Tag Archives: privilege

Pampered Guilt: With Spa Treatments, Is There More Than What Meets the Eye?

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

On Tuesday, I walked half a block from my office to get a manicure/pedicure. I had a gift certificate that I figured that I’d put to good use, especially considering that my nails were chewed down from a combination of stress resulting from the month-end close and my anticipation regarding delegate count announcements on CNN. That and my cuticles looked more like razed cornfields than supportive flesh thanks to my having recently moved to a new apartment. I was a hot mess, and I needed help instantly.

When I arrived at the spa, I thanked my lucky stars for the opportunity to have some time away from my corporate sweatshop, but felt that I might have stepped into another one—though this time, the roles were reversed. I was in charge. In some weird S&M-like twist of fate, the spa had transported me into another world, where dozens of women were present to meet my every need if I just asked, even if they could barely understand a word I said. My vocabulary for the hour was restricted solely to beautification terms, and little else could be said without getting lost in translation. My spa break had given me yet another reason to bite my nails.

On the one hand, I love being pampered, but on the other, I’m the type who would be likely to clean my house from top to bottom before the maid came, if you know what I mean. I say only possess what you could properly take care of on your own. It’s a personal philosophy I try to live by—one that inevitably haunts me whenever I walk into a spa. A terrible disease I have called OverThink takes over, making it hard for me to enjoy myself at time because I am constantly thinking that I should have run the blade a little closer to the skin on my left leg as to not annoy the masseuse or that I should have scrubbed my right heel a little harder in the shower this morning so that the pedicurist wouldn’t end up with huge biceps on account of all the elbow grease she had to apply to my feet.

But when I returned to work that day, with Essie-adorned fingers and toes, I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Other co-workers expressed feeling a similar anxiety when going for spa treatments, and just like me, the pedicure was sometimes the hardest part to endure. There was just something odd about having a woman nearly beneath you in a hunched position treating your toes as if they were solid gold, staring at you in feigned adoration as you massaged lotion in your calves, your conversations limited to “hard?” or “soft?” and “same color for your manicure?” At the epicenter of comfort, something placed us in a state of unease. Though being pleased, we felt a discomfort based on class, race, age, and/or language barriers, when applicable, that placed us in a position of power we hadn’t earned. Though in our discussions, my workmates and I agreed that it was the physical positioning of a pedicure that bothered us, we knew it went deeper than that, we just weren’t sure exactly how to say it.

The author of the blog That Black Girl attempted to explain how she felt in April of 2007 in an entry simpled entitled “Service“:

i know this sounds weird, but something just doesn’t sit well with me having someone black give me a pedicure. as far as portland goes, i haven’t seen any other pedicure salons with black people actually doing the pedicures . it would just make me feel weird and i’m not sure exactly why. something about it seeming like servant type work makes it seem awkward for someone black to be serving me like that. like i’m being a house negro or something . . . i wonder if anyone else feels this way or if i’m just cookoo.

In several of the comments, readers complained that the author was being overly analytical about the situation or that she was too focused on race, but in my response, I attempted to expand the author’s thoughts by incorporating history: Continue reading

Has Class Trumped Race? Part 2 – Interpreting Privilege

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

So, exactly what is privilege? It really depends on your perspective and definition. Let’s revisit my answers to the privilege checklist:

When you were in college:

If your father went to college, take a step forward.
If your father finished college
If your mother went to college
If your mother finished college
If you have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
If you were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
If you had a computer at home
If you had your own computer at home
If you had more than 50 books at home
If you had more than 500 books at home
If were read children’s books by a parent
If you ever had lessons of any kind
If you had more than two kinds of lessons
If the people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
If you had a credit card with your name on it
If you have less than $5000 in student loans

If you have no student loans
If you went to a private high school
If you went to summer camp
If you had a private tutor
If you have been to Europe
If your family vacations involved staying at hotels
If all of your clothing has been new and bought at the mall
If your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
If there was original art in your house
If you had a phone in your room
If you lived in a single family house
If your parent own their own house or apartment
If you had your own room
If you participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
If you had your own cell phone in High School
If you had your own TV in your room in High School
If you opened a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
If you have ever flown anywhere on a commercial airline
If you ever went on a cruise with your family
If your parents took you to museums and art galleries
If you were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

Many of these items have a class based assumption backing them. However, as other critics of the study have shown, it is fairly easy to have one of these things and not have it be a hallmark of privilege.

If you had your own computer at home.

My mother made sure that we acquired a computer. While we had no software on it (typing papers on Wordpad before there was spell check), my mother had gotten the impression that computers were the future. Also, a computer was a justifiable expense as it could be used for work, school work, and entertainment. We did without other luxuries, like cable TV.

If you had more than fifty books at home.

As others have pointed out, the assumption behind this one is that purchasing books (or having books in the home) is a mark of privilege, presumably because books are expensive items or because people in the lower class have poor reading skills. I am not sure which of those two scenarios the creators of the exercise used. However, books are also a very cheap form of entertainment. My sister and I were avid users of our local library, which also sold used books for a dime a piece when we were growing up. Within a few years, my sister and I had amassed a sizeable collection of children’s books for a very small amount of money – less than the cost of a brand new hardback. Continue reading

Has Class Trumped Race? Part 1 – Understanding Privilege

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

Gossip Girl

Have you seen the Class Privilege checklist?

I had not. Apparently, this was a staff development exercise on class privilege that made it to the internet and has launched a thousand comments and counter-posts.

I originally found this through Donna Darko, who found it through Bint Alshamsa.

The instructions are simple. While in the classroom, you would take a step forward for each item that is in your experience. In the blogosphere, you simply bold the item. (I have given my answers below. Part two of this series will explore the events around many of these items, as these widely depend on circumstance and location.)

When you were in college:

If your father went to college, take a step forward.
If your father finished college
If your mother went to college
If your mother finished college
If you have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
If you were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
If you had a computer at home
If you had your own computer at home
If you had more than 50 books at home
If you had more than 500 books at home
If were read children’s books by a parent
If you ever had lessons of any kind
If you had more than two kinds of lessons
If the people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
If you had a credit card with your name on it
If you have less than $5000 in student loans

If you have no student loans
If you went to a private high school
If you went to summer camp
If you had a private tutor
If you have been to Europe
If your family vacations involved staying at hotels
If all of your clothing has been new and bought at the mall
If your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
If there was original art in your house
If you had a phone in your room
If you lived in a single family house
If your parent own their own house or apartment
If you had your own room
If you participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
If you had your own cell phone in High School
If you had your own TV in your room in High School
If you opened a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
If you have ever flown anywhere on a commercial airline
If you ever went on a cruise with your family
If your parents took you to museums and art galleries
If you were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

There has been a bit of criticism aimed toward this checklist, best summarized in this response.

But do the criticisms hold some truth?

Continue reading