The P-word

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John Scalzi has a rather scathing post up on the subject of the "privilege checklist" apparently deployed by professors at Indiana State to show their charges what a bunch of pampered sissies they all are. I share a number of Scalzi's objections: like him, for example, I wasn't read children's books because I learned to read very young. He goes on to list the number of ways that he, who was not privileged, nonetheless registers as privileged by this checklist. I, who had a pretty soft upbringing, must also protest. Many of the things on the list have nothing to do with "privilege", and in fact, I didn't get them, because my parents poured pretty much all of their disposable income into educating me: vacations, for example. Many of the other things on that checklist--getting a new car from your parents, going on a cruise with your family, having a television in your room--were rare among my ultra-privileged private school classmates because they were seen as vulgar; not having those things was a sign of higher social class. (I think some of that's changed now, though, from what I gather, not the disdain for cruise ships.) This list reeks of academics confusing their petit-bourgeois disdain of ostentation with actual privilege. Having a television in your own room is a sign of poverty mostly to the less well remunerated castes of the lower-middle class, who always feel they should be pouring the money into something more worthy; it is not an uncommon sight among welfare families in New York City.

Vacations with hotels are an even less reliable indicator of "privilege". Aside from a youthful trip to Niagara Falls, I can't remember any family vacation that did not involve visiting relatives, or did involve an airline flight. I can think of no way in which this hampered my development as a fully actualized human being, or an economically productive member of society; nor do I think that the fact that I have not been to Disneyland1 materially affected my chances at Harvard2. I'm a child of privilege not because my family gave me fantastic leisure opportunities, but because the circumstances of my birth and upbringing made it relatively easy for me to choose my path in life. Every one of those professors' kids is more privileged, in that sense, than the child of the median car-dealership owner.


1But didn't your parents love you? cried one friend, upon learning this.

2Though in fairness, any effect would probably have been swamped by my anemic high school GPA.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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