A friend who works for the NCCJ - now the National Conference for Community and Justice, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews - told me of an exercise that they run at their summer youth camp, Anytown. All the campers hold hands in a long line, standing side by side. The leader then reads items from a list of privileges and disadvantages. If you grew up in a house with more than 50 books, take a step forward. If your mother is a college graduate, take three steps forward. If you grew up with only one parent, take three steps back. And so on.
Kids at Anytown soon find that it is hard keep holding hands with their friends, with some moving way ahead, while others stay still or even fall back. The ones who move the furthest down the field can see graphically what an advantage their privileges have given them, privileges that most did not realize they had. For kids who choose to go to an NCCJ leadership camp, this experience fills them with a desire to work together to lift everyone for the sake of community and justice.
Another friend was telling me that his daughter had done this exercise as part of orientation at a fancy northeastern prep school. I don't think he said they were holding hands. The leaders, who had been brought in to teach this very privileged group about privilege, had added some options appropriate to that setting. "If your mom is a college graduate" got most of the kids to go three steps forward, though some of the kids on the biggest scholarships did not. But then they started adding some unusual instructions - if there is a building on this campus named for your family, take ten steps forward. The particular child who marched down the field at that instruction was so far ahead of the others that the instructors gave him a chair to sit in on the field.
What was different at the prep school from the justice camp was that many of the students came to see the privilege game as a competition to see how many privileges they could add up. My friend's daughter got the intended point. Many of her classmates, though, looked forward to each new set of privilege steps as a way to catch up to the lucky dog sitting in the chair downfield.