 points. You get to know how privileged you are in society based on the number of points you check.
The implications of having such a quiz need to be understood. In the process of questioning the status quo and in turn questioning the privileges of each individual, it allows for the varied forms of oppression to continue. Even if we do assume that the intentions of the ones who created the quiz are good, their intentions seem to have been severely limited by their privilege. Privilege limits the way you think, love, and build relationships as much as it gives you the power to change or bring to notice the forms of violence in the society. It limits you in a way that it enables oppressions to continue in ways that are known and unknown.
If you have taken the quiz and are one of the extremely privileged individuals, you may have gotten the following sentence as part of your results of the quiz –
“We don’t live in an ideal world, but you happened to be born into an ideal lot. This is not a bad thing, nor is it something to be ashamed of. But the world isn’t fair, and you should be aware of your advantages. As someone born into extreme privilege, it is your role in society to use your access, money, and influence to uplift others who don’t have as much. Thank you for checking your privilege.”
The way that the world is being looked at here is through privileged eyes. Privilege limits you from looking at the reality underneath the normalised behaviours and patterns in the society. Here, what is missed out is the relation between the privileged (oppressor), underprivileged (oppressed), and the unfairness of the world. The quiz makes you think that you have no responsibility in creating and perpetuating this “unfairness” in the world. But in fact, with privilege comes oppression.
Source – (Caste No Bar, Though Iyer Preferred)
A privileged individual is not born into a vacuum. The privilege is because of certain historical reasons. For instance, caste-privilege is because our ancestors have oppressed backward castes in order to hold on to power. Caste-privilege is maintained even now is because we still live in times wherein same-caste marriages do take place which enables you to transfer your ‘privilege’ to your kids. It is also because affirmative-action is seen as a bane, it is because we live and make huge profits out of unpaid/low-waged/horrific labour of backward castes (domestic workers, manual scavengers, hawkers, street vendors) and so on. I have dealt with gender and male-privilege a bit in my previous write-up.
Essentially, this quiz absolves the privileged from being self-reflective about how the privileged have been and continue to be responsible for this “unfairness” in the world. One may wonder how the quiz would have fared if one lists down the ways in which the privileged oppress the ones around them on a daily basis.
Instead, in order to assign some sort of responsibility to the privileged individuals, it talks about “upliftment” by the privileged.
I did a Facebook search on this quiz to see the statuses that those who took the quiz put up. It is startling. While some have revelled because of the fact that they scored higher points and thus are more privileged, some called it a ‘reality-check’. Some even talked about how they are going to be the ‘voice’ of those who do not have the privilege to voice out their opinions.
I will reiterate here that one’s intentions might be right when it comes to acknowledging their privileged and wanting to use it for the benefit of society. But it is not as simple as that. We live in a society that has social hierarchies based on gender, class, caste, religion, language, and many other aspects. One’s intentions and thus one’s actions might actually be counter-productive in a world like ours because these actions may again maintain and perpetuate these social hierarchies.
While the quiz brings out certain privileges that we might not be aware of in the check points, it isn’t enough. The way in which you use your privilege needs to be questioned on a daily basis.
In order for the privileged to be able to lend their help and support the underprivileged, they need the underprivileged to continue to be underprivileged. This results in the actions of the privileged to be very tokenistic.
For instance, visiting old-age/orphanage homes over the weekends or birthdays, charities, farcical-philanthropy, cooking over the weekends (by men), buying gifts to your didis and bhaiyas et cetera. Instead of working on to bring material change so as to not have the necessity of having a system wherein privileged section of the society always have to ‘uplift’ the underprivileged, one seems to endeavour in actions and tasks that assuage the guilt of being privileged.
Source – (Caste No Bar, Though Iyer Preferred)
If you actually want to bring material change, you will have to let go of your privileges and that is hard. You will have to think of affirmative action and that is something you will oppose. You will have to, many a time, just shut-up which is hard for the privileged to do because they always have opinions and are ‘knowledgeable’. You will have to create spaces for the voiceless to voice their own opinions instead of you voicing it out for them which is sometimes a long and arduous task in a very oppressive society like ours. You will have to pay minimum wages to your domestic worker and also grant the same privileges one might have for someone who is employed in a company (leaves, insurance, and various other rights). You will have to be reflexive enough and really see the daily oppression that takes place.
Source – (Sanitary Panels)
The idea of using the words privileged and thus underprivileged is very limited. It hides the fact that the privileged are the oppressors and underprivileged are the oppressed. It fails to talk about the societal structures (patriarchy, caste) that continue to create the oppressed and oppressors, affecting the realities of both the former and the latter. It assumes that we are born into a world that is unfair without implicating the oppressors (and the societal structures) for creating such a world and maintaining the status quo even now.
Note: This is a very limited scale and many aforementioned behaviours can coexist and can move to and fro. Also, this is not to implicate individuals but to bring to notice how we are all implicated because of the notion of caste. This scale is limited to caste.
A part of the result I got from the quiz when I decided to not check any points was the following:
“You know firsthand that the world isn’t fair. You’ve overcome several challenges to level your own playing field to a point where, now, you’re doing this quiz in English, on a smartphone.”
Again, here, while absolving the privileged for creating and maintaining this unfair world, it talks about how the ‘underprivileged’ have supposedly overcome several challenges. Here, we can clearly see how we are creating this unfair world even though our intentions may supposedly be in the right direction.
I am suspicious of the words ‘upliftment’, ‘help’, ‘save’, ‘give voice’, and similar sounding words when we, the privileged, use it. It reflects the reality we are living in. And, if we are living in a false-reality, then all we are doing is sounding stereotypically-philanthropic and as a saviour on online spaces without really allowing for a true reality-check and material-change, which is a daily continual process.
You might ask if this quiz isn’t the first step to change the ‘unfair’ world. This isn’t enough because it strays our hearts and minds away from actually being able to understand how to use our privilege.
We live very political lives. It is very easy to look at a slum near your house and use it as a mirror to see how privileged you might be. But to understand that you are responsible in some way or the other for the creation and maintaining of slums and even benefiting from these slums (because most of the ones who do low-paid, or unpaid jobs in the city live in the slums, while others live in gated communities) is hard.
To change the world and systems of social hierarchies that benefit you on a daily basis, and to acknowledge that you are an oppressor because of certain histories and realities is tough. But that is what is necessary.
Here are some resources to start with to educate yourself on privilege and oppression, and thus understand the world better-
This article was first published here.