It’s a bold claim: “If anyone doesn’t understand privilege,” the gif reads, “show them this video.”
“This video” covers an exposure-to-privilege exercise. A bunch of high school-aged kids line up at one end of a field. A leader in the middle of the field tells the kids they are going to run a race to the other end of the field. The winner gets $100.
But before the race begins, the leader says:
- If both of your parents are still married, take two steps forward.
- If you grew up with a father figure in the house, take two steps forward.
- If you had access to private education, take two steps forward.
- If you had access to a free tutor, take two steps forward.
- If you never had to worry about your cell phone being shut off, take two steps forward.
- If you never had to help mom or dad pay the bills, take two steps forward.
- If you didn’t have to pay for college for a reason other than your athletic ability, take two steps forward.
- If you never had to wonder where your next meal was going to come from, take two steps forward.
As some kids happily step forward (taking as large steps as they can), the video cuts to reaction shots of the kids who are left behind.
Then the leader drops his truth bomb. “I want you guys in the front to look around at the people behind you. Every statement I’ve made has nothing to do with anything you have done, has nothing to do with decisions you have made. Everything I’ve said has nothing to do with what you’ve done. We all know these people up here in the front have a better opportunity to get the hundred dollars. Does that mean these people in the back can’t race? No. We would be foolish not to realize we’ve been given more opportunity. We don’t want to recognize that we’ve been given a head start. But the reality is we have.”
The thinking, I suppose, is that this video’s clear, concise, and compelling explanation of privilege will silence the folks who believe privilege doesn’t exist.
But the folks who really want to believe that privilege doesn’t exist, or that the privileged classes are somehow victimized, have an obvious retort. They’ll produce their own video which mirrors the same exercise, only the leader will say:
- If you’ve ever received food stamps, take two steps forward.
- If you’ve ever been on welfare, take two steps forward.
- If you were given preferential treatment in college admissions because of your race, take two steps forward.
- If a judge sided with you in a custody case and against the father because the judge thought she was naturally a better parent, take two steps forward.
- If you were ever hired over a white man because you were a “diversity hire,” take two steps forward.
Then the leader will tell the runners to look around, and say something like, “These guys who are in front are in front not because of anything they did, but because the government and our society privileges them. It is easy to get ahead by doing nothing, while the rest of us have to work hard to subsidize their lazy behavior. That’s what real institutional privilege is, people.”
It’ll be an ugly, offensive, and disgusting video. But it’s going to be the response to a video that dares to claim to explain privilege in a supposedly inarguable way.
The solution is to include an addendum to the original video that addresses how the privileged can level the playing field. The leader can say, “You guys in the front didn’t do anything to earn your privilege, but if you think your privilege isn’t fair—and it isn’t fair—there are things you can do to level the playing field. The question is: are you willing to make the system fair?” Then he’ll say:
- Are you willing to support civil rights programs that affect everyone if that means the folks in the back takes two steps closer to you?
- Are you willing to support SNAP legislation that feeds the poor if that means the folks in the back takes two steps closer to you?
- Are you willing to support equal opportunity initiatives that overcomes the institutional, systemic racism that has hurt Americans for no other reason than their race if that means the folks in the back takes two steps closer to you?
It would be a bold video. One worth sharing.