Privilege

I LEFT THAILAND about 1 month ago, but it seems much longer.

Life is slower when you live at home and don’t have a job.  Culture shock is real and I’ve been experiencing it, whether obviously or subtly. Thankfully, I’ve had plenty of time processing with friends who (for whatever reason) are more than willing to let me ramble for 3 hours about Bangkok, the Creative Life Foundation, and the last 4.553(ish) months of my life.

Whether 1 sentence pleasantries with old acquaintances or 3 hour intimate conversations over coffee and/or beer, one word and underlying theme – aside form a street food addiction – kept working its way to the surface:

Privilege.

I saw it in my relationship with my neighbor. It was in the disparity between the slums and the malls that literally overshadowed them. It was the glass separating me and my coffee from a street vendor who has to fight just to feed their family. Most of all, it was in the privilege of choice.

My downward mobilization was a choice my neighbor and many friends of ours tirelessly work/ed towards. Taxi drivers and street vendors assumed wealth on me simply because I was a farang living in Bangkok. They were shocked to realize I couldn’t afford a ride home in a crazy rainstorm. My life didn’t necessitate I live with a small budget, and I could have supplemented it with my savings at any time if need be. Free buses and cycling everywhere were a choice, not a necessity. The United States was a half day’s flight away, easily maneuvering the customs and security that wouldn’t hesitate to keep many of my friends in Bangkok from entering. And if they were to enter, would they be treated well if they weren’t white?


(The inside of my room, the view out my window, and the shot of downtown Bangkok)


Somewhere buried in the back of my head and instilling a sense of safety was the FACT that I had a choice, fallback options, resources that so many around me just didn’t. This was both reassuring AND deeply unsettling. It stirred up the layer of dust caked on my unaddressed privilege until I couldn’t ignore it.


I am a white male, and this carries with it the most privilege. I’m at the top of the ladder. This isn’t a boast, it’s literally a fact and whether I choose to address it or not, it’s there.

When our privilege is brought to light, there’s a tendency to get defensive. It’s easier to leave it hidden and dusty than it is to let it change the way we see. I’ve fallen victim to this in conversations with our (almost) all women team in Bangkok. I’ve fallen victim in conversations about race here in the States. #alllivesmatter is almost always a defense mechanism to#blacklivesmatter because people feel their privilege is attacked. By saying #alllivesmatter in response, we are effectively saying that indeed they don’t, because otherwise we would understand that right now #blacklives DON’T #matter as much as white lives in the States. Flint, Michigan is one among many examples and if #blacklives really did #matter as much, if people really are of equal value, we wouldn’t have hid the poisoning of thousands of children for over TWO YEARS. Again, just one of many examples.I grew up in a small farming town where it was obvious that the Hispanic community largely worked in the orchards and lived outside of town. I lived in the nicer part of town, and there were certain parts of town that maybe you just “shouldn’t go into.” As Eddie Glaude, Jr. said in Democracy in Black, “our upbringing and the culture we grew up in influence and inform our racial habits and how we interact with people of color.” These habits are so much a part of who we are that they often go unnoticed, but are deeply entrenched in our daily lives. I had an incredible upbringing, but I was and still am very unaware of my privilege.​

Thankfully (and about time), my privilege was addressed and dusted off for the first time in Bangkok.I also need to say that living where and around who I did, working at the Creative Life Foundation and meeting people from so many walks of life, was an IMMENSE privilege and blessing for me. These people loved me so well, sacrificed time and resources for me, and became some of my closest friends.It was beautiful living in a place where I couldn’t NOT befriend those of different races and cultures. I also like double negatives.


(My neighbor and best friend, a selfie with some of our community, a tuk-tuk driver paying close attention to the road)


​In Spokane, our communities are not nearly as integrated and while there are some outliers (like my old neighborhood in West Central), how do we even begin making friends with those who aren’t white? Our cities and towns aren’t structured in a way that this can always happen naturally, so we have to entrench ourselves in diverse communities for these relationships to be genuine. This means really living and investing in these communities, avoiding the comfort of living in “white neighborhoods” (says the person living with his parents). Nothing against these neighborhoods at all. It’s just a fact that cities have been culturally and racially segregated over time because of privilege and opportunity.

The Hupes, who started the Creative Life Foundation, didn’t move into a nice condo next to the slums and then attempt to build relationships. They lived in these areas so they actually became their communities, not as outsiders looking in on the less privileged, “bringing the light” to their obvious “darkness.”They chose to see the light in others and call that out, and that means living and investing in communities others may choose to avoid, or not acknowledge because it forces others to really confront their privilege. Their model and the way Word Made Flesh approaches living in community with the most vulnerable and marginalized in society is inspiring, and a big piece of why I feel so unsettled.So what do I do with all this? How do I take this awareness of privilege and let it inform the next step of life? How do I choose into diverse communities in Spokane?  How do I continue confronting my privilege, embrace how uncomfortable it is and let this change me? How do I have conversations about privilege without condescending to others? How do I actually begin to address my own privilege instead of acknowledging it and moving on as if the last four months of my life weren’t the unsettling and unlearning they were?I’ve been asking a lot of “how” questions lately and will continue to do so. Obviously, this is my verbal processing so many of these thoughts aren’t fully formed. I have a lot to learn. Living in Bangkok opened my eyes, but it shouldn’t give me a false sense that I “get it” now. I don’t want that to happen. But it did change me in ways that will for the rest of my life influence how I see and live, and I can’t ignore that.Feeling incredibly thankful for my time with the Creative Life Foundation. I don’t even really know where to start, so I’ll just leave it at that.I am a privileged individual and can’t take that privilege for granted.

Huzzah,​

Joey Bareither, WMF Thailand Intern

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2 thoughts on “Privilege

  1. Megan says:

    Thank you for asking these questions (out loud)! It’s a blessing to know somebody else is wondering these things, and coming from what sounds like, a very similar upbringing.

    Peace.

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