Ashmore Consulting

Chains of Privilege

The Chains of Privilege

A few years ago, I led an activity at the University of Denver Inclusiveness conference that underscored the Paper clip chain 
various privileges that we leverage as human beings in a multifaceted society.

In this activity, I posted on the walls different types of privilege people experienced. Underneath each sign, I taped a bag of colored paper clips. I asked each person to walk around the room, read the signs, and take a paper clip out of the bag for each privilege they had leveraged. I asked them to string the paper clips together making a necklace of paper clips.

The results were eye opening. Some people had very short necklaces – those with few privileges. But those with long necklaces showed the different privileges of which they take advantage – consciously or not.

Which means an educated, affluent, young, English speaking, mentally sound, straight, able-bodied, white, Christian male born in the U.S. has a very long necklace.

But some people who considered themselves belonging to an oppressed class, were astonished at how much privilege in other areas they leveraged.

All of these privileges are bound up in the oppression of others. You cannot enjoy a privilege without the counter point of penalties or denials of that privilege to others. This made some people realize that the advantages of privilege can also be chains of privilege. Their implicit participation in that privilege perpetuated the oppression of those denied that privilege.

So in the hopes that you have an opportunity for your group to become aware of the chains of privilege, I am sharing the activity with you. If you want a neutral facilitator to lead and discuss the activity, contact me, Karen Ashmore.

Chains of Privilege: An Experience in Assessing Personal Privilege

This activity is intended to help people understand the various privileges that they may have.  Often times these privileges, of which we are usually unaware of, affect the way we interact with others.  This activity is meant to create a forum to discuss the various privileges.  Peggy McIntosh’s classic article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, is used an entry point into this topic.  After participating in this activity people will be more aware of the invisible privileges with which we often use every day.  Unfortunately, others may not share the same privileges that we have.  Therefore it is important that we be careful to not make assumptions about other people’s home life and experiences based upon our own privilege.

Activity Time: 30 minutes

Pre and post discussion: 1 hour

Equipment Needed:

Different colored paper clips

Ziploc Bags for colored clip groupings

Privilege Definitions and P. McIntosh quote

Privilege Color Key

Privilege Statements

Peggy McIntosh’s article- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html)

Pre-Activity Questions (briefly, not in depth, 10 minutes)

1. Briefly introductions. Why are you here? What do you hope to learn?

2. What is privilege? What is white privilege? Discuss “Unpacking the Knapsack”

3. Can you give some examples of privilege in our society?

Privilege: A right or immunity granted as a particular benefit, advantage, or favor. (American Heritage Dictionary, fourth edition)

Peggy McIntosh, in her article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, says “I have come to see… privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. … Privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”

Activity (allow 15 minutes for people to walk around, read signs, and build their chain)

You are going to participate in an activity to determine what your privilege may be.  Posted around the wall are posters with three statements each.  Under each poster is a bag of colored paper clips.  For each statement to which you can personally agree, give yourself a corresponding colored paper clip.  String the clips together as you go through the activity.  After completing the activity, examine your chain of clips to determine where your privilege or lack of privilege exists.

Post Activity Questions (in depth, 35 minutes or as long as needed,  participatory, try to get everyone’s input)

1. Does anyone want to discuss their privileged areas and how they feel about being privileged in those areas?

2. How long was your chain? Were one or two colors more predominant than other colors? Were you surprised by the privileges you have?

3. Do you believe your particular privilege has an impact on what you assume about others?

4. Do you believe your particular privilege has an impact on how you might interact with others?

5. What determines privilege in our society?

6. How does privilege lead to oppression?

 

Sign 1:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can read the newspaper and understand its contents

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can write and communicate through my writing

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I have more than a high school education

 

Sign 2:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

           I can display a picture of my significant other on my desk without fear that I will be shunned or that someone will make a negative comment about the nature of our relationship

Give yourself one paper clip if…

           I can publicly display affection towards my partner without people looking at my partner and me disapprovingly

Give yourself one paper clip if…

          If I wanted to, I could legally marry the person I love

 

Sign 3:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

          Most major businesses are closed or close early on my religion’s day of worship

Give yourself one paper clip if…

My religious holidays are recognized as National Holidays

Give yourself one paper clip if…

A person who shares my religious affiliation has been elected President of the United States

 

Sign 4:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

If I had to gain access to $1000 immediately, I could do so it with out much stress

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I have enough money to save $200 a month without struggling to pay all of my bills and still have funds for leisure activity

Give yourself one paper clip if…

If it were necessary to place my vehicle in the shop to replace the brakes (about a $250 job) I would be able to pay the bill without much worry over where to get the money

 

Sign 5:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can be sure that when I make an emergency call to my child’s school that someone will speak my language

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can be sure that I won’t be discriminated against in this country based upon the way I speak.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can easily turn on the radio, television or the computer and immediately read and see my natural language used.

 

Sign 6:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

          I can be sure that I get paid the same as employees of a different gender who perform the same job as me and that I do not reach a glass ceiling.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can be sure that I won’t encounter countless advertisements which advise me to gain weight, lose weight, get a better hairstyle, a better wardrobe—if I want to have a happy relationship.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

          When I look at portraits of the past Presidents of the United States, I can be certain that I see someone of my gender.

 

Sign 7:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

          I can be pretty sure that I will able to have accessibility to any apartment or house that I want to live in, and I won’t be hampered by steps, curbs, tight corners, or narrow doorways.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can be sure that if I want to participate in any normal activities (such as playing athletics, going to the movies, getting on an airplane, going out with friends to a restaurant) I can go without having to have any accessibility adaptations.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

          When I purchase an item in a store for $5 and I gave the cashier $10, I know whether they have given me a five dollar bill or a one dollar bill as change, without asking.

 

Sign 8:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can turn on the television or open the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the achievements of their race.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in a new location will be welcoming and pleasant to me.

 

Sign 9:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can walk into a room and know that I am not invisible because of my gray hair, wrinkles, or my neck.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I have youthful vigor and slenderness and do not struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, spare tire, fading eyesight or other maladies of an aging body.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I am not considered too old to be hired by an employer.

 

Sign 10:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I do not have to cancel meetings or avoid socializing because of an anxiety attack, depression or fearfulness.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I do not have to lie about where I am going when I really have a psychiatrist appointment.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can control my emotions and not over-react to seemingly harmless situations.

 

Sign 11:

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can legally obtain a driver’s license.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I can get accepted into a college in Colorado and pay in-state tuition.

Give yourself one paper clip if…

I do not worry whether a family member may be deported.

 

Privilege Color Key of Paper Clips

 Race Privilege = Yellow                                       Language Privilege = Silver

Class Privilege = Purple                                       Educational Privilege = Green

Religious Privilege = Orange                                Gender Privilege = Light Blue

Age = Aqua                                                                   Mental Illness = Dark Blue

Sexual Orientation Privilege = Pink                      Citizenship = Red

Physical Ability Privilege = Gold

Other categories you can add:

Title (in workplace)

Occupational (art or blue collar vs. professional career)

Prison – inside or outside

Capital punishment

If you want a neutral facilitator to lead and discuss the activity, click here to contact me. 

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