Last semester, I enrolled in HOD 1250 Applied Human Development, the introductory class for my major Human and Organizational Development. Every person in the course was split into a 20-person lab group that met once a week to unpack the lecture material. From August to December, the lab explored topics of gender, sexuality, death, family, love, and race. The most stand out discussion by far was centered around privilege.
To begin, the class watched a Buzzfeed video (linked below) that created a visual depiction of privilege among a diverse group of participants. A prompter read out a list of sentences and instructed the group to step forward or backyard depending on each person’s answer. The commands aimed to show the effects of societal privileges or disadvantages, most of which had little to do with anyone’s personal choices. By the end, a group of mostly white people stood at the front, followed by scattered minorities, and significantly farther ahead than the gay, black woman in the far back.
This experiment stood out to me for an array of reasons. Firstly, gay white men ended up at the front, signally the most amount of privilege from that sample group. I would have guessed that their sexual identity would have impacted them more, but it was clear that their overall income and education levels overcompensated. I also was surprised at how the Asian individuals ended up so close to the Caucasian people, but never in front of. But overall, the experiment proved to me how much race affects privilege. The lesbian WOC stood at the back, and despite his gender or sexual orientation, a black man also found himself negatively impacted by privilege.
Following the video, my class conducted the same exercise. Much to my surprise, I found myself at the very front from the start. Being so far ahead based on little things I barely ever considered to be advantages showed me how deeply ingrained racial bias is in our society. It seems that no amount of labor or legislation could close the gap I had between some of my peers. Looking around, I also realized for the first time that my class did not have a single black person in it. I attended an essentially all-white high school, so I grew accustomed to this lack of diversity. However, this experiment made it impossible to not see the effects of race and those who were not represented.
I couldn’t help but think back to this grounding experience during our discussion of Peggy McIntosh’s writing last week. Her long list of “unearned assets” that can be “counted on every day” spoke to how much sets whites apart from other races. Beyond monetary or educational advantages, there are societal, emotional privileges I am afforded that have nothing to do with my merit or hard work. However, depicting these truths in such a glaringly obvious way is an important step to keep ourselves in check. Reading McIntosh’s list left me considering how others live. Watching then doing the exercise left me wanting to make a real difference.