Two years ago I spent two weeks in Costa Rica and Panama on a medical mission trip with my pre-med group on campus. During this trip I helped set up two free clinics in which we saw local patients that couldn't afford to go to their local doctors. In total I think we helped over forty different people and at the time it felt really good to help others in need.
What I didn't realize until today was how unethical our "good doings" actually were. One of my friend's that went with me on this trip was told not to talk about exactly what we did on the trip because it WAS unethical, but I didn't fully understand that until I was sitting in class at 12:27 today and it hit me like a ton of bricks. White privilege.
To make a long story short and as least complicated as possible, the Latinos we were encountering kept using the word "gringa" which means foreigner, someone who speaks English and is typically white. It isn't an offensive word or a racial slur, at least in the context it was being used in towards us. The Latinos we were helping kept referring to us as "doctor," which at the time felt flattering because that is what I aspire to be, but now I realize how wrong this actually is. Out of eight pre-med students on our trip there was one that was of color. I was one of the only people in my group that spoke Spanish besides our translators and I found that if we tried to describe ourselves as students who aspired to be doctors our patients didn't fully understand and still referred to us as doctors (I am guessing this is because other mission trips consisting only of doctors from the USA frequent this area).
So there us pre-med students were, doing things we were not qualified to be doing, learning a lot along the way, but taking credit for being something we were not. I don't want to go into specific details because although we were not qualified for our roles, the organization that we went with has only good intentions for their trips. But, how could we think that it was okay to go to a third world region, wear scrubs and a stethoscope, and let people instill the trust in us to believe that we were actual health care providers? Although at the time I didn't see any of this, I am now struggling with the fact that we let this illusion be played out. I think it goes along the lines of what we talked about in class, you don't realize that you are privileged until you understand what privileged is.
Now I see the power that the word "gringa" actually held for me while I was on this trip. It held the power that when our patients saw me,a white American wearing medical scrubs, that they assumed I was a doctor and gave me the respect as if I actually was. Being a white American privileged me to be trusted with someonelse's life, something that I had no qualification for and no right to be doing. Being white granted me the respect of the people is the village before I had not earned. The villagers immediately instilled an incredible trust in me that allowed them to literally hand me their children and ask me to cure them. And then it hit me, this is not something that I had earned the right to do, this is something that being white granted me. It is not to say that a person of color would not have been given this same respect or have had a similar experience, but from my perspective this is what I feel happened.
Learning what we are in class is making me question experiences I've had and making me reevaluate the way I think. Feel free to comment and let me know what you think. Maybe I am making connections that are not present, but I feel as though there is some connection to be made.