The Privilege Walk

I read about the Privilege Walk in a book. From doing a little research it seems that this is done mostly on college campuses during orientation. It was designed to provide college students an opportunity to understand and explore the ways that privilege (or lack of) can help people recognize the obstacles and benefits of privilege.

White males have had privilege for centuries. Things are finally changing but making these conversations more top of the world’s mind is a relief but many still don’t realize how privileged they are. It is not easy to shake a foundation.

The questions are asked to a group of students. Your personal answer either gives you a step forward or a step backward. At the end of the questions, everyone sees where they are standing, at the front of the pack or behind. The people at the front are the most privileged.

The Privilege Walk Exercise questions are below.

  • If English is your first language take one step forward
  • If either of your parents graduated from college take one step forward
  • If you have been divorced or have been impacted by divorce take one step backward
  • If there have been times in your life when you skipped a meal because there was no food in the house take one step backward.
  • If you have visible or invisible disabilities take one step backward.
  • If you were encouraged by your parents or family members to attend college take one step forward
  • If you grew up in an urban center take one step backward
  • If your family had health insurance take on step forward
  • If your work and school holidays coincide with religious holidays that you celebrate take one step forward
  • If you studied the culture or history of your ancestors in elementary school take one step forward
  • If you have been bullied or made fun of for something you can not change (gender, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation) take one step backward
  • If you have ever been passed over for an employment promotion because of gender, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation take one step backward
  • If you have ever been offered a job because of family or friend take one step forward
  • If you have ever been stopped or questioned by the police because they felt you looked suspicious take one step backward
  • If your family inherited money or property take one step forward
  • If you came from a supportive family environment take one step forward
  • If your parents were ever laid off or unemployed not by choice take one step backward
  • If you are a citizen of the United States take one step forward
  • If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke or statement you overheard related to race, ethnicity, gender, appearance or sexual orientation take one step backward
  • If your ancestors forced to come to the United States without choice take one step backward
  • If you took out loans for your education take one step backward
  • If there were over 50 books in your household growing up take one step forward
  • If you ever felt unsafe walking home alone at night take one step backward
  • If you are a white male take on step forward

Doesn’t take much to read this and realize where you stand among the people around you.

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Interesting.Ethnicity is an umbrella for religion i’m presuming.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I assume so

      1. Pointsandfigures

        I would not assume that even if your heritage is. Being religious means practicing and being faithful. For example I might “celebrate” Easter and Christmas but it doesn’t make me a Christian.

        1. Gotham Gal


          1. jlix

            what is interesting here to me is: mostly women are posting thoughtful nuanced responses and really thinking about what privilege means. mostly men are posting “this is a TERRIBLE exercise, designed to make people dependent victims and while we’re at it, it certainly doesn’t apply to ME–no one ever gave me ANYTHING!!”sigh.

          2. lisa hickey

            Glad someone else noticed that! Here’s what I keep seeing. The big problem is systemic to our society—a country that was *literally* built on genocide and slavery. That should be the starting point. That should be inarguable.We are a country that became one of the most powerful in the world BECAUSE we were built on genocide and slavery.And since there is no argument to that, the strategy for keeping that system in place is to argue about the little things. Squabble about the solutions. Or attack the people commenting—subtly, mind you—questioning their leadership or calling them “confused” or just taking the conversation in a different direction. Shut down the conversation if need be. All just because we’re merely *discussing* privilege.And look—solutions aren’t easy. And we need all of them. We need empathy + action. We need people to “see” privilege. We need people to better understand history. We need actions that can actually help—and even the best intentioned actions don’t always work. But we need to keep trying. We need more action in the forms of aid and laws and education. But what I’ve learned is—you don’t need *everyone* doing all of those things. 4% of a population mobilizing for a cause is enough to make substantial and long lasting change. 4% of the country having more understanding of the systems of oppression. 4% of the country creating the change we need. So that is what I am working on.The other thing I’ve learned from studying the leaders in the Civil Rights movement is—for any movement there is Active Allies, Passive Allies, Neutrals, Passive Opposition and Active Opposition. Trying to fight the Active Opposition is the least effective. Get the passive allies to help the active allies take action. And try to open the eyes of the neutrals—those who believe in the status quo or think “it’s just the way it is”—open their eyes. Show them. Show them the privilege walk one day and something else that helps them actually *experience* what is going on the next. Move neutrals into becoming your allies. That is what something like the Privilege Walk is designed to do.Arguing with those who are actively opposing you is usually the least effective thing you can do.

    2. JLM

      .Ethnicity is a social distinction made by a common national or cultural origin. It is demarked by nation of origin, regional culture within that nation of origin, language, ancestry, and other cultural markers.Religion is belief in and a worship of a force, a God, a god who exerts control over our human existence.Ethnicity is conveyed upon us at birth.We pick and choose our religion when we decide how to believe and worship. People may never decide to believe or worship a power greater then themselves.Once we have picked a religion — or ignored it — we then decide the depth we will believe, worship, follow, welcome religion into our hearts and use its force to guide our thoughts, words, deeds, and our lives.There is a huge difference between those who profess they are a particular religion and those who actually practice and live that faith.To complete the trifecta, race — often misunderstood and mistaken for ethnicity — is the physical embodiment of our genetic makeup and is manifested in our bone structure, skin color, hair, eyes, and musculature.Race and ethnicity may manifest itself in a single person in a distinctive manner such that a particular race may also have a distinctive ethnicity as seen in a common culture. Simultaneously, a person of a particular race may have an entirely different cultural makeup.The inability to make these distinctions on an intellectual level is evidence of an immature intellect, a lack of intellectual curiosity, and a failure of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this is at the root of many of our problems today even amongst persons with extensive education and life experience.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  2. Steven Kane

    I applaud the good intentions with these type things. But then I worry about the road to hell. I mean, don’t things like this seem a little too… Robespierre? A little too … Cultural Revolution? I know I’m embarrassingly old fashioned and out of touch, but these type things strike me as very divisive, literally by design. When I keep praying for movements and methods that stimulate unity and a sense of shared purpose. The ol’ melting pot ideal – is that just utterly unacceptable now? Isn’t the alternative worse?

    1. Gotham Gal

      Great question but it does help people, particularly this generation, shed light on ignorance about what privilege means. Steve… you need to get more “woke”.

      1. Steven Kane

        True dat! ???

      2. Caleb Bessler

        Say woke unironically again I’ll noose myself please and thank you

        1. Gotham Gal


    2. lisa hickey

      Divisiness comes because people in power do not give the same equal human rights to all people. Those of us who point out the inequalities are not the ones being divisive.

      1. JLM

        .Divisiveness is the product of the diversion of energy into cataloging all the perceived differences that feed the victimhood and virtue signalling narrative rather than focusing that energy on making the world a better place.Whatever we feed prospers. If you spend your energy feeding the narrative of divisiveness, then it becomes more entrenched.The job of any leader is to take their tribe to a place they would never get by themselves.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. Missy Black

          Said the privileged because he/she wants you to shut up and go away

  3. Neal Hugh Hurwitz

    so???? irrelevant.

  4. Kirsten Lambertsen

    This is really interesting. I’m quite curious about its origins. Was it developed by non-white non-males? I could see where although this would be quite enlightening for the folks taking a lot of steps forward, it might have a negative effect on those stepping mostly backwards — something akin to being expected once again to educate white people.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Not sure but would be good to know.

    2. lisa hickey

      I remember seeing a video that showed this actually being done at a school. I think the purpose was to not just have the people in the class experience it, but to create a much broader, wider conversation — perhaps years later to be posted on a blog of an investor, for example. I agree Kirsten — it is up to us — people with privilege, people with power, people with influence — to dismantle abusive systems that marginalize people, prevent them from having access to resources, and often kill them. We ARE the ones who must be educated, every day, over and over — so we can figure out how to create systems that are not abusive. I don’t know any other path forward.

      1. Gotham Gal


  5. lisa hickey

    I thought this was great. I went through every question, and literally imagined myself taking a step forward or backwards. Privilege is nuanced and complicated and systemic. *Systems* were created—by design—to marginalize some groups of people and give power to others. We need to find ways to get people to see those systems. I believe this helps.It also sparked me to think of some others…If you have had to have “The Talk” with your son, the one where you tell them the dangers of being stopped by police because you might be shot and killed, take a step backwards.If you lived in a time where you were prevented, by law, from marrying the person you loved, take a step backwards. If you grew up in a household where physical abuse was normalized, take a step backwards.If you were taught In school that genocide of people who didn’t look like you, who merely lived on land that people who did look like you wanted to conquer — if you were talk that genocide was a cause for celebration, perhaps a reason for National holidays to be created, take a step forward.If you were born in a place where your zip code meant your education and schools didn’t prepare you for life in this world, take a step backwards.If you understand the words “rape culture” because you live in fear of it, for yourself or your daughters, take a step backwards. If you have you grown up in a world where people on TV and movies didn’t look like you, where if you appeared at all you were the “token”, if there were no authors who wrote about your experiences—take a step backwards.If you had to demand to be included in meetings at work because—even though those meetings included people at your level—you weren’t of the same gender or race or sexuality as the people in the room—take a step backwards.If you have had to march and mobilize and protest just to get the same human rights given to others—take a step backwards.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Great additions!

    2. Mayah

      I agree great additions! Spot on! ?

    3. Missy Black

      Love your response! Some people refuse to acknowledge that they are given or inherited privileges by a racist country that those who don’t look like them will never enjoy.

      1. lisa hickey

        The first step is to recognize privilege — and not only is it hard to see, but many people don’t *want* to see it. But the next step is equally important — we must work to actively dismantle white supremacy. Only when we actually SEE the systems of oppression can we do that. The solutions need to be systemic because oppression is systemic. Change needs to come through our governmental institutions, education systems, corporate structures, the media, the arts, and the community. History books have to be rewritten, laws changed, reparations given and new narratives formed. But I also don’t underestimate the power of a single person, a single voice — a blogger, a public speaker, a friend, a family member — speaking up to create change. We have to do the all of it.

  6. LE

    It was designed to provide college students an opportunity to understand and explore the ways that privilege (or lack of) can help people recognize the obstacles and benefits of privilege.It’s unclear to me what exactly the actionable path going forward is (for a student) if someone see that they have more than someone else? Your children have more than my children and my children have more than someone else’s children. And further down the line.What are they supposed to do exactly? And isn’t this really similar to taking kids either through a prison or driving them through the poor part of town (or pass by the poor section on some island on the way to a vacation spot)? They see and then they forget. I am not in a wheel chair. I don’t wake up every morning happy because I have working legs. (But I do wake up every morning happy mostly..)The thing about human nature is by and large most people forget. I think that is by design as a human and not an accident. It’s hard to get by the day if you are always concerned with things that you have little control over. All that does is lead to anxiety and worry and there is nothing productive or helpful about that.Kids raised even in the nice part of Manhattan ride the subway. You don’t need to answer questions to see that that many others have less than you do. You can just pay attention to your surroundings.If a child is at college in their freshman year and beyond their focus needs to be on learning enough and working hard so they get a job and can sustain themselves. That needs to be their focus. Not on saving the world or what they already have that others do not.

  7. JLM

    .’If a person (not a child a young person) arrives at college and is unable to identify their place in the world, then their parents have done a piss poor job of raising them. By age 17 a young man may be asked to fight for his country and a woman is old enough to be a mother. We need to be more appreciative of the thoughtfulness of those entrusted to our care. They are young adults at this age.It is our job to prepare them.If a young person arrives at college and is not grateful for the opportunity that presents itself or the knowledge of their journey to that place, then, again, the fault lies squarely with the parents. It further lies with the college itself.By the time of arrival at college, a young person’s character is formed. All college may do is to refine it a bit. There will be no new green shoots coming forth. They either have character or they don’t. Again, grade the performance of the parents, guardians.The reinforcement of the disadvantages of those who arrive at college is one of the dirtiest tricks life can play on a young person.Rather, the message should be — you are standing here with a blank slate, you may be whatever you resolve to be, hard work will determine where you end up, now go make the best grades and challenge yourself. And, by the way, “I believe in you. You can do this.”The lie that all persons are created equal has only one flaw — we all get 24 hours a day, no more, no less. What we do with those hours is important.Don’t spend time telling people about their shortcomings or guilting those who have been better prepared, get into the fight and make the world fairer.All any person can do is the best they can with what they’ve got constrained by the reality of time.These kind of collective guilt sessions may feed those who need some virtue validation, but to me, they are a total waste of time. They do not provide any additional assistance to the disadvantaged and they sap the energy — which could be freed to do good in the world amongst their fellow students — of those who have an advantage.This is a great country and it is our job to ensure that young persons know that they have no limitations rather than engaging in sophomoric faux histrionics that accomplish nothing.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Missy Black

      If you’re not a minority and you actually believe what you wrote then you should give back anything that you inherited such as land, mortgage and business loans that put your ancestors ahead of the pac and have kept you there. Your comment is akin to giving one person a sports car and another a skateboard to run the same race and having the nerve to tell the skateboarder to just skate a little harder and faster; you’ll catch up if you really, really, want to.

      1. JLM

        .Of course you don’t have any idea of who I am when you left your one-size-fits-all whine. You just wrapped yourself in your mantle of self-imposed victimhood and began to spray your nonsense.Nobody in my family owned anything. My parents, both WWII vets, were second generation immigrants. My father — the smartest man I ever met — was a career soldier. What he gave me was hope. My mother told me this was America and in America I could be whatever I resolved to be. It was always up to me.We never owned a home because we lived on Army posts and moved frequently. We lived in converted WWII barracks buildings. Our months tended to outlast the paltry wages soldiers made. Soldiers who fought in all of our wars to protect our freedoms.I traded five years of my life as a soldier during the Vietnam War Era for a college education. Let that register — I AGREED TO BE SHOT AT TO GET A COLLEGE EDUCATION. That was the exercise of my privilege. I was privileged to be shot at. Some privilege, no?There were a lot of guys who made that trade. Some of them paid the ultimate price. They were KIA.A lot of us were the sons of soldiers. One of my best friends was a black classmate from the identical background as me. Today, he’s a Fellow in the American College of Cardiac Surgeons and is a Professor of Surgery at a major state medical school.Neither of us had a skateboard, but we had grit and hope. We had a sense of the American Dream. We didn’t spend a second feeling sorry for ourselves. We didn’t catalog our woeful lot in life. We didn’t listen to all the jake legs telling us to take steps backwards. We got on with it.I ended up with an Ivy MBA on the GI Bill, but it all started with that single decision to trade my personal safety for a college education. It was a risk, but life is risky.What we owe the world is hope, the hopefulness to say, “In America, you may be whatever you resolve to be, but it depends on you.”As it turns out, you CAN catch up if you really, really, really want to and are not afraid of hardwork and disregarding those who feel compelled to tell you you are a victim.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  8. Rob Smith

    If you were passed over because of your height, take one step backward, if you were good at physical activities take a step forward, if you have good health take a step forward, if you have a smart phone take a step forward, if you are sociable take a step forward, if you were given opportunities and did not make the best of them take 5 step forward, if you are pretty take a step forward, if you have chronic diseases in your family take a step backward, if you suffer from shyness take a step backward, if you write well take a step forward, if you are good in sciences take a step forward, if you can dance take a step forward,the list can go on and on.What happen toif you work hard and try your best for success you will succeed, if you help yourself to the best of your abilities you will succeed, if you focus on what you can do rather than on envying what other have you will be happy, if you help others you will help yourself.

  9. Leave a reply

    Leave a reply if you’re a 30 year old women.

  10. jason wright

    Yet more trolling by the identity politics mafia.

  11. Dan T

    I really hate this – sounds like it is teaching people to be victims.FWIW, I’m below zero steps – but what most people see is that I am white male. I don’t feel disadvantaged because my parents did not go to college, or that my dad was an immigrant, or that they got divorced or all the other crap that made me stronger . . that is how I see it, it made me stronger.Much better questions could be, what have you done so far to make progress your education and understanding of the world- Have you had a job- Have you volunteered at a charity organization- Have you fed the homeless- Were you voted into a leadership position by your peers in a club or team- Can you speak more than one language effectively- Have you served as a mentor to someone- etc.,Maybe give them ideas of what they all could consider doing to make themselves more educated, more understanding, etc.,I liked it better when they told you – – look to your left, look to your right – one of you is not going to be here next year.This is the kind of stuff they need to be hearing (not just because I went to Georgia Tech)…

    1. Gotham Gal

      Fair criticism. At the end of the day it is just making people aware that everyone comes from something different but they all got there

      1. Dan T

        I guess I am just tired of everyone focusing on differences.I like it better when we can focus on the common good of most people. I used to travel a lot for business and I was never shy to ask for directions (back before we all had GPS) and I remembered fondly that EVERYONE in Every country/city – NYC, Tokyo, Bangkok, London, Paris, Copenhagen, Johannesburg, Cairo . . even when I couldn’t speak the language – were helpful. The vast majority of the people in the world are good people, despite our massive differences.College especially is the place where students should be talking about developing their talents and strengths to make their lives and the world a better place . . not highlighting differences. . . there is too much of that alright happening online, on TV, etc.,

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      You’re literally missing the point. The exercise is for the purpose of developing empathy for others. It’s not about any of the other stuff you mentioned. That would be a different exercise.

      1. Dan T

        I think it’s a terrible way to develop empathy. I’m a engineer and I like to score everything, but not privilege. Who’s the most disadvantaged. Let’s have a contest.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          What do you think would be a good exercise for developing empathy then? Are you aware of the fact that you’re a white male played a more than significant role in making it more likely and more possible for you to overcome the disadvantages in your life?What would work to help you have more empathy for people of color, living in poverty, with a single parent working three jobs, going to a poor school whose parents didn’t go to college and whose dad was an immigrant? Or do you think they just need to work hard like you?

          1. JLM

            .Actually, they don’t need empathy. They need assistance, opportunity, a shot at the American Dream.Empathy is making people feel better while nothing actually gets done.All empathy does is reinforce victimhood. It makes liberals feel good, feel superior — while, as I said, nothing actually gets done.What is really useful is overcoming hardship, not celebrating it.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          2. Dan T

            Exercise to develop empathy: having individual conversations with people of different backgrounds, always worked for me. With suggested questions like: tell me about your family, why did you come to this school, what are your goals in life, what is the toughest challenge you had to overcome, etc., could be very useful/helpful.What do I need to do to have more empathy? . . . . I’m fine thank you. . . . . judging my empathy based on the fact that I am successful white male? . . . . I just worked hard – fascinating observation based on?

          3. Kirsten Lambertsen

            When you accuse me of judging your empathy based upon the fact that you’re a successful white male, it comes across as trying to cast yourself as a victim in this conversation. (I haven’t judged your empathy, in fact. Nowhere have I accused you of not having empathy.) Why is that important? Because it’s what women and people of color encounter all the time when trying to convey their experience to white men (successful or not). “Hello, I’d like to point out that maybe you’re not seeing things from someone else’s point of view.” “Why are you attacking my integrity?”

          4. Dan T

            Im just answering specific questions you asked.You asked how I could have more empathy. You said all I did was work hard. I’m not a victim. I’m a Victor. Everyone has struggles in their life and obstacles to overcome. I’m sure you’re an intelligent woman we just look at life through very different lenses.

          5. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Just to clarify, I didn’t say all you did was work hard. I asked if you thought people with more disadvantages than yourself just needed to work hard, as you have worked hard.That question was inspired by your statement, “Maybe give them ideas of what they all could consider doing to make themselves more educated, more understanding, etc.,”Maybe I misunderstood your meaning. I took it to mean that you think what’s more important than empathizing with someone’s circumstances is to tell them how to better themselves in order to overcome their disadvantages. It would follow, then, that your view is that if someone is struggling under their disadvantages it’s because they haven’t done enough to improve themselves.

          6. Dan T

            I have four kids between 17 and 20, I learned a while ago, you can’t tell them s*** about how to be better at much of anything. The best I could do was expose them to situations where they could figure life out and hope they would actually seek my advice. I also try and ask them questions rather than dictate what they ought to do. Young adults need role models and a personal desire to succeed. I also coach high school rugby and experience the same dynamic. My job is to help them figure things out on their own.If someone is struggling because of their disadvantages it’s likely they have not seen or understood how to succeed or in some cases, they just are lazy or slow to figure it out. This has nothing to do with race, class or gender. It’s a universal challenge and everyone, even rich white males have their unique issues to overcome. I just really hate privilege scoring. It’s the opposite of what kids need to hear.

      2. Cam MacRae

        The problem with this exercise, and others like it, is that it depends upon those at the back of the line — ostensibly those who are less privileged — to publicly dissect their experience to facilitate a learning experience for the benefit of those with privilege.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          I expressed the same concern in a separate comment.

    3. JLM

      .Stronger than 100 acres of garlic. I really enjoyed that.I, of course, agree more with you than you agree with yourself.Of course, I cannot think of Georgia Tech without thinking of The Varsity and a slaw dawg and a Varsity orange waiting on the other side of the highway.You’re a Rambling Wreck and a Hell of an engineer!JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. pointsnfigures

        Um, in the real world there is no such thing as a hot dog with slaw. A hot dog is thus: poppyseed bun, mustard, neon relish, tomatoes, pickles, sport peppers, onions and celery salt. It’s the only acceptable way to present an encased meat such as a hot dog to a friend.

    4. SFG

      Epic, loved the video.

    5. jason wright

      ‘The Privilege Talk’, that victimises everyone, the not white and the white.Political correctness is the assault rifle of public discourse, a weapon of thought censorship.

  12. jason wright

    Is this a vision of the next web, link baiting without the links?

  13. Yoyo Chen

    I love the idea of- Creating empathy and curiosity about your diverse classmates- Sparking conversations that can lead to a stronger communityI agree with the comments here that the “Privilege Walk” tries to achieve the above but seems to do it in a way that divides as much as unites.