I was born in Manhattan, New York, raised in the [snooty] suburbs of New Jersey. I went to a private elementary school. I grew up with a dog by my side. I am headed to a four year college in the US. I am white. I am American. I am privileged.
For the past year, I have struggled with the shame that comes with privilege. I felt I did not deserve the hand I have been dealt. Why me? What makes me any more deserving than anyone else, especially someone who is truly suffering? I’m not special. I am aware of the countless people in the world who barely scrounge up enough to put food on the table. Take my money, my food, my life. I am not worthy.
My privilege made me uncomfortable. I was embarrassed to be white, to be American. I felt that all the stereotypes related to white Americans applied to me, which made me feel awful. I withdrew from my community into a dark place where my hatred for myself and my identity continued to fester.
All these feelings fluttered back into my conscious during Zack’s lesson yesterday. After two hotel switches due to some complications, we ended up in this huge, extravagant 5-star hotel in Kashgar. Decked out with a pool, sauna and steam room, TVs, and amenities galore, this hotel had us in awe. We trudged into the spacious marble lobby with our ratty, bulky backpacks, swarmed my mobs of Chinese tourists. This was a vacation for them. Kashgar, with its exotic camels, mystical desert roads, and “traditional” clothing, is a fun and exciting getaway in their eyes. But take a closer look and you’ll discover the truth. Mosques turned into bars. Uyghurs prohibited from practicing Islam, being forced to assimilate.
This course cost about $8,000. Zack pulled up the “Global Rich List” and showed us how much $8,000 could make a difference in someone else’s life. It was eye-opening, but I still felt heavy with guilt.
We then discussed how we can recognize and deal with our privilege in a healthy way. I am grateful for my family, for my friends, for the opportunities I am given. I work hard. I strive to make deep and profound connections with people, understand their story. I try to practice non-attachment and seek out meaningful experiences.
There is nothing I can do to change the situation for the Uyghurs. I wish there was. And, as Noam said, there is probably not much I can do to change the world.
But I am aware of the privilege I have and realize how blessed I am to have the life I do. Perhaps I can’t change the world, but I can share what I have learned here in China with people at home, do my best to inform others. I treat people with kindness and keep an open mind. All I can do is hope to inspire positive change within my own community and hope the next person carries it forward to the next, and so on.