The Moral of the Privilege Line

scales-303388_640By Shannon Bentley – Hey readers! In the summer, I had these positive and negative recurring thoughts in my mind after the privilege line activity at City Year’s Basic Training Retreat.

Over 100 corps members, senior corps members, and staff stood in one gigantic line holding each other’s hands like a society that is deemed equal. Everyone smiled and talked amongst each other while waiting for the statements to be shouted by our facilitators. The privilege line shows members of a group where they stand in society when it comes to privilege. Participants respond to certain statements that pertain to their lives growing up by either stepping forward or stepping backward. The statements may be based on race, socioeconomic status, education, culture, and/or values.

Some City Year participants’ faces remained neutral and some showed signs of anxiety and eagerness.

Unfortunately, the results were not promising.

The gigantic line split between more than five lines. There were Corps members who were 20 steps ahead and other members who were 20 steps behind. I was one of those people closer to the back. When the activity ended, everyone was silent – some people were in tears. I felt tears running in my eyes, not because I was jealous or angry at the people in the front – I was angry with how my life became very underprivileged. My experiences with privilege were based on the decisions of my parents; however, I pushed myself to work hard and attend college and be in the position that I am today.

I told my mother about the experience and to my surprise she was fairly disappointed at my response. My mother believed that no one should have been upset with the line because we have overcome and conquered the stereotypes that the privilege line places upon people in society. We all have graduated high school/college and even have our future careers set in stone in our minds.

Even though the corps members and staff came from many backgrounds, we all have one similar goal – educating students who need the attention the most. We learn the same processes, we have unique conversations, we are getting to know each other, and we are developing those teacher-student relationships. We all have something in common with our goals this school year, and we all want to reach those goals before our service year ends. We don’t see the privilege going against the underprivileged.

My mother was right – we shouldn’t be upset with our past but more so focused on our future. As a City Year corps member, we need to give those same students who are in the back of the privilege line the same motivation so that they can succeed like us. We are not the back of the line – we are the underdog. In the end, other corps members were able to acknowledge their privilege, give their support and try to be understanding as much as possible. Conversations were formed and minds were opened.

The moral of the privilege line is that it doesn’t matter where you come from – it’s where you are going matters the most.

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