How to Check Your Privilege


With tears streaming down her face, she kissed my cheek, and in that moment I knew my childhood was over. It was the epitome of a bittersweet moment; from this woman’s suffering, my future flashed before my eyes. Her tears expressed joy and thanks, but hidden behind her brown irises and dark pupils I could see the remnants of her pain and suffering. Shame at her situation was contained in each word she spoke. I could not blame her: the store shack, the cramped, rust-stained, moldy-walled, moth-smelling excuse of a home my Habitat for Humanity team members and I were standing in was where she, her husband, and two sons lived. I definitely would not want to live there. Besides what I have already mentioned, in order to be able to open their door during the winter they had to bring a candle to the handle to melt the ice that kept the door shut. Not only was this inconvenient, but dangerous: if there was any sort of problem in the house during the winter, there was no quick and easy way to get in and out.

Some of you may be thinking– what did they do to get themselves in that situation? How are poor people poor and why?

The mother of this household’s name is Ioana (pronounced Wah-nah, the Romanian equivalent of the name Joanna). She’s a strong Romanian woman who spent her life trying to better her life. For as long as she could remember, she worked to be able to provide her parents, siblings, and eventually husband and children with sustenance. Not to mention, while also getting an education in Romania, SHE SOLELY provided money to her parents, and still does to this day. How does she define why she is poor? Because all she does is give.

So what’s really the problem here?

What poverty looks like in Romania…

 

What poverty looks like in the U.S…

 

Poverty doesn’t look good anywhere in the world. But which photo looks worse? Yes, there are poor and homeless people in the Western world, but poverty is on a whole other level in other parts of the world.

When I went abroad to Ploiesti, Romania in high school it became clear to me relatively quickly how lucky all Americans truly are. On my first day volunteering on the home site all I could think about was how angry I was that good people were living in terrible conditions while I was in my comfortable, convenient home, complaining about insignificant things instead of trying to change the world for the better.

When I got back from Romania, I did a lot of thinking and realized that I needed to help. I needed to help more often. Why? Because of my privilege. I was born a white female into a relatively well-off family: that’s my nice way of saying that we’re part of the upper middle class (on a good day). I understand that the family I was born into, the country I was born in, the citizenship that I hold: these things give me privileges that many other people in the world do not have.

But does this mean we should only focus on helping the people living in poverty in developing countries? Of course not. Clearly, America has its own problems to deal with that can be just as pressing as poverty in developing countries. The photos I shared above are not the whole picture.

What poverty can look like in America:

How will you choose to check your privilege and help?

Stay tuned for options….

 

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