A Reflection on Privilege in a Pandemic
During the past few months at home, I have not been able to get the concept of privilege out of my head. The immense privilege myself, and others have to still be employed and to work safely from home during this uncertain time. The privilege I have, to have free time at home to invest in my hobbies such as this blog. The privilege I have, to not have any underlying health issues (due to the access I have to fresh food) that would make contracting COVID-19 even more complicated. The privilege I have, to not have to choose between my health and my economic livelihood. The glaring inequality that exists not only in Chile but all over the world has never been more apparent. Considering that ThoughtsandThings is a blog about life in Chile and before the pandemic we were in the beginning stage of a social revolution it’s impossible for me to not connect the dots between privilege & a pandemic all while asking myself - what are my privileges and how can Expats be a part of the solution?
Question #1: What Are My Privileges?
Although I grew up with a mom always reminding me and my siblings to check our white privilege at the door, I am guilty of getting caught up in the “Expat bubble” while slacking off on acknowledging the privileges in being a white, English-speaking expat. I’m not saying that I don’t work hard or try my best, but that’s the whole point. You can work hard and try your best, and still have an inherent privilege that influences the way you live, the experiences and the opportunities you have in life. Whether it has been nailing a job at a Digital Agency with no knowledge in marketing whatsoever or any Spanish-speaking abilities, to knocking on doors looking for jobs and having people willingly open them, hear me out, and give me a chance despite again - a lack of experience. It’s safe to say that my privilege of being white, English-speaking, and from the United States were largely at play for these opportunities. I say this because, how many Venezuelan, Colombian, or Peruvian foreigners did I see along the way landing similar opportunities with no experience? Or, Haitian foreigners who also didn’t have the language ability? None. I saw none who were given such a large opportunity without experience - only people that looked like me and spoke the same language as me. Without these opportunities, my life in Chile would be a different story. Due to these experiences, I have a job that pays well, am able to live in an attractive neighborhood which is a quick walk from where I work, and also conveniently located to a decent clinic that my health provider covers.
At this point, you might be thinking gee that’s great M&M but this is a blog, not your personal diary so can you please explain how this involves me?? One, I cannot ask you to examine your privileges in life if I don’t do the same. Two, social inequality is no novelty, but with a pandemic raging is more vicious than ever and is, in reality, a public health issue - making it, everyone's responsibility to fix.
So...where does that leave the expats? Especially the extremely privileged ones such as myself? What is our role in all of this? We might not be able to vote but that does not imply that we don’t have any power at all. We have the power to acknowledge. We have the power to listen. We have the power to support.
Question #2: How Can We (Expats) Be Part of the Solution?
The other day I read a great article about social inequality in Chile & COVID-19 and a couple of comments by journalist Andrea Insunza really stuck with me:
1: Insunza says part of the frustration is driven by the elite often not even seeming to recognize their privileged lifestyles.
2: "Santiago, it's a very segregated place," Insunza says. "You can actually live your whole life and don't see poverty. Never."
Privileged foreigners such as myself from the Western world are part of that group that lives those privileged lifestyles so acknowledging this is a necessary first step. Not sure where to begin or how to do this? Start by participating in the Check Your Privilege TikTok Challenge that is centered on one privilege that is present in Chile & many other countries, White Privilege.
Going back to Inunza’s second point, Santiago is very segregated and if you live in a neighborhood with a higher income you might not actually see poverty or inequality. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. This is where learning comes in. Seek out what you don’t know by reading, listening, watching, and talking to others from another race, class, or gender. Again, if you’re not sure where to begin, check out the following videos & articles to get started, Coronavirus-fuelled racism adds to Haitians' plight in Chile, Racism in Chile, Overcrowded Living During COVID-19 & Xenophobia in Chile During COVID-19. Although not centered on inequality in Chile, I also highly recommend the books White Fragility and How to Be An Anti-Racist for overall learning about White Privilege and Racism as Systemic Issues. If you cannot access the books right now, no worries, these two articles do a great job giving you an overall idea of what’s to come, White Fragility article & Anti-Racist article.
If it feels like I left out a lot, it’s because I did. Privilege, especially privileges that are inherited from systemic inequality is a topic that is impossible to conquer in one day. Rather than covering all the bases in one sitting, the idea is to start this journey with one small step, acknowledging and learning about our privileges. This is the perfect moment for some much-needed introspection. If not now, when?
P.S. I’m looking forward to hearing from you! Leave a comment below about your thoughts on privilege & a pandemic!