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  • mariA

Awakening to Privilege: A Personal Journey of Insight & Responsibility in South Africa

Sunset over the sea with the sun setting behind mountains resembling a pregnant woman, echoing themes of birth, identity, and the introspective journey of recognizing privilege.
Sunset Embrace: Where Nature Mirrors Life's Beauty and Depth

The first time I realized my privilege it was even before knowing that such word exists. When I was 20 I traveled in South Africa. By that moment, Apartheid did not exist anymore in practice but the reality of what I saw was different. The worlds between white and black people were clearly still separate. As a fact, white people did not travel in buses. At first they told me that buses did not exist. Then, they advised me not to go. “It is dangerous. Only black people travel on them”, they said, but I have my own mind. And there I am, in a full bus, the only white woman sitting next to a black woman and her two children; they had only one ticket.

On the way she starts the conversation. “Where are you going?” she asks. I tell her about the city and the national park I want to visit. It is only half hour from where she grew up, but she has never been there. “There is no time for adventures for me”, she says, “just for work and to take care of the family” and she asks a second question “Where are you from?” “I am from Greece, a country in Europe.” I respond. “Aaahhh… Europe...!” she repeats and her voice seems to travel in a dream. “I wish I could travel someday there, to have a better life. But you have to be somebody to be able to travel to Europe. You have to have a skill. Or you have to be famous, a musician or an athlete. But what do I have? Who am I? I am nobody” she says and I stay speechless.

Her voice is calm, with no regrets, humble and worthy at the same time, and her simple words are an awakening for me. They puncture my egocentric bubble and land me straight on the earth. It hurts and I am dizzy but when I can stop worrying about my 'safety' and 'integrity' I realize my responsibility for the power I hold; a power that I have received per se, without even considering if I worth it or not and why others do not have the same possibilities. As if this was not enough, moments after she takes out a bowl with food for her children and she offers me half of it. She doesn’t even accept a ‘no’ for an answer. My only relief is when her daughter finally sleeps over my lap. “Do you mind? She asks me. “Not at all!” I say. I am just glad to able to give at least something back to her and grateful I absorb the smile on her face as she closes her eyes to take a rest.


So...Who am I?!? I am a nobody, who has the privilege to still wonder how to answer such a 'big' question. Honestly, I think that this is a question that its most true answer is the same question itself and the effort to answer it, and I am a person who is asking myself every day the questions: “Who am I?” and “What defines my identity?”

I have always questioned mainstream paradigms. I usually dare to see out of the box. Actually, I cannot fit into a box. That has been for many years my conflict with my own culture and tradition; my resistance with my family structure and my rebellion with my religion. My own struggle with bulimia has been a compass to navigate through my questions and reveal the oppressive systems and their effects outside and within. Until reconciliation with my roots was possible , although I still challenge conformism.

That means, I had to signify from scratch many notions that form part of my identity, as a daughter, as a woman, as straight, as Greek, as Christian, as a psychologist, as an artist and many more. Throughout my life I have questioned every aspect of my own cultural and social identity trying to go deeper and connect with my essence. As a result, I try not to take for granted anybody’s identity just based on my own assumptions. I want to be open and curious to see through them and to discover the person in front of me without imposing my ideas.

So... Who am I ?!? I am a searcher. I am a learner. I am a fighter. I am an adventurer who challenges myself and others in my journeys without and within.I am this story and many other stories too. I am all the lived experiences of travelling and living in different cultures, meeting different people. Encounters that challenged further my structures and helped me see my identity for a little bit outside of the bowl of water where I grew up as a fish. Now, I want to believe that I am using the power of my privilege to promote the essential well being for everyone. Every day I am learning to be more humble. And with humbleness and all respect I want to say that I do not see in black and white. I admire with my heart equally the whole spectrum of brown and I look for the light, the dignity and value, in the eyes of every soul I am with, no matter the external identities.

Of course, I am not perfect but I do my best every day to be a better living being for me and for others around me. After all, I wish to be the best version of myself and honor who I truly am.

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