Understanding Privilege, Our Worldviews, And Change
By Paige Agnew, Business Operations Officer
At a young age, I was fortunate enough to study abroad for a month in Cuernavaca, Mexico. My family and I went to school there to learn Spanish and we took field trips and cooked Mexican dishes I’d never heard of and have yet to see in any Mexican restaurants here. We stayed with host families and walked through streets where hotels, resorts, and tourist traps didn’t exist. And so by nine years old, I’d learned the difference between vacationing and immersing myself in a culture different from my own.
Those were experiences I carried with me when I studied abroad eleven years later in Paros, Greece, an island in the Cyclades. In both places you’re not allowed to flush toilet paper, because of their piping system. In both places they do not drink tap water because of safety concerns. In America we are used to spending about two dollars on a single bottle of water while in Paros you typically spend fifteen cents for one at the grocery store. I wonder if any Grecians ever came to America and balked at our prices the way I was amazed at theirs.
Why am I explaining all this? You see, inherently our views of the world and even our own lives are small. We aren’t born knowing the privileges we have and don’t have. We aren’t omnipresent to understand the nuances of cultures near and far. To put it simply, we don’t know what we don’t know. As an avid reader, writer, and traveler, I love discovering the things that I don’t know and creating opportunities for others to do the same. That knowledge cannot just be handed to us. It has to be received. It has to be sought. It has to be earned. And as children learn all the fundamental ways of how to interact with the world around them—whether it be not touching hot stoves or looking both ways before crossing the street—we, too, have a responsibility to learn about the world around us, to do more than the bare minimum to open our eyes, minds and hearts to the experiences of the people around us, and then be an advocate for working together to create change.
You’ll never know someone else’s story unless you ask, unless you listen. And what they say will never matter to you unless you allow their experiences to have a necessary impact on your worldview. When I am vacationing, I go to relax and spoil myself and unplug from the world. When I am traveling, I am open minded and responsive, and committed to learning about the people and places around me, knowing I might stumble into some uncomfortable places along the way. Right now the endangered lives around us cannot afford for us to unplug and stick our fingers in our ears for our peace of mind. Those lives cannot afford for us to remain willfully ignorant or insistent that their perspectives on how they experience the world are wrong or unwarranted or that there is blame to be had someplace else we are more comfortable with that doesn’t require introspection on how we see ourselves and the people around us. Years ago, I had a teacher discuss the control that US has over the internet, and that most US citizens do not think of the lack of restrictions they have, or the simple use of dot com. We do not have to denote our country for legal use of our websites. It is not “.usa” the way it is “.uk” for the United Kingdom or “.ca” for Canada. And with that example, she explained something I’ll never forget: privilege is invisible to those that have it.
Growing up I never would have considered that drinking tap water or flushing toilet paper was a privilege, because I’d never experienced or heard of anything else. We think that privilege is some loaded word or concept, but it’s something every single person on the planet has in some form or another, just in varying degrees, and yes, certainly within racial groups. Privilege will always be blind unless we are presented with something else. The power that we have will always be underutilized and intangible unless we are seek or are faced with opportunities to use it. Your opportunity is here. It’s now. We vacation for our comfort. We travel to engage and learn and ask and explore. We travel to discover, and it takes bravery to do the work and confront hard truths along the way. America has fought to be comfortable for too long. Our silence only consents to the status quo. Freedom isn’t freedom unless everyone is free because partial freedom means partial bondage.
At Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services, we are committed to the liberation of the mind, body, and soul. We will not be quiet. We will not be comfortable. And we are thankful for every person who has joined in that fight. Let’s travel this movement together.