On Travel, White Guilt, and Moving Forward

I’ve been doing some housecleaning lately.

I’ve updated, rearranged, edited and (I think) improved the look and accessibility of this little site. I want it to be a place where people can explore ideas as well as cultural environments. Since this blog is my project, I want it to reflect my personal values and style. I’m still working on connecting this site to social media and photo sharing sites, which will be coming soon. I want everything to be in one place.

In addition to digital housecleaning, I’ve been doing some personal/spiritual cleaning as well. I’ve been reflecting a lot on my time in Memphis, my hometown, where I’ve been living for the past year and a half, trying to figure out just where I fit in to this great landscape of social movement. There’s a lot happening in Memphis right now. Revitalization, rehabilitation, and an increasing awareness of others are bringing people together in building a safer, more inclusive and accepting community. I’m honored to be a witness and beneficiary to this change.

Yet despite all of this positive energy, I am choosing to leave. The whirs of jet engines are calling, and I must follow. I have some amazing opportunities coming up, and I’ll be saying goodbye to my friends and family in a few months.

I’m very aware of the fact that I have this choice. I can choose to leave, and no one will stop me or tell me that I can’t go. This is because of the privilege that’s been afforded to me my whole life as a white, American citizen. No one ever told me I didn’t belong in a certain space because of the color of my skin. No one ever told me I couldn’t do whatever I chose to do. No one ever took away my passport, my civil rights, or my human rights and gave me some lame excuse about it. I was given an education that I didn’t have to fight for.  It’s unfathomable to think of how many people still don’t have those opportunities all over the globe–including in Memphis.

It’s easy, and normal, to feel guilty because of this. I didn’t choose my birth, nor did anyone else. So why do I get more while others get less? I don’t have a correct answer to that question because there is not one. There is only history and memory and law and empathy, which, if we are conscious enough, can work to our advantage to understand our place in society, how others view us, and how we want to view and be ourselves. And once we understand this, than we can put that understanding to work for justice and empathy in all corners of the globe.

I will forever come back to the power of words to center and guide me. I lean now on the words of three great champions of civil rights and human rights to remind me of where I’m going and why:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Junior

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”  -Archbishop Desmond Tutu

And finally,

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”Aboriginal Activist Group, Queensland (often attributed to Lilla Watson)

I’ve learned so much in Memphis. I’ve learned how to be an ally, how to show up, and how to not always have the last word. I’ve learned that connecting with people is essential, and that letting myself be supported is wonderful. I needed these lessons, because where I’m going will be all about connecting with people and letting myself be observant.

I’m joining the US Peace Corps. I’ll be serving in Madagascar for the next two years as an English teacher and trainer. Finally, I feel as ready as I can be, and I am so grateful to Memphis for that.

It will be a long and complicated journey, and I can’t wait for it. But before I go, I’ve got some other trips planned for refreshment, restoration, and friendship. More on that coming up.

Thank you for being part of my journey and I hope you’ll stick around.

With love,

Mel