Thoughts From The Plane

“Nia, who do you think you are?”

This is the question running through my mind as I sit on the plane in transit to Santo Domingo. Here's what I know:  I am a Black student. International travel is not the norm for people who look like me. I am among the small percentage to have this opportunity. I can not help but wonder... what makes me so special?

I am a Black American, a student, a woman, and a global traveler. However, I am quick to distance myself from the American part of my identity. I know that with this designation comes the stigma that to be American is to be privileged and wealthy. I try to detach myself from this perceived “privilege” which could easily inhibit efforts to fully immerse myself in another culture. However, as a citizen of the United States, I acknowledge that I am afforded financial opportunities that allow me to do things people in other countries may not be able to do as often, such as global travel. The more I ruminate on this idea of “American privilege” the more necessary it becomes for me to reevaluate the definition of “privilege”.  

In the U.S. we have a capitalistic obsession of associating our levels of success with how much we own. This is why it seems so fitting to attach the label of “privilege” to an American. Our society equates privilege to wealth and materials rather than what we make of life itself. We may have better access to technology or money and clothes....but why do those consists of our main definition of privilege? Why don’t we associate privilege with having the opportunity to learn and speak our ancestral language? Why don’t we associate privilege with being able to walk down the street without the fear of being shot by law enforcement officials? As a Black American, I speak English because I did not have the option of knowing how to speak something other than a language that my ancestors were forced to learn while forgetting their own.  As a Black American, simply leaving the house is a risk nowadays. As a Black woman, no such privilege exists for me.

To deconstruct and expand how I define or view American privilege is not to ignore that I have access to resources that some may be deprived of. Rather it allows me to view the differences in cultures that I have overlooked or assumed to be invaluable, as relevant to my life. It allows me to see beauty and importance in traditions and practices that are marginalized as backwards or primitive.

When I arrive in the Dominican Republic, I yearn to discover that there is more to life than the things that I acquire. I am excited to leave my material comforts behind, to rely more on my mind and less on my phone, to drop English and to speak something new. I am excited to be challenged in ways that make me continue to define who I am as a Black woman.