Traveling Helped Me Understand My Privilege
The issue is not whether or not you have privilege. It’s how you use it where the conflict comes into play. As a white American, I will admit that for the longest time, I resisted the idea of “privilege”. I believed that because I came from a lower middle-class family and have suffered my fair share, the concept of “privilege” did not apply to me. I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I started traveling.
I will never forget the day I was buying a train ticket in Athens, Greece, and two little boys appeared around the corner. They couldn’t be older than five years old. They started begging for money, and when that didn’t work, they began to kick me (just me, probably because I was the smallest of my friends). I understood that these children were probably taught by an adult to steal – they did not know any better. To them, this was necessary to survive.
Fast forward to the couple weeks spent in Morocco and Senegal. On a class field trip, we visited the slums of Casablanca. A family graciously hosted us, and fed us a delicious meal that I can still taste – dates, nuts, bread, and mint tea. They did not fall under most peoples’ standards of “well off”, but they were happy. In Senegal, I saw children begging for water, and women selling jewelry for literally anything we could give them – make up, food, water, or cash, but they normally asked for other things first. But the children I met at an elementary school were the happiest kids I had ever seen. They were delighted to be able to learn and interact with other children.
I also spent an afternoon in Ecuadorian favelas during another field trip. Again, I met some very kind people who welcomed us into their home. They told us about their daily routine, their struggles, hopes, and aspirations. They spent the afternoon showing us how circumstance acted as a bond that created a strong community, where people had each other’s backs and worked together every day. They worked together to have the luxury of giving their children an education, to cut down on crime, drug violence, and gangs.
I have never had to worry about my personal survival in the same way as some of the people I met. I grew up always having food on the table and shoes on my feet, which is a lot more than some people on our planet can say. I live in the United States, so I have never had to worry about unsanitary water. I do not live in fear due to my ethnicity and cultural misconceptions, and I do not have to worry about extra questions or suspicious stares in airports due to my skin color and last name, I have privilege. I met people who will never have higher education as an option, and don’t view it as a necessity the way I do. I learned that even though I am not “rich” in popular sense, because I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and shoes on my feet, I am a lot wealthier than many people. Because I do not have to learn an imperial language to participate in economics and politics, I have privilege.
I never would have realized this if I stayed in the United States my entire life. Traveling opened my eyes in so many ways. In a time like this, where divisions based on privilege, skin color, misconceptions based on religion and region, I will aim to further understand the lives of other people, and use my privilege to help others. Having privilege is not a problem. You just need to understand your privilege, and make sure to use your privilege to help the world become a better place.