Context for this post: I am attending a 9 week program in Asheville called Building Bridges. This is a volunteer-led, discussion-based program that focusses on structural racism and its many manifestations in Asheville. I have wanted to attend this program the past 10 years and am finally taking the time to do so. This blogpost spurred out of a small group discussion.
Thank you for the Ouch! Thank you for reminding me not only of my white privilege, but also of my American privilege. Both of these identities have afforded me opportunities not common to people of other races and countries. I acknowledge these privileges – sometimes with great discomfort – but authentically with a desire to play my part in bridging the gaps that divide my own community, my country, and countries around the world. I was raised with the privilege of having two parents, who modeled and instilled in me values of integrity, equality, self worth, and care for others. They encouraged me and my siblings to be who we are, to be active as citizens, and to pursue our dreams. I am ever thankful for the environment in which I was raised and empowered to explore and discover my place in the world.
And I did just that.
Through 6 years in Africa, a year in Latin America, and many years of international work, I have had the privilege of building a global community of friends who share my values of integrity, service to others, peace, equality, and care for individuals in a broken world. This borderless community of friends includes people of different races, tribes, nationalities, professions, socio-economic statuses, genders, religions, and political affiliations. I often refer to these kindred spirits as global citizens. They are a group not defined by skin color, but by their broad worldview. These are my people.
“But you can’t choose your people,” she said.
“Ouch. You pushed one of my buttons.”
I can’t change the color of my skin, nor the despicable history that will stain my race for eternity. I can’t change the racism that is buried deep in the souls of many individuals. And I can’t change that stereotyping will always be a factor in human relations.
But I can change my own attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. In fact, that process of change is ongoing and lifelong. And I can work with others for systemic change in society to fight the injustices that divide our world. I can be part of an education movement that embraces diversity and empowers others to make change.
But more important than what I can change, is what I can choose. My parents also instilled in me the serenity prayer.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
My privileges have given me opportunities to choose my religion, my places of worship, places to reside, my courses and places of study, my personal and career interests. I can choose my political affiliation and the causes I want to stand up for. I can choose to not be part of groups who are offensive to my values. I can choose who I want to marry, how many children I want to have and how I want to raise my children. I can even choose not to get married or not to have children. I’m reminded of friends in other countries who have married at their parent’s arrangement, and of others who are not only stripped of civil rights but risk persecution because of their homosexuality. I am thankful for my privileges. My middle-class white American status has opened wide doors of choice.
I believe strongly that with rights, come responsibility. So I strive to make life choices that utilize my privileges for the good of humanity. I could have chosen a number of lifestyles and careers that are financially lucrative and socially powerful. I didn’t. I chose to interpret the American dream through my own lens, my own experiences, and my own values. These choices have taken me on an incredible journey that I wouldn’t trade for financial wealth. Our decision to live in Uganda for 3 years was not and still would not be a popular choice. But folks who have endured similar cross-cultural endeavors agree that a long-term global sojourn is a catalyst for lifelong change. When my husband lost his job in 2011, we chose to move with our kids to South America in order to expand their horizons. This was an unusual response to a family crisis and not a smart financial choice. However, through our perspective, the language acquisition, cross-cultural skills and international friendships, far outweigh the financial risk that could have persuaded us to miss incredible growth opportunities.
My global journey has gifted me with friends who are white, black, brown and everything in between. I treasure the diversity of my global community and each unique cross-cultural friendship that I have nurtured along the way. These are my chosen people.
Oh, yes I can. I can choose my people, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do so.