When I was 20, I studied abroad in London. I interned with a publication that encouraged me to plagiarize. As you can imagine, it wasn’t a good fit. I was miserable and tried everything I could to get out of it – even going so far as lining up another internship, but the study abroad program said no. I still don’t know why. My parents got involved too and that also yielded nothing. It was the first time in my life that I couldn’t make my circumstances better. The first time I had to wait out a crappy situation. It was the first time I experienced a taste of authoritarianism and I hated it. The unfairness of it all outraged me.
The other day I watched a movie, Desert Dancer, and was reminded again, authoritarian regimes continue to exist. Except other people have it far worse. The movie takes place in Iran in 2009 where dancing is forbidden. I know, that’s also the theme of Footloose, but Desert Dancer is no sappy comedy, it’s real life. People are literally beaten and killed for expressing themselves artistically. As an artist myself, I’m horrified. Living in the U.S., I forget there are places in the world where legitimate authoritarian regimes exist. Where other people are not nearly as privileged as I am.
After my experience in London, I was able to come back to my normal life, to one of privilege and relative ease. But the people in Iran? Or Syria? Or some other country that barely registers in my brain? They are not so lucky.
It is easy for someone like me, a college-educated white woman living in the U.S., to do one of two things: feel guilty for my privilege, or forget other people exist. In conversations with other white people, I see so often we wring our hands and say we feel badly about the things other people have to endure, but what can we do? Or we feel guilty our lives are different because of our privilege. We carry around our white guilt like a suitcase at airport security, always ready to show it to someone else for inspection.
I also see that we forget. We forget other people exist except when a horrific tragedy jerks us from our daily lives. We go about our days wondering if that guy will call or the raise will come through. We get caught up in our own worlds. I’m not saying that’s entirely a bad thing – we must take care of ourselves – but we must also take care of others.
Friends, I don’t want my two options as a person of privilege to be white guilt or amnesia. Neither of those options does anyone any good. I would much rather use my skills to make the world a better place. As a journalist, that means giving a voice to the voiceless. It means telling someone else’s story and broadcasting it far and wide. For you, it may mean healing the sick or planting a community garden. We all have gifts and talents. There’s a quote by Hans Urs von Balthasar that sums this up nicely I think. He said, “What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.” May we all become gifts not only to God, but to the rest of humanity.
I dream of a world where we use our talents in service of others. A world where we remember other people exist and we do our best to make the world a better place for everyone. A world where we all become gifts.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.