Monday, June 2, 2008


This is a meme I found via yaramaz, a fellow Istanbul blogger. I found it interesting because of that quirk of growing up as a middle-class American which makes it uncomfortable for me to admit exactly how privileged we were, my brothers and I. But clearly we were. I still maintain, however, that we weren't spoiled, at least not in the sense of being taught to be bratty or undisciplined, and I don't think we have a sense of entitlement or of being better than others.

It's just that because of this meme I came out clearly privileged, so I feel I have to qualify or justify myself somehow. Sad.

Here it is:

The list is based on an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. The exercise developers ask that if you participate in this blog game, you acknowledge their copyright. Highlight in bold the sentences that are true for you:

Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children’s books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18

Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp
Had a private tutor before you turned 18
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18

Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
There was original art in your house when you were a child
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child

Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

So that's me. Then I got to thinking about privilege and what it means here in Turkey, since social class is much more rigid here, development has been rapid since 1973 (when I was born), and having access to a lot of things that are considered by Americans to be 'normal' (for example, having a computer/Internet in your home or having more than one car per family) is, even now, available to relatively few people, either because of geography or economic status.

So, finding myself with a bit of spare time, I whipped up this little list of questions about privilege in Turkey as I've come to understand it. I'm probably looking at privilege in two ways: one, from my perspective as an American and what we have there now, or had there 20 years ago compared to what there is and was here; and two, from what I've seen living here in terms of increasing development, the huge rift between the upper and lower class, and the differences in how people live depending on where they live. I'm also imagining the questions directed at someone more or less from my generation, anywhere from ten years older to ten years younger than I am. I don't intend this as a meme-- it's just something I'm putting out there because I was thinking about it:

Does your house have electricity and indoor plumbing?
If so, do you also have access to a backup source for when these utilities fail?
Did you have these utilities when you were growing up?
Does your house have telephone and/or Internet service?
Are you literate and numerate?
Are both of your parents literate and numerate?
Did you finish elementary school/high school?
Did your father finish elementary school/high school?
Did your mother finish elementary school/high school?
Were you allowed/encouraged to to finish high school?
Were your parents allowed/encouraged to finish high school?
Did you go to university?
Did your parents go to university?
Can you type well?
Does your family own a computer? If so, is it used by everyone in the home?
Did/does your mother work outside the home?
If your mother works outside the home, would there be enough money for the family to get by if she couldn't or didn't want to work?
Do you have private medical insurance?
Do you have a choice of which doctors or hospitals you can/are financially able to use?
Do the males in your family have life-or-death power over the females?
Do you have access to birth control?
If you have access to birth control, are you allowed to use it?
Do you have regular access to meat and milk?
Did you have regular access to meat and milk when you were growing up?
Did your family migrate to a big city for work?
Did your grandparents migrate to a big city for work?
Does your family own more a car? More than one car?
If so, is your family's car less than ten years old?
Are you in the same social class as your parents? As your grandparents?
Do you think your children will be in the same social class as you?
Do you have a passport?
Have you ever travelled abroad?

So that's it. I'm sure this list in is no way comprehensive, and there are probably things here that are inaccurate or of debatable importance in relation to privilege. But it was an interesting exercise nonetheless.


Yaramaz said...

When I think about the backgrounds and families of people I have known over the years here, I really have to remember to put things into perspective and to not knee-jerkily assume that even though the Modern, Educated Turk standing before me looks like people I might have grown up with and acts like people I grew up with, they may have emerged from a background completely unfathomable to me.
One of my friends' father was barely saved from execution for being communist in the early '80s- his friends were all hanged; Another friend grew up in a small Anatolian village with a mother who completed grade 5 at the most and who didn't have access to piped water until university; Another friend was the middle child of 12 from a multi-mothered Mardin family and was the only one who finished high school. Even the rich kids at the kolej where I taught in Kayseri only had cold running water in the loos. I don't think our local school boards (let alone expensive private schools) would have allowed cold water taps and squat loos with little water buckets. The echoey bare concrete floors would never do either.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

For the age range you have in mind, the mother's higher education would probably be one of the biggest class indicators here. It not only implies some amount of wealth in the family but also that they had the circumstances (location, luck, enlightened grandpa etc.) that led to an early adoption of the official values of the Republic and thus the use of the best opportunities the country could offer. Probably it also makes one a member of the much maligned 'elite' now. (And no, my mom didn't go to college, but my older sister is an engineer, and my niece will be in a year.)

Functional literacy in a foreign language would also be a good proxy for past access to a worthwhile education and wealth -- perhaps more so than a graduate degree would be.

Stranger said...

That's why I started thinking about it. It's so surprising how quickly things have developed here and what people our age's childhoods were like. Plus, people who did have childhoods similar to ours must have been in the ultra-wealthy class. I mean, there's privilege from our perspective, but at the same time, those Kayseri kids would be considered privileged by people around them who don't have running water at all. And by now, that school probably does have hot and cold water, though it ptobably stopped working well after six months.

BE's mother only finished school till 5th or 6th grade, plus she doesn't even know her date/year of birth (I included then took out a question about this, because I decided it wasn't related to privilege, but something else altogether), since no one thought girls were important enough to bother recording-- the stuff on her ID card was guessed at, when they got the card for her to start school.

Or even small things, like privileged kids BE's age had TVs. There I was complaining that my parents wouldn't let me watch MTV, while even the privileged kids here were watching Dallas reruns, and had a choice of TRT or TRT.

Stranger said...

Oops, Bülent's comment appeared while I was responding to yaramaz's. I agree that education is probably also the most telling indicator of class. I kind of think owning a computer (for tis age range), and having the computer be used by one or both parents in the household is another.

And bad me for not thinking of foreign languages! It's not like it wasn't my old job or anything.

I also think that for this age range, social class is becoming and is going to become somewhat more fluid...

Jessica said...

Interesting. A lot of the indicators for Turkey would be, not surprisingly, a lot closer to the indicators for China than the American indicators would be. The main one here is urban vs. rural. How does that come into play in Turkey? No matter how wealthy a rural family here in China may be, they will never be privileged in the same way that an urban family will (almost automatically due to the way that native city dwellers of a certain generation are almost always property owners) be. Even if they migrate to the city it will take generations for them to establish themselves as "city folk."

Stranger said...

You're spot on about urban vs. rural, Jessica. What you talk about as 'city folk' in China would be akin to what Bülent refers to as the 'elite' here. Having money and even coming to the certainly city do not make a person part of this elite, and they will be regarded in some way as 'upstarts' for many generations.

It also happens that there are a lot of rural people with money who are quite conservative and traditional. Perhaps in our current generation these people are starting to educate their girls (though I suspect this is still allowed or not allowed at the whim of the family patriarchs, and I don't expect the girls have a big choice of where to go to school-- for example, I doubt education abroad is an option for most of them), so this conservatism could start to change in the future.

Under the current government, probably because of cronyism and the way large building and development contracts are being awarded, there has lately been a noticeable influx of these rich 'villagers' into Istanbul. Very conservative, very traditional families. Sometimes they're funny, like instead of driving small, 20 year old sedans stuffed with 12 people including 3 women in black sheets, they're now driving BMW SUVs stuffed with the same (only the women's headscarves sport designer labels), and they still can't drive worth a damn. It's partly because of people like these that politics here are changing towards the conservative, religious side, and the nationalist, secularist elite (always the minority) are losing ground to these 'villagers' with money who also suddenly have power.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Yes, Stranger's right. Though, perhaps unlike China, as the power of non-Muslim middle and upper-middle classes was rapidly eroding after the establishment of the republic, there was an opportunity for some townsfolk to rapidly replace them in bigger cities. Many of the people who act and appear as though they've been Istanbul-dwellers for generations are from families who made use of the window of opportunity and moved back then. Thus, for example, even though I belong to the first generation born in Istanbul of an Eastern Black Sea family, a casual observer probably cannot tell the difference between me and, say, someone like Orhan Pamuk who'd been born into privilege coming from the Ottoman times (he has an Ottoman governor as a great grandpa somewhere).

Stranger said...

Bülent touches on an interesting point, which is how few people are actually 'from' Istanbul. In my entire time here, I have only met one person who claimed this, and he, like Orhan Pamuk, was descended from Ottomans who had been here forever. Interestingly, even people whose families have been here for, say, 80 years, still claim to be from the village where their families originated, and their official ID cards reflect this. BE was born in Istanbul, his father was born in Istanbul, but his grandfather migrated from Sivas as a teenager, so they all still claim to be from Sivas. Even LE's ID card lists his place of origin as Sivas!

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Yes. My ID card used to say Rize, but it got to be such a hassle we changed it for the whole family. This reluctance to move the records may have something to do with the conscription system too. It used to be that (at least the rumour was) if you were from the East of the country you'd serve in the West and vice versa. As for the assertion of being 'from' a place you weren't born in, it may have something to do with the family socializing and doing business with or working for people (related or not) who've migrated from the same place. It is also that the others refer to the bunch as being from wherever it was they came. (Not always favourably. When a 'Sivasli' was the mayor, it was 'Sivasli's taking over everything and enriching themselves. I still occasionally hear about how 'Karadenizli' builders are responsible for the ugliness in Istanbul's newer buildings etc.) You tend to see this in the US too, come to think of it. There, it involves the 'old country' rather than the province of origin mostly.

Anyway yes, there have been waves of migration here with different outcomes. For the earlier waves I think the class distinction -- at least the obvious visible signs etc. -- disappeared very quickly. I attribute this to the composition of the middle class changing from the Ottoman (private sector) trading/productive classes to the new ones with Turkish/Muslim identities. Perhaps it is also that the people who moved at that time were already doing the kinds of things in a small scale back in their home provinces so they didn't change from being farmers to being something else, but from being, say, small time town merchants to Istanbul-based bigger ones.

Perhaps, though, you can tell the difference when you visit people's homes. Even the not-so-rich people who'd been established in Istanbul for a long time tend to have heirlooms and such and semi-antique hand-made furniture of good quality. The very rich did acquire such things of course. (The Sabanci family even had a statue of an animal (I think) in front of their mansion for a while).

Papa said...

Honey, I'm so sorry we never took yoou on a cruz.

Stranger said...

Papa, I think I'm okay about the cruise. We went whale-watching once, and we didn't see any whales and I got sea-sick the whole time. I even got sea-sick on the sailboat in Lake Tahoe! So perhaps a cruise wouldn't be for me.

Oh, and Bülent, I asked BE why he's never gotten his records changed to show he's from Istanbul (he always clarifies to people that he was born here even though he's Sivaslı), and he said first that you can't do that anymore, and second, that he never would because he's Sivaslı. I asked about LE, who I don't consider to have much to do with Sivas, and he said LE's Sivalı too, end of discussion.

I think the identification thing is really interesting, how people from certain regions consider it an important part of themselves to be from that region. And, as you say, it's still important for business and friendships and acquaintances-- BE finds the Sivaslı wherever he goes and immediately becomes buddies with them.