(Delivered at UUSF on July 22, 2018. Listen to the audio here.)
I've been to Africa, Asia, and Central America, and I've never felt foreign.
Partly, that's because I've never been treated as other or less than. Wherever I would go, even when I was in the minority, I would get accomodations. For my trip to Cambodia, I didn't have to wait for multiple years to get my visa in a lottery or doubt that I would ever get one -- I just showed someone my passport. When I read a travel guide to prepare for my trip, one thing I learned was that they have a separate police force for foreigners. The book made it seem like the normal police force wasn't very responsive to the real needs of Cambodians, but if I had a problem, I could get the help I needed.
White privilege is often described as something like unearned benefits that you get for being white, and it's often invisible because those benefits just seem normal. My experience in Cambodia helped make some of that privilege visible for me. It seemed weird that I would get white privilege in a country that's mostly not white, even though I know that's actually pretty common.
It seemed weird that even when I was a foreigner, I was treated like I was at home.
For a lot of folks, even when they're at home, they're treated as other or less than or foreign.
About a decade ago, I coached a high school debate team. One of my students looked Middle Eastern. He lived here his whole life, and he was just a kid, but whenever we would go to the airport to fly to a debate competition, he would get selected for extra screening.
And I didn't know what to do. I would see him get pulled aside. I would talk to him afterwards... Sometimes. But that wasn't enough.
I should have walked over with him when he was getting screened. I was his chaperone, after all, and he was a minor. I should have asked the person screening him if there was a problem. I should have made it clear that I was watching. I didn't.
It can sometimes feel like everything is going wrong now and the only thing we can do is wait for it all to be over and hope it gets better. But these problems aren't new. And we can do a lot. Particularly if you have the authority you get when people look at you and think that you belong.
It might be calling your elected officials to tell them to make the visa process more humane. It might be voting to make your local police force a group that serves all people, not just some. It might be signing up for Faith in Action. Or it might just be standing next to a kid in an airport to let him know you have his back.
If I had done that, it probably wouldn't have changed anything. But it might have made him feel less like a foreigner in his own country. It might have made him feel more at home.