Privilege of The Privileged
Obligatory preamble: These are solely my reflections and generalizations, taken from context of being an America in Asia thus far.
If you have eyes to read, the mind to comprehend, you are fortunate with good health. If you live in the socioeconomic circumstance and have the ability to chose your own path (as I have), you are privileged. And of course to embark on this fellowship I am beyond privileged.
But here, I want to delve deeper into a more implicit layer of privilege.
To most, just off appearance, I am undeniably American. I am tall, white, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and often wear a backwards hat. This typically means people have an automatic assumption of me being a westerner, further, sometimes as an American and further yet, sometimes I am stereotyped as the "Cool American.” I am associated with people they hear about on tv or watch on digital screens. This often enables me to meet people easier, and for us to share in stories.
I will not lie. It makes things easier. On the day to day it means I am invited into space more than I am excluded from it. At times, I am allowed to sit in a restaurant without being a customer, when others can't. At times, people will ask me to join them off the street for dinner. And at times, parents ask me to take pictures with their children. It enables opportunities - opportunities which aren't only physical invitations - yet also for an invitation to share in culture and ways of life.
In short, my “American looks” serve as a bridge to connection. Where others have a stop sign, I often have an entry way. Doors are opened on the basis of the appearance people believe I represent, rather than who I am and what I stand for. (Though it certainly goes past looks, it's an energetic thing as well. While a smiling American may have prompted the business owner to open his closed doors, our conversation prompted the subsequent discount. I like to think while my stereotype has opened doors, my personality- what I stand for internally, and how I interact with others- is what allows me to keep prying open new doors.)
So what does this mean? It means I have this implicit power that's best defined by the word privilege. A privilege that isn't rooted in solely my upbringing yet also stems from aesthetics.
White privilege. I never fully understood until I experienced it. And it took me traveling half way across the world and being isolated from westerners to fully feel it.
But this goes deeper than my realization of the sociological phenomenon. It's made me look at myself differently. I was never quick to define myself as American. And much less as, “a cool American.” When you're surrounded by others that are very similar to yourself, it's hard to see yourself as different. Lacking this contrast at home, I didn't see myself in this frame. While I understood it, I did not often feel myself as someone with immense privilege . I was just another kid blending into his background.
It can be easy to let this go to ego. And at times it has. But most times it makes me uncomfortable with my socioeconomic upbringing and myself. How can I have so much privilege, when others suffer so gravely?
These feelings have served as a doorway to a greater learning experience. When you start to consciously observe how your physical appearance serves as a key to open doors, where others are seemingly locked out, you can empathize. I'm beginning to imagine what this fellowship might look like from the other fellows perspectives, who all are of differing backgrounds.
And It's not just the day to day. I realize if people want to engage more with me on a routine basis, then routine engagement may scale up to more profound opportunity. That is - it may be easier for me to get a place to stay, a job, an academic placement, help in a time of need.
When you wonder, why was my friend from Nigeria rejected entry to the state of Sabah based on the grounds of his nationality? Why was he not able to climb the same mountain that I will hopefully will be climbing soon? You realize that many aren't operating on a level playing field, solely because of the country they were born or the appearance they have.
This unjustness fuels my drive to continue with unconditional kindness. We are all breathing, feeling, sensing humans, walking on the same earth. We must act to do whatever we can to tip the scales toward equality. For me, this starts with treating everyone wth equivocal kindness.
To begin a dismount from this train of thought, I want to circle back to the base layer of privilege : privilege in upbringing. If you're reading this chances are you're American or are from an area that resembles a westernized place. Regardless of your appearances you get to devote you're time to the less primal needs of life such as : optimizing career path, physique building, seeking meaning and purpose, etc. While important, these seem more trivial in the face of obtaining clean drinking water, food, and shelter. For some, these are daily struggles.
We need to start developing a global consciousness. It starts with leaving the constructs of “it's about me, my career, my life.” Are we doing something because it's self-serving or to help others? We should never neglect our own self-care and path towards fulfillment, but in the heat of all don't forget about the other 7 billion humans.
Take a moment to reflect on the implicit privilege you have. Whether it's being westernized, able bodied, able minded, you don't need to be an American male to have privilege, we all have it in different ways.
Regardless of how you feel this morning , what struggle you're facing , you woke up with some form of privilege, some fortune. A power that no one can take away from you.