Monday, October 15, 2012

Realizing Difference in New Ways

 Something I’m not sure I’ve elaborated upon about my time in Miami has been the excitement I have towards the culture and the people here. We need to first sit and recognize that Miami in & of itself is a diverse place. We then need to recall that my placement is with a ministry at an international university where a significant number of students are here from other countries. Lastly we need to remember that my housemates & I are living within the area of Little Havana in Miami, a historically Cuban area and an area with the largest Hispanic population in Miami.

Never in my life have I been able to have so many new friends from all over the world. From my roommates, to the staff I work with, to the students that I meet, to the people I interact with at the store, I am surrounded by difference and uniqueness of background, experience, and understanding in a new way. It’s wonderful, people! Wonderful! Sometimes I feel like an overexcited animal or something when I am talking with some of these people…just calm it down, Sarah. Act cool. But really, it is just a refreshing thing to build relationships in a way that I have never before experienced and be able to learn in a such a new way.

I took a class last semester at App called Race & Minority Relations. We talked a lot about privilege and what that looks like, especially the seemingly unnoticeable instances of privilege. I remember coming to the realization one day that I have never had to wake up and consciously be aware of my race. I have never walked around thinking, “I’m white. I’m white, I’m white, I’m white.” And that in and of itself is privilege. When you are in a place where you have the ability to go around without that subconscious thought constantly reminding you of your difference, that’s huge.

There is a grocery store down the street from us called El Presidente, and I walk to it every now and again to get groceries. If you’ll remember that I live in Little Havana amongst a primarily Hispanic population, you can also take a gander that this grocery store also falls into this. Now, even though I am trying to brush up on my Spanish skills, I have sadly realized that I am unable to brush up on my “I am not going to stick out” skills quite as easily. I go into El Presidente and literally feel eyes on me. I am unable to communicate as effectively as I desire, I am painfully aware sometimes of wishing I wasn’t white, and I feel an overwhelming feeling of self consciousness. I’ve had a startling realization that I have never, never had to feel this way before (minus my mzungu days in Kenya). And that is an example of privilege.

I will never try to compare a feeling of slight self-consciousness at a silly grocery store to the feelings of prejudice, judgment, and discrimination that so many have faced and face because of something as inherent as race. Never. Because I will never be able to do more than attempt to learn about being a minority in that way. I do write about this realization, though, because it really is the first time that I’ve been aware of my “whiteness” and even wished that I could tone down the amount I stick out because of something such as my race. It has been a strange and important recognition for me that I am not only thankful for, but strongly hope I can continue experiencing and learning from.

I think it’s important to take a step back and recognize our privilege—recognize the things that we do not need to think of each and every day. “I just woke up from a bed.” “If my family is hungry I can hop in my car and purchase food without the blink of an eye.” “I am going to college right now.” “I have a skewed power that others do not because of my gender or my race.” Gosh, how easy to forget how big those are. I never want to become numb to those things. I am honestly scared of how easy it is to dwell in power and privilege and simply forget that anything else exists.

I think I’ll end this puppy with a quote from a Rob Bell book that I came across about a month ago that I’ve been pretty fond of lately. It said, “Central to the way of Jesus is serving, which is the loving use of whatever power we possess for the good of another.” I am repeatedly hopeful in the realization that we are all able to both serve and be served despite the sometimes unchosen privilege (or lack thereof) we posses. I am hopeful in the words of the quote because I am reminded that there are some forms of power I hold, some forms of power others hold, and we are able to serve one another, this world, and the people in it regardless.