Originally from Houston, Tx, Selena is currently teaching English in Rabat, Morocco.
As a teenager in Texas, I definitely thought about privilege and racism in my family’s life and felt frustrated by the inequality in a city like Houston, but I didn’t quite have the words to really think about what I felt or why. I didn’t know words like microaggression and I couldn’t understand why it would frustrate me when people asked if I spoke English or where I was “really” from.
I certainly didn’t realize that there was such a thing such as different forms of privilege. At the time, all I could see was that I was a successful high school student with a difficult economic situation. Things seemed simple: If I was smart enough, I could stop being poor.
Then, I got to Harvard and my whole world changed. I started to think about topics that never occurred to me. I started to see the different ways that I had privilege and the ways that I didn’t. To begin with, I was fortunate enough to be at a school like Harvard, without having to pay a single penny. I felt incredibly privileged!
But then, I would listen to my classmates, many of who went to the best private schools in the country, and I would feel incredibly out of place. I couldn’t even begin to understand the experiences that they had had. Many of them had done award-winning research in high school, met the President while receiving awards, and studied abroad. The amount of privilege that they had was incredible.
So, I had to remind myself that I also had privilege. During high school, I also had a lot of great opportunities. Maybe I didn’t win an award in the White House, but I was able to travel to France and Morocco. Maybe I didn’t go to an expensive private school, but I received the best education that my family could have provided. There was never a moment that my family didn’t strive to give me the best. And for all of those things, I needed to remind myself of my privilege, because it was so easy to forget at a school like Harvard.
I learned to deal with the different levels of academic achievement among my classmates because I realized that I was done comparing myself to others. My whole high school career was about being the best. And I didn’t want to focus on that anymore. So I focused on loving what I was learning. It was easier for me to forget about academic inequality than it was to forget about socio-economic inequality. How could I forget that I was poor when I had friends who didn’t know the meaning of hunger? How could I forget that my family was struggling financially at home while I decided to spend my money at the movie theater with friends instead? It was a constant battle of guilt, of wanting to enjoy the social life on campus without being too selfish. And with that, I also forgot that I had privilege.
Some students struggled because they had to worry about their school fees, their family, and themselves. Fortunately, I had a scholarship and my family refused to let me help them. My only job was to focus on school and myself. And so I had to remind myself that whatever problems I felt that I had, while completely legitimate, I also needed to focus on the positive things. And so I graduated Harvard, feeling like I had been successful in enjoying my college experience while growing as a person.
Then I came to Morocco, and I had to redefine privilege for myself, again. Now that I’m no longer a student, I get to make money and experience a very different life than the one I had growing up. I certainly don’t make A LOT of money because Y’all know teachers don’t get paid enough, but at least I make enough money to pay for my little luxuries in life (a lot of clubbing ) Sometimes, I need to remind myself about how I would feel when friends would invite me out when I didn’t have money so that I don’t do the same to my friends here. Unfortunately the reality is that as an American abroad, I make more money than some of my Moroccan friends who have similar jobs to me. (Obviously my friends with advanced degrees are doing way better than I am) I like to think that I’m considerate of my friends but I tell them to always call me out on it, if I forget to do it!
Something else that sticks out to me in Morocco, is how differently I’m treated from white Americans. Although it’s pretty obvious I’m not Moroccan, on my lucky days I’m able to blend in. I have to say, it’s pretty comforting to be in a country where the white Americans are the ones that stand out instead of me. There are even moments where Moroccans will think I’m also Moroccan, until they hear me speak…
I know that I have many Facebook friends that don’t view privilege as a real thing, or as an important aspect of life, but I disagree. I think that recognizing my privilege has allowed me to be a more considerate human being and allowed me to better understand myself and my surroundings. I think many people misunderstand the concept of privilege and believe that they’re supposed to feel guilt for having something that they have either earned or were born with. Someone who was born white had no control over being born that way but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have privilege. What’s important is how they handle their privilege.
I don’t feel guilt for having the life that I have now but I will feel guilty if I forget to think of my family or friends, especially since they are a huge reason for where and who I am today.