The following exercise will help you explore your own privilege in several areas. This can be difficult and you may find yourself feeling uncomfortable, defensive, or even angry. We encourage you to recognize those feelings and to continue with the exercise. By doing so, you will begin to discover more about privilege and the power that can come with it. You may begin to look critically at your own life and the society in which you live.

Did your ancestors choose to come to this country?

Did your ancestors choose to come to this country?

EXPLANATION: This question focuses on the history of power and privilege in this country as disparities have been present since the founding of the modern day United States. Typically, people from Europe chose to come to this country in pursuit of wealth or religious freedom where people from Africa were brought here as slaves and had no choice as to being here. Many people from Asia were also brought here as slave or cheap laborers during the building of this nation's railroad systems. Because this country was founded by those with privilege, they naturally became the founding leaders of government, industry, and society. The effects can still be seen today as those who descended from these ancestors are still in power in similar ways.

Were you ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation?

Were you ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation?

EXPLANATION: In our society, anyone who is seen to deviate from a social norm is a target for name calling and potential violence. This harassment often starts as early as elementary school and can continue to adulthood, affecting the self esteem of a targeted individual. For instance, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans gender youth hear anti-gay slurs an average of 26 times per day, or once every 14 minutes (National Mental Health Association, 2002).

Were there people who worked for your family as servants, gardeners, nannies, etc?

Were there people who worked for your family as servants, gardeners, nannies, etc?

EXPLANATION: This question deals with class and financial privilege. Anyone who answers this question positively will have had the experience of having power over other people because of family wealth.

Did you study the culture of your ancestors in elementary school?

Did you study the culture of your ancestors in elementary school?

EXPLANATION: In the U.S., the history of white men is typically at the forefront. Until the time of Martin Luther King, Jr., when African Americans appear in history, it is as slaves. When Native Americans (American Indians) appear in history, it has typically been in the context of as enemies of white settlers. When people of Asian ancestry have been present, it has been as slave laborers for people of Chinese ancestry and as enemies of the U.S. for people of Japanese ancestry. People of color often describe feeling invisible when they study history, as do women. This is a direct result of focusing on the heroes and history of those who were in power, leaving the underprivileged with no documented history from their own perspective to pass along and create a sense of identity or pride.

Did you ever have to skip a meal or go hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up?

Did you ever have to skip a meal or go hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up?

EXPLANATION: People who grew up in poor families often report having to deal with this concern. According to the Bread for the World Institute, 3.5 percent of U.S. households experience hunger. Some people in these households frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for a whole day (Andrews, 2004).

Did you have health insurance growing up?

Did you have health insurance growing up?

EXPLANATION: This question deals with both financial and educational privilege. It is typically people who have higher-paying jobs and who have job security who get health insurance. Someone growing up with health insurance is more likely to have been part of a family with resources and security.

Do you feel you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation?

Do you feel you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation?

EXPLANATION: In school and in the workplace, white men are more often encouraged to take advantage of academic and career opportunities. Without role models to aspire to, persons with less privilege are less likely to pursue these same opportunities. For example, in 2002 the Business and Professional Women Foundation found that out of all the Fortune 500 companies, women held only 1.2% of CEO positions (Business and Professional Women's Foundation, 2005).

Did you see members of your race, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation portrayed on television in degrading roles?

Did you see members of your race, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation portrayed on television in degrading roles?

EXPLANATION: Even though media portrayals can be problematic for anyone, it is much more common to see individuals who are not white heterosexual men portrayed in degrading roles. People of color are often portrayed as criminals, servants, and as welfare-dependent individuals. Women are often portrayed as inappropriately aggressive, sexually promiscuous, and as objects of men's attentions. Gay men are often portrayed as sexually promiscuous, effeminate, and irresponsible. Lesbian women are often portrayed as masculine and unattractive.

Growing up, did you attend private school?

Growing up, did you attend private school?

EXPLANATION: Being able to pay for private schooling requires financial resources that many families don't have. Private school offers participants opportunities to connect with other people who have financial resources. The only opportunities that children and adolescents without financial privilege have to participate in such activities occur when they are given financial aid or scholarships. Often in these circumstances, it is still clear which participants "belong" because their families have wealth and which participants don't "belong."

Do you feel you were ever offered a good job because of your association with a friend or family member?

Do you feel you were ever offered a good job because of your association with a friend or family member?

EXPLANATION: This is something that most often happens for people who have class and financial privilege, and this is more often true for white men than for other individuals. Many people have gotten jobs that pay well and offer advancement because they were related to or knew someone who worked in that kind of position. When women and people of color talk about inequities they experience in the workforce, they often describe the "old boys network" of family and friend connections that typically gives white men privilege.

Do you feel you were ever discriminated against on the job because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation?

Do you feel you were ever discriminated against on the job because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation?

EXPLANATION: Women, people of color, and gay men and lesbian women frequently report perceiving discrimination in the workplace. In a recent Gallop poll, 31% of Asians reported workplace discrimination, as did 26% of African Americans. The Gallop poll stated that the most frequent report of bias was sex bias (26%), followed by race (23%). "Women were more than twice as likely as men to say they had encountered bias" (Joyce, 2005).

Were you ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation?

Were you ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation?

EXPLANATION: People of color report that they are often stopped or questioned by police. They are typically questioned about why they are in specific neighborhoods, particularly if they are on foot or are driving an expensive vehicle. A July 2001 Gallup poll reported that 55 percent of whites and 83 percent of blacks believe racial profiling is widespread (American Civil Liberties Union).

Were you ever afraid of violence because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation?

Were you ever afraid of violence because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation?

EXPLANATION: People of color, women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are often targets of violence. Consider the following:

  • "Men can generally assume that when they go out in public, they won't be sexually harassed or assaulted just because they're male, and if they are victimized, they won't be asked to explain what they were doing there" (McIntosh as cited in Johnson, 2001, p. 28).
  • "Heterosexuals can move about in public without fear of being harassed or physically attacked because of their sexual orientation" (McIntosh as cited in Johnson, 2001, p. 29).
  • "Whites can generally assume that when they go out in public, they won't be challenged and asked to explain what they're doing, nor will they be attacked by hate groups simply because of their race" (McIntosh as cited in Johnson, 2001, p. 26).

Were you ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation?

Were you ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation?

EXPLANATION: Those who have privilege aren't directly affected in the same way by the telling of jokes about someone who doesn't have privilege. Being the focus of demeaning jokes and comments is something that women, people of color, and LGBT people often have to deal with and which can have a direct impact on their mental health. One out of every 10 students who drops out of school reports bullying, including teasing and demeaning comments (Women's Educational Media).

If you are in a committed relationship, can you get legally married in any state in the U.S.?

If you are in a committed relationship, can you get legally married in any state in the U.S. ?

EXPLANATION: This is an issue that heterosexual couples have the privilege of not having to deal with. Many persons in same sex relationships deal with issues related to legal, financial, and medical privileges created by marriage. Debate over whether same sex couples should receive these benefits continues today and the power to grant these privileges is held primarily by those with heterosexual privilege.