Monday, January 21, 2008

the trip was huge.

i'm still having a tough time coming up with something concise to say about the trip to bolivia. it was good and i am so glad that i had the opportunity to go. those things are true. it is a country in transition right now, and there is a lot of hope and fear and excitement because of the promise of the future and the dangers of the past.

it was a powerful experience to be a white, comparably wealthy, north american in that post-colonial country. we stayed at a hotel where my (shared double) room was about $47 (US) per night. the average monthly income in bolivia is about $100 (US). i kept thinking about how crazy it would seem to me if someone came to the us and stayed in a $12,000 per night hotel.

and it wasn't the nicest hotel in town, either. don't misunderstand——it was nicer than anywhere i've ever stayed in the us, and the staff, from the doorman who stood at the door all day to make sure that i didn't have to open it myself and to keep other people out, to the kind desk clerk who was calling me "sarita" by the second day, to the polite 60 year old men who snatched my suitcase and sprinted up the stairs with it——it's just that there were fancier places in the city.

i certainly don't want to seem like i'm complaining. it was just another observation, and not a particularly comfortable one. being confronted with one's privilege is rarely (if ever) a pleasant thing. but it is important.

i've seen it other places, even here at home, but the free pass that my pale face so often provides is such a strange and unsettling thing.

i am tired, and it's been a crummy day, and i need to go to bed. but i would like to recommend "white privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack," by peggy mcintosh. it is a good essay for generating discussion and for getting a start on thinking about these sorts of things.

more later, i promise.

update: my cousin asked me what i meant by "being confronted with one's privilege." i mean that it was uncomfortable to see when i was being treated differently because of the fact that i am white and american and much wealthier than the average bolivian person. because i was definitely treated differently. i didn't do anything to deserve this special treatment, of course, but because of systemic racism and classism (that is by no means unique to bolivian society), people were politer and quieter and more subservient when dealing with me. and that felt gross. it was particularly upsetting when i was with bolivian friends and acquaintances, because in some cases the differences in treatment between me and them was really striking. was it because my friends were acting substantially different than me? no! it was just because of how i look and where i'm from. thanks for asking, dawson.

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