In honor of 4th of July approaching, my various news feed have started to become filled with lots of patriotic pictures and quotes. Being an American is pretty cool, when you think about it. Our country exists because at some point a group of people didn’t like the situation they were in, and cared enough to risk their lives fighting for it. Plus, we were able to beat the most powerful empire in the world at the time so that’s fun too. There are so many benefits that we have living in this country. Intellectually, I know that I have it better than 90% of the people in the world, but its not one of those things I think about or realize on a daily basis. Every once in awhile though, I get a poignant reminder of how lucky I am.
Today this reminder came from the most unlikeliest of places. I was ordering something online from an Etsy shop that was based in the UK and when I filled out my address for delivery. When I got to the country tab, I simply pressed the down arrow because America is usually one of the top countries listed, in that little sub-list before all the other countries are listed alphabetically. Imagine my surprise and annoyance when Afghanistan, Albania, and Algeria pop up instead. I get more and more heated as I’m forced to scroll ALL THE WAY DOWN to the bottom of the list, with only like 8 countries below it. Finally, I located America right below the United Kingdom where it belongs and successfully ordered an art print to hang on the walls of my new room in the house I haven’t actually rented yet.
A couple of hours after this incident occurred, I started to think about how completely ridiculous my response was. It’s crazy to think that I am so conditioned to the ease of being American that I was visibly annoyed when I had to scroll through a list rather than receive the special treatment I was used to. Talk about privilege…
This is not the only time when I’ve been acutely aware of my privilege. I realized it during my four month study abroad trip when I was able to travel to 11 different countries without learning any foreign language. I realized it when I saw millions of people homeless in the streets of Kolkata. I realized it during a conversation in South Africa when someone told us that being born a white, male, with an American passport is like winning the genetic lottery. Obviously, I’m not a guy but getting 2/3 of the Power Ball numbers correct still earns you a lot of money. However, I had filed these facts away in my brain and they only ever came to the forefront when I was directly confronted with them while traveling.
My favorite analogy came from my trip leader Jaime during a service rip in India. During one of our nightly reflections, the subject of privilege came up fairly often and Jaime explained it in the best way I’ve heard. She used the analogy of a baseball game. For the people on the trip (generally middle-class, American citizens) graduating a four-year-college, getting a good job, and having a successful life was like standing on home base hitting a home run. Clearly, hitting a home run is not an easy thing to do. It’s so hard in fact that MLB teams are willing to pay millions of dollars when they find a player who is capable of doing so. Everyone in the world is trying to hit this same home run. However, rather than starting on home base, billions of people in India and other third-world countries are standing in the parking lot trying to hit a boulder with a twig. I like this analogy because I feel like it truly captures how much of an advantage many of us have without realizing it, without discounting all the hard work most Americans put in every single day to achieve their success.
I hope this post doesn’t end up sounding too preachy, because I’m just as guilty as everyone else for not realizing my own privilege. Actually, I’m probably worse because I’ve literally met and interacted with people from third-world countries who don’t have enough resources to feed their children, and I’m over here getting pissed off about having to scroll down a list before I am able to purchase an amenity I don’t need.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that after I spend the next four or five days eating, drinking, and celebrating this awesome country we live in, I’m gonna try harder to keep my perspective as a global citizen and try to cultivate some gratitude for all the advantages I’ve been given.