Seven check marks

In the Netherlands, there is currently a lot of attention given to the concept of “the seven check marks” (zeven vinkjes) of journalist Joris Luyendijk, who wrote that the most priviliged people in Dutch society are those who are male, white, heterosexual, and have at least one parent with a higher education, at least one parent who was born in The Netherlands, a diploma from the highest Dutch secondary education (VWO), and a university diploma.

I have three major problems with these seven check marks.

The first major problem is that statistically speaking there aren’t seven check marks here. As having a VWO or better diploma is a prerequisite for getting into a university, the sixth check mark can be dropped. Moreover, in The Netherlands there is a very strong correlation between parents having a higher education and children having a higher education (caused by both nature and nurture), and thus the fourth check mark can be dropped as well. Moreover, as it is close to an a-priori that a white Dutch person has at least one parent who was born in The Netherlands, the fifth check mark is not contributing anything either. The seven check marks can therefore be reduced to being male, white, heterosexual, and having a university education — which can be listed under the heading “old news.”

The second major problem I have is that being privileged depends on what goal you have in life. If your goal is to have a good, high-paying job, then I am pretty sure that at least until about a decade ago, white males with a university education were priviliged in The Netherlands (this has changed in recent years due to preferential hiring practices). However, if your goal in life is to not work while having a partner who earns a nice income, being a white, heterosexual woman makes you highly privileged. And as statistics show that on average Dutch women are considerably happier than Dutch men, being a woman gives privilige if your goal is to be happy. It should also be noted that “having a good, high-paying job” for most people who have this goal is just an intermediate step: what they really want is wealth so that they can enjoy their life. The job is only a means to an end. But if the job comes with a life of hard work, the beneficiaries of that job are partners and children rather than the person having the job. It is no wonder that the goal of many people is to marry rich rather than get a good job.

The third major problem is that Luyendijk leaves out at least one check mark which is on its own covering virtually all the privilige that you can have in The Netherlands, which is “being wealthy.” Most people in The Netherlands will agree that the most priviliged people in the Netherlands, who can have everything in spades without work or worries, are rich, attractive, young women. If you really want to create a privilige ladder and put people on it, you will find that your personal wealth pretty much determines which rung of the ladder you will occupy. As wealth is strongly correlated with skin color, nationality, and education (and to a lesser extent with sexual preference), it is the only feature you need to explain privilige.

If you give people a list of categories and ask them to check what they rather be, you will find that most people in the Netherlands would choose to be rich rather than poor, young rather than old, attractive rather than unattractive, and white rather than black. So you can talk about “being priviliged” until you are blue in the mouth, but actually being an old, unattractive, white guy whose days are filled with hard work is not an enviable position, regardless whether that guy is considered “priviliged” according to the check marks.

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