In other words, what should you do with your privilege? Fast food and an Austrian philosopher gave me some ideas
My boyfriend and I sat in the airport, having a last meal before my return flight to the US after living in Peru for nearly 6 years. My little gray cat sat quietly in his carrier, observing the foot traffic. It seemed like another night in the mall. Us eating fast food, chatting. But I was about to say goodbye to my love for who knows how long. He would be staying in Peru. The cat would be coming with me.
I tried to travel light, but my cat and my three bags, all underweight, came to $600. That doesn’t include my ticket! Right after I handed over the cash to the woman at the ticket counter, she gave me a “freebie,” the chance to check my carry-on “for free.” After $600, I’d better get something for free.
So, I needed to trade my boyfriend’s duffle bag for my carry-on. There was just one problem. He would have nothing to carry his stuff home in. “Go ask for some plastic bags at KFC,” he said. “Use your American accent, they won’t refuse.”
I felt a pang. I’m going to knowingly use my privilege to get a perk. I went up to the counter and used my best gringa accent. I’m not sure if it worked or not, but the cashier sold me two bags for less than a dollar. The experience still gives me pause. Was I using my US privilege? Certainly. Was it warranted in that situation? I’m not sure. I mean, it’s not a high-stakes situation. Was I reinforcing damaging stereotypes towards another group that doesn’t have US privilege? I couldn’t see how.
But the larger conversation is that you can use your privilege to improve or worsen conditions for yourself and for others. I used to think that if one uses their privilege to further a cause, for example, if I’m treated better than my Peruvian coworker as a US citizen, and I point it out, I am still perpetuating the assumptions of my superiority. In other words, I’m using my privilege as the conduit through which to challenge racism and thereby highlighting it more. I mean, my citizenship gets the point across.
Now I think it’s a matter of influence. It’s not the perfect solution, but words change their meaning when people hear it through racist ears, more palatable (or not) because of the speaker’s race. So, my USness…