American privilege

Tonight a woman walked by our table in the hotel and sneezed. Jill and I both automatically said “Bless you” She said thank you. She is a Ugandan woman and I just took for granted that she would understand. It is something I do often. I have spoken English in every airport I have been in. English is spoken on Turkish airlines, KLM and Lufansa. If there is a Spanish speaking person on Turkish air, they better speak Turkish or English. It is the default. No matter where I go, I will always find someone who speaks English.

My colleague Adey has been invited to The States 2 times now. She is a single Ethiopian woman. The Government will not issue her a visa because they say she has nothing to come back to in Ethiopia. She has to be married or own a home. She could benefit so much from the trainings she has been invited to, but the government says no. Same with my colleague Alma in Albania. No husband, no visa. Me, I can hop on a plane and go anywhere! (Well there are a few countries that would not let me in, but that is their issue, not mine.)

Every time I have left my country I meet people who are googly eyed for American. In Albania, Ukraine, China, Ethiopia, Ghana and now Uganda, America is on a pedestal. I get instant credibility because I am American. I could get up tomorrow and train a group of hotel staff about proper hotel management and they would take notes, because I am American. My Nationality often gives me credibility that I have not earned.

Remember the movie “American Tale” where the mice move from Russia to America? They sing “There are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese…” The promise of what people believe America is, lures them in. I hear people talk about Great Britain, Canada, Scandinavia… but nothing shines a candle to America… It is just fascinating to me.

I wonder what my world experiences would be if I was not American. I wonder what my view of America would be as an outsider. How much more stress I may have? How many more opportunities I might have?
Despite my American privilege, topped off by my white privilege, I still want to erase the boarders of the maps. I want to focus on being citizens of the world. To be able to come and go freely so everyone has a chance to share and learn and teach. To find commonality among each other based on real experiences, not just color or ethnicity or an imaginary line drawn in the sand.


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