11.02.2015

Privilege

A couple weeks ago, the girls and I joined Michelle Obama's #62milliongirls movement in support of making sure that girls everywhere can have access to an education. We reflected on how our education has made an impact on the trajectory of our lives by finishing the statement "In school I learned ...".
Surprisingly enough, none of the girls completed the statement by saying they learned how to write a persuasive essay or divide double digit numbers. I mean, that is what we teach them in school, right? But, no - school teaches us so much more than that! Going to school provides us with the values to overcome challenges, make friends, and set goals. Getting an education opens the door to a plethora of opportunities that simply weren't available before. Without school, we wouldn't know what our options were. Without school, we wouldn't know that our destiny is in our hands. Without school, we wouldn't be able to use our voice to speak up for ourselves and others. Education is a freedom that so many of us get to enjoy without ever thinking twice. Education is a privilege

In RISE like a girl this past week, I decided to continue the conversation about privilege. To put it simply, a privilege is anything you have that you don't have to think about. It's just something you have - you didn't ask for it and you didn't have to do anything to get it. The girls already learned that their education is a privilege because it's something they just have and they've never had to question whether or not it would still be there. Their education is an expectation, a privilege. It's important to be aware of that privilege because it forces us to appreciate what we have as well as help other who may not have that same luxury. I wanted the girls to discover the many other social privileges that exist and how those privileges are affecting their day-to-day life. 

So, we played a game. 
The girls took a seat at the tables and chair in my classroom. I didn't tell them where to sit, they just sat down wherever they wanted. Then, I gave them a blank piece of paper and instructed them to crumple it into a ball. Finally, I told them that were all part of a new society and if they do one thing they can become super rich. All they have to do is shoot their paper ball in the trash can. 
Easy, right? 
Not necessarily. There's a catch. I positioned the trash in front of only one of the five tables so that only that table could shoot their paper ball in the trash can successfully. The other girls were sitting at tables that were either too far away or trash can wasn't even visible from their position. So, I let them shoot and even with great effort, only the table closest to the trash can was successful. 

I'm sure you can imagine that there was an uproar of girls saying things like, "That's not fair!" and "How am I supposed to do that?!" Exactly. It's not fair. But that's what privilege is all about. The group closest to the trash can was successful not because I told them to sit there, not because they worked hard to get that position, but they were successful solely because they were in the right place at the right time. Their luck gave them privilege. We discussed the feelings that developed from being unprivileged as well as the ways our advantages & disadvantages make an impact on our futures. 

Now that the girls had a firm understanding of what privilege means, we did another activity to show the variety of privilege. Social privilege comes in many forms - such as racial privilege, gender privilege, religious privilege, sexual privilege, socioeconomic privilege, and, of course, educational privilege. Our privileges play out in many aspects of our lives. Sometimes they work for us, and sometimes they work against us. To test this idea, the girls formed a standing circle with equal distance to the center. I read them a list of statements. Some of the statements described a privilege, while others described a lack of privilege. For every privilege that was true for them, they took a step forward. When the lack of privilege was true for them, they took a step backward. Here are some examples: 

If English is not your first language, take a step backward. 
If you identify as white, take a step forward. 
If you were born in the U.S., take a step forward. 
If you or your parents are immigrants, take a step backward. 
If you can buy new clothes whenever you want/need them, take a step forward. 
If you've ever felt like your family doesn't have enough money, take a step backward. 
If you're expected to go to college, take a step forward. 

Once I finished my list of statements, the girls assessed their new position in the circle. They noticed that some girls were now in the center of the circle while other were far away. I told them that step forward signified privilege and stepping backward signified a lack of privilege. The girls in the center are the most privileged and the ones far from the center are the least privileged. 

Now, the point of this activity was not to make anyone feel bad about who they are or where they come from. Rather, the point was to make the girls aware of their privilege so that they can use that knowledge to directly impact their future. The girls reflected on how it felt to be in their position in the circle as well as reflect on how it felt to see their friends in a different spot that they may have expected. Quite a few of them were able to come to the beautiful realization that even when we think we know someone, we may not know their real story. When we're aware of our advantages & disadvantages, we can use it to make a positive change in our lives and the lives of others. 

those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act - einstein:

Own your privilege. Whether it's a little or a lot, use it to make a difference. Don't settle for a life that is less than your best. Things don't have to be the way they are. YOU have the power to be extraordinary. 

No comments :