In winter of 2017, I studied abroad in Bangalore, India on a program called “Textiles, Weaving, and Feminism.” We questioned and discussed systems of race, capitalism, and patriarchy. This study abroad experience allowed me to question my identity and what it means to be a privileged white person in the United States. Two years after the trip, I am still learning how to navigate through my identity. It is a constant learning process, and there is so much I still don’t know. What I do know for certain: fear of saying the wrong thing and fear of hurting peoples’ feelings, is, to put it bluntly, murder. We live in a society today where white silence is only doing harm. Shame and guilt were blocking my potential to move forward and have the tough conversations that need to be had. I know now that speaking up and being wrong is where the learning happens, and I will never let fear, shame, or guilt get in the way of speaking up.
My project consists of a letter from my current self written to my pre-study-abroad self.
I am so excited for you to embark on your study abroad trip to Bangalore, India in just a few days. You have not the slightest idea of what is in store, but I guarantee that you will leave India with great new perspective, experience, and wisdom. I challenge you to take a deep breath and go with wide open arms and a curious heart.
Your time in India will uncover hidden layers of yourself that you didn’t know existed. Some mornings, you’ll wake up at sunrise and see the misty sun engulfed by an ocean of soft purples and golds. This sight will quiet your mind and give you a great appreciation for all that life is. Other days you’ll lie in your dorm with a 103 degree fever while your classmates are all out exploring the city. Some days you’ll meet the nicest locals you’ve ever met in your life, and they will offer you sweets and a place to rest your feet. You’ll share laughs and stories and you’ll want to stay in India forever. On other days, you’ll wish so badly to be home in the comfort of your own bed.
Most importantly, you will be stripped of identities you were so privileged to have in your comfortable life in Seattle. Great and necessary reflection will be due for its unfoldment. Anna, you will need to make the space within your soul for the crucial and necessary unpacking that you have longed to undertake. Please, create this space. Sit through your uncomfortable feelings and emotions— analyze them, contemplate solutions, find the underlying core of your belief systems and take action within yourself to move past your biases and limitations in order for indispensable outside work to take place.
You will begin to question your white identity and all the responsibilities that come with it. Feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion will arise that you might not have felt before so intensely. You won’t understand how there can be so much wealth in the world, yet so much inequality. You won’t understand the racism and discrimination happening every day and every second. You will feel helpless and hopeless, you’ll feel guilty for being just another white person who is taking up space while not doing anything to solve these gigantic issues.
You will feel all of these things, and that is okay. Please, feel them. The world needs you and every other white person to feel all of this and face uncomfortable realities to move past white guilt and shame, which only serves to silence you, and then you really won’t have the capacity to make change. Shame and guilt only add to the problem; those feelings will make you afraid to ever speak out or take action. White silence is just as powerfully harmful. Realize that your white guilt will not serve anyone. It will only hold you back from participating in discussions about race and identity and speaking up when you need to.
During this trip you will realize that it is your responsibility to deal with your white guilt. I encourage you to go home with courage and strength, to open up to your peers, family members, classmates, and friends to have discussions about whiteness. As a white person, you are in a position to discuss the advantages those of your race are granted by virtue of their skin color, and to have a conversation about this knowledge with other white people.
I know it can be challenging to face uncomfortable feelings, to be told you are wrong when you unknowingly say something that is racist or offensive. You cannot be silent out of fear of being wrong. Know that this is where your potential power lies—power to step up in the world and make a positive change. I believe in you.
Anna believes experience is the best teacher. She is passionate about traveling and learning about different traditions, cultures and ways of being around the world. This has helped her expand her awareness, learn more about my her own self, and in turn, this allows her to be of better service to the world.