the privilege of traveling
July 23, 2009 § 7 Comments
i have been thinking about writing this post for a while. in part i have not done so because i do have lots of privilege and have been able to travel. and i felt awkward, felt like i was making myself vulnerable to criticism if i wrote this. but then i figured, fuck it.
i had one of those conversations that i seem to have every few months with someone new about how i do not take into account how privileged i am to be able to travel and live abroad. and how privileged i was to be partnered. when i talk about my experience of being a mother.
privilege. privilege. privilege.
1. i do take how much privileged i am into account. actually in some ways i am more aware of certain types of privilege because i travel. for instance, the power of my US citizenship comes into stark relief when i am abroad.
2. and i know that it is a privilege to be in a happy partnership, both of us dedicated to loving aza and each other.
3. but i also know that traveling and being partnered is not in and of itself simply privileged.
let me see if i can put it this way:
through out history. as long as there have been wars. mothers have traveled with their children. they have to survive. they become refugees. they become slaves. they travel to find a safe place to live and create a life with their families. they leave home to flee abusive husbands, or advancing troops, to find doctors, to find lost family, to take care of sick family, to find work, to find food, to find peace.
yes it can be a privilege to travel.
but it can also be a privilege to stay home.
it can be a privilege to feel that where you are is probably safer than where you are not.
it is a privilege to have a place that you call home.
it should be a right, but for now it is a privilege.
and my life has shown me intimately that being partnered can be a blessing or a curse. some mothers are happily partnered and some are terrorized and abused and forced to stay partnered. sometimes being a single mother is a privilege and being married is an oppression.
once upon a time in an empire far far away i gave up nearly everything i had just to get out of a relationship. and im glad we didnt have children together because if we had had them i pretty certain that he wouldnt have let me leave alive.
and i couldnt just leave the city. or the state. because he followed me. state to state.
i left the continent.
i left because i realized that i deserved to be happy. and for years i had been with him in a small southern town. still segregated. really trying to build community through artistic expression and space. really convinced that this was the important work. and that it didnt matter that i felt stifled. stay local. stay local. just nurture your garden. and if everyone did that then the world would be a better place. and all that.
and dont get me wrong. i believe in community building locally. i do. some of the most amazing community leaders i have known have not traveled more than 30 miles away from their home for their entire life.
but what i realized was that i dont believe in the kantian categorical imperative nature of the stay local ideology. i dont believe that something is ethical or moral if it fits into the formula of: if everyone did action a, the world would be a more peaceful place, and thus everyone *should* do action a.
its like in a wrinkle in time (do you remember that book?) and the kids get to the planet where all the houses are the same and all the kids are all bouncing their balls to the same exact rhythm, and then all the mothers come out of the houses at the same exact time and bring the kids inside. and they all are acting like robots?
that is what i think of when someone throws a kantian categorical imperative at me. if everyone did it…the world would be a better place.
ok. you ever think of refugees as privileged? no? really? cause they are. in comparison to the folks who they left behind in that war zone. the sudanese refugees here in cairo are really privileged. let me put it in perspective: the capital of south sudan, jemba. has three paved roads. three. so what if the sudanese refugees can barely access decent health care are barred from enrolling in egyptian schools, live in ghettos, are harrassed constantly by the police, are suffering from ptsd, seperated from their families- that is the members of their families that are still alive-are ex sex slaves and child soldiers…
but they are privileged…and it was when i realized that that i thought: wtf does privilege mean?
and once i realize they are privileged…then what?
once i realize i am privileged. that being able to leave a dangerous situation by any means necessary was a privileged act. then what?
and now years later, happily a mama, partnered, beloved, and living abroad. happy to live in a place where i feel safer. happy to create love. where does privilege fit into this? is privilege the reason that i am happy or is privilege contributing to my happiness? am i happy despite my privilege?
is living in a place where i feel reasonably safe a privilege? hell fucking yes it is.
is living in a place where it is safe to be loved and being able to love a privilege? yes.
do i have the privilege to determine for myself what is safe for me? yes.
do i have the privilege to determine that for me and mine it is safer for me to live in the west bank than in chicago? yes.
am i about to give up any of those ‘privileges’? nope.
am i a refugee? absolutely not.
am i a working class black mama with ‘some college’, a us citizen able bodied with access to social class privilege who lives in cairo, egypt on scale with a middle class egyptian family?
RIDICULOUS FUCKING CONVERSATION
this is what i dont get. why every couple of months do i get in one of these fucking ridiculous conversations about single motherhood vs. partnered motherhood or working locally vs. globally?
can folks even tell why these fucking conversations are ridiculous?
how do you know the content of my life? how do you know that my husband isnt abusive? (he isnt but still…) how do you know the content of my marriage to the extent that you can determine that my partnership is obviously so much more privileged than your singlehood?
and how do you know that me traveling is more privileged than you staying home?
is there a way we can have a conversation about privilege and oppression that makes sense?
it was contemplating this. that i realized that i need to find a more accurate paradigm for figuring out who i center in my organizing…