By Eliisa Bojanic
Reflections on being a privileged white American in a starving world (real talk edition:)
“What exactly are you doing?” I ask myself often. Why is everything going so wrong around me? What am I doing here? Why do I have so much while others have so little? Why is it possible for me to walk down the street with an iPhone in my hand that costs enough (if bought in this country) to feed a family for a year, while I kneel down to give 100 pesos to the woman begging outside of my school. 100 pesos. 100 pesos. That’s $2.25 give or take. It will feed her all day. But the food will not be nutritious. It will be rice and meat cooked in oils and fats that could and will eventually destroy her body. Fresh food after all is for the rich. But then she was never even given an opportunity to know what coronary artery disease is, or how the poison of this world will kill so many.
Funny how that works: The “underprivileged” aren’t even given an opportunity to learn what their lack of privilege means, to know what these systems of power are creating; To understand the cages that we all help build. But I walk on into my tall building. In 10 minutes I will most likely complain about my professor being too boring. I will literally whine about having too much education; too much information at once. I wonder what Malala would say to me as she touches her hand to the spot in her skull where a bullet ripped through her brain as she fought a battle I cannot even begin to fathom. So I should be thankful. I should be so grateful. And I am. But what does it do? Why am I here? Why am I white? Why do I have this laptop to type on and this internet in my home; this food in my fridge and a healthy family? Why are we killing? Why are we so cruel? Why is it that I have to feel so much shame for my country, for my race, for my ancestors, for my world? Why do I spend so much time apologizing to God for the destruction? What can I do? What can I do? WHAT CAN I DO? Does God even play fair? The other day a Filipina in the elevator looked at me and told me she wished she could someday be as white as I am. My heart ached with disgust for a world that has taught her to see purity and majesty in this pale complexion.
Is love enough? Is it real? Is there hope? Can we change? How do I possibly show my face and fight battles when I am so aware of how little I know. How little I have tried compared to so many. My privilege burns into my chest like the acid I use in my biochem class as I complain of back pain from standing too long at my lab bench. How will I ever show enough solidarity? How will I ever show people how badly I want to uproot the hate and share my life? How do I see through the white guilt? The middle class guilt? The first world guilt? The Christian guilt? When my heart breaks I cry myself to sleep at night. I preach to others not to be driven by this haze. I guess at the end of the day I’m preaching inwards.
But then, I am me. My heart beats and my brain works tirelessly to figure out this life. I stand with my brothers and sisters in the best ways I know how. I have so far to go. Can small seeds planted in conversations and posted on facebook and shown in the street take root? Only God knows. But it is the only way forward. It is all we have. The hope and prayer that the seeds will grow. That our lives will grow. That our hearts will grow. That we can somehow heal ourselves and heal one another. It has to be enough. It is all we have. The trees of life and victory will spring forth from the ashes of our burned expectations and our charred chains; freeing one another from whatever burdens we may carry or hide. I will not be perfect.
I will never be able to change the privileges I have been given. But it does not mean I cannot fight. It does not mean I cannot push on, and if I have nothing to equip me but the love I know is firmly rooted inside of my soul, a love that is no different from anyone else’s, a love that has no skin color, no passport color, no pocketbook…this must be enough. Enough light to ablaze and spring into action, challenging the systems that have led to all this inequity.
So I hold on. I sit and I let myself feel the heat inside. I rest by the flames. I hope for days when they will be worn on my sleeve and in my words and can blaze through my actions. One spark at a time. I share my flames when I can. I cling to others when mine feel as though they may just burn out. One spark at a time. When we walk as one, many sparks will surely create the kind of heat that melts the firm locks with which we have all so tightly bound away our hearts.
Eliisa Bojanic is completing her third year of medical school in Manila, Philippines, with a focus on full-human healing and the role of health care distribution in systems of inequity.