I’ve come in contact with privilege in a lot of ways – in the ways that I possess it, and the ways that I don’t. My time at Duke has certainly exposed me to varying shades of privilege, but, naturally, has emphasized an academic understanding of what privilege means. But, it seems like when you read about the world, you begin to better know it. When you meet people who have experienced the world, in perhaps its most unforgiving fury, you begin to better understand it. And I think Miami is going to go a long way in helping me understand the world, even just a little bit better. I didn’t imagine this hint of understanding would manifest until long into the program, but I managed to get hit with a taste of it just two days into my placement.
We were just two eighteen-year-old girls with the expanse of our lives ahead of us looking across at each other and it was difficult then, and difficult now as I am trying to pin my thoughts down to write something half-way to coherent, to process how immeasurably different we are.
In assisting an attorney at Catholic Charities Legal Services, I was involved in an intake with a potential client – a girl who, like many others whose files I’d organized or cases I’d researched for in the short time I’d been there, was facing potential deportation. When asked to describe her situation and background, she sat there with a blank expression and proceeded to recite some of the most horrific things I could imagine happen to a person. Not for a moment did she hesitate or stumble, struggle or cry. It was as if she was divesting the details of someone else’s life. Question after question, as her story unfolded, she finally turned the questioning gaze back onto me. And I couldn’t say a word.
I’ve never considered myself to be someone with the answers. I am a naturally curious person, constantly trying to find out more about what’s around me. Asking questions, I can do. But to have someone look at me, wanting an answer to a silent question I could never understand? I felt useless. In that moment, I felt almost physically hurt to hear what she had gone through. In a different life, we could very well be on opposite sides of the same desk. But, in this life, it was her who had to answer the countless questions thrown her way. We were just two eighteen-year-old girls with the expanse of our lives ahead of us looking across at each other and it was difficult then, and difficult now as I am trying to pin my thoughts down to write something half-way to coherent, to process how immeasurably different we are.
So I wonder: Can I do this? A thought pertinent to my time this summer, but a larger thread pulling at what I see in my future. What I want to for the time I here is not to save or to rescue anyone, but to help. But can I? Is it ever going to get easier? Will I ever have an answer?
Can I do this?
I guess we’ll see.