For years, I have always been hyper-aware of my surroundings. I am always looking to see if I am “playing the part.” I think this is why I was drawn to acting and improv when I was younger because I felt I have always been putting on a performance. My ego posturing to make sure that I “look the part.” Wrapped up in my image and how others might perceive me, I have, more often than not, “played the roles” others have cast for me rather than playing the role of myself. Making this or that decision out of fear of how others might think of me if they had seen me making that or this decision. Like a chameleon, I have changed and disguised my skin to fit in more often than I care to acknowledge. As a White American Male, this has been incredibly easy.
London is (obviously) a major global city, people from all over the world flock to its attractions and businesses. Around each turn, the sidewalks are packed and people clutter the pathways. Limited to only my hiking clothes, it was difficult to fold into the bourgeoisie. With my Chacos and Patagonia, people noticed my differences as I walked through intersections and shopping centers. Like the dreaded nightmare, I felt alone in a crowded room. Isolated and yet surrounded.
As a white male of privilege, this is rare. For centuries, I have stood atop the social status tower and enjoyed the luxuries in which that prestige has granted me. Now sitting in Trafalgar Square with noticeable glances darting my direction, I can feel my privilege being plucked away. Like a chicken, being prepared for a feast, I was stripped bare so any judgement could be dressed upon me. While it lasted only a short while, the stress and anxiety was nauseating. I cannot imagine how the systemic oppression of pillaged privilege might effect an individual; let alone generations of people.
Perhaps this is the purpose of travel. Perspective.
To glance, unaware, in and through the eyes of “the other.” To see, if only for a moment, what it feels like to be looked upon and heard differently. To notice the out-of-place glances, that peg you like a dart board. A bright red bullseye of undue judgement placed upon your forehead because you simply seem different.
How many times have I pulled back the skin of the chameleon?
When have I forced ”the other” to show their true colors? When have I asked the uncomfortable question, “Where are you from?”, when I heard a slightly different accent, forcing someone to tell their story when all they wanted was to order coffee? When have I darted my glances towards someone who wasn’t dressed quite right and made them feel like their skin was crawling and failing to blend in? When have I assumed someone’s lack of intelligence simply because they could not understand the language I spoke? When have I rolled my eyes when a stranger asked directions when they were lost? When have I laughed someone off because they looked tired or poor and didn’t pause to question what their day might have been like?
As a person with privilege that I will never fully be able to rationalize, I have an obligation to “check my privilege” and recognize how it’s unwarranted access was simply thrust upon me due to my genitalia and skin tone. Sitting in that bustling city square, I was granted the humbling grace to gaze briefly through the window of “the other” and frankly, lacking more accurate vocabulary, it sucked.
What is it, about each one of us, that fail to live out Jesus’s apocalyptic pray from Sunday’s Gospel, “to see that we are all one”? Why is it that we judge, shame, and persecute others? Why must we stand upon the necks of others in order to feel good about ourselves? Why are we not comfortable not our own skin?
How might we better walk together?
How might each of our skins shad that of the person next to us, so neither may feel different greater nor lesser?
How might we travel like pilgrims, carrying all that we have on our backs, and support one another in anyway possible?
As I prepare to walk on Tuesday Morning, I recognize the limitations of my stories and experiences and stumble to find the unity we all seek. May we each hold one another’s limitations and privileges, accepting our neighbors for who they are, and how they present themselves, without any privilege pillaged from their identities.