I met a man in a classy bar a while ago. With shiny leather shoes and a smart, gleaming watch, he seemed intelligent. Sophisticated. Interesting. And I had on my turtle-shell glasses, pearls, and a glass of cooled scotch.
We began to talk.
A mutual friend had mentioned my time in Jordan to said man and Señor Shoes ventured to turn the conversation more....international. "What were you doing in the Middle East?" he asked, slightly amused. I gave him the quick shpeel, "public health work addressing health conditions inside Jordan's biggest refugee camp" and his eyes lit up.
"Refugees? You worked with refugees? That's so cute!....Haha, did you get your refugee fix?"
This face is how I feel about it a week later. In the moment, I could've slugged him.
"Refugee fix?" I frowned. "Not sure I understand."
"You know, white girl goes to the desert to work with refugees. Was it exciting? I mean, it seems crazy exciting! But, well, what do you want to actually do?"
White girl? What do I actually want to do?
"You make refugee camps sound like going to the circus...like something to be entertained with. Like I was just there to get a profile picture."
"So you did get your refugee fix!"
I just excused myself.
Way to completely undermine, minimize and patronize me and what I'm passionate about. Way to stick me in a racist, sexist box of stereotypes and generalizations without actually stopping to realize that the color of my skin or hair shouldn't sabotage my credibility or goals.
Yes. Thank you Captain Obvious, I am white. And blond. And a woman. Therefore, genuinely caring about the world, it's realities and people, the pain and suffering, the triumphs and challenges is inherently inconceivable. Naturally.
And in those moments, as I walked away from Señor Shoes, I heard another voice in my head....
"Is it because you wish you had culture? Don't base your life off your white man's guilt..."
Tonight marked the third night in a row I've stayed up past 2am working on my major proposal. Tomorrow I meet with the academic dean and will defend this major I've dreamt up and designed over the last seven months. Global Health and Social Justice: Development, Urbanization, and International Migration. It's powerful, it's holistic, it's raw, challenging and will actually prepare me for the real world; unlike the theoretical bookwork UCSD seems obsessed with. Yesterday I got both the Director of the Global Health Minor and one of Anthropology's leading indigenous rights professors to sign off on my proposal and I literally couldn't breathe from pure joy.
And now I'm terrified silly. I've rewritten my proposal into five drafts, each one different sizes...one is a single page draft, the next is two pages, then three pages, four pages and five. No matter what they ask for, I'll have. I've organized and reorganized the proposed classes, practiced defending it to the mirror, read the entire general catalogue over...twice.
I'm ecstatic and terrified, thrilled and apprehensive, incredibly proud and unbelievably nervous.
And it's not because I'm a white girl who wishes she had culture.
I have culture. So does every single person on this massive, complex planet. And I don't have white-man's guilt or burden. There is unnecessary pain and death in the world and I happen to have spent six years in college and too many SallyMae loans figuring out how to help alleviate it. Has nothing to do with the color of my stupid skin. Or my hair. Or the fact that I happened to be born with green eyes.
White girl's gonna show Señor Shoes and everyone else that passion shouldn't be dictated, or limited, by the color of your skin. I thought we were bigger than that.