Privilege, Poverty, and Mango Juice:

A Reflection On Economic Justice

Andrea Bonneville

Growing up in a small town has a lot of benefits. At a young age, I was able to feel safe no matter where I was because I had people who cared about me. I was able to learn how to swim, catch a fish, plant a garden, ride a bike, and build a fort in the comfort of my own backyard. In school, I was able to get to know every person and was able to play volleyball, basketball, and softball. I joined band, choir, drama, knowledge bowl, math team, and more. My parents gave me everything I could ever want and more, and my extended family was always present in my life. I was surrounded by people who liked the same things as I did and agreed with the same beliefs that I had. This small town influenced who I am.

 

I am the definition of a privileged, white, middle class American.

 

When it was time to go to college, I was able to make the choice to pursue either a bachelor's degree in education or an associate's degree to work in the iron ore mines like my mother. The financial investment was never an issue. I did not have to worry about how I was going to support myself.  I decided to pursue a private liberal arts education with a degree in sociology and religion. This choice influenced who I am.

 

I am the definition of a privileged, white, middle class American.

 

Because of Concordia, I have been able to travel to Nicaragua to learn about Fair Trade, to Ferguson, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; and Atlanta, Georgia to learn about issues of racial injustice, and now to India. I have taken classes that have forced me to critically think about issues in our society and in our world. I have been a part of student organizations that provide me with a community of people who enjoy having conversations about different social justice issues. And I have volunteered in Fargo-Moorhead, meeting people faced with the issue of poverty, homelessness, illness, and much more. I have become responsibly engaged in the world. I have been BREWing like every Cobber is told to do. This college influences who I am.

 

I am the definition of a privileged, white, middle class American.

 

When I studied abroad in India this fall, I was forced to come to the conclusions that my

small town didn’t teach me that there are people in this world who are very different than I am, that my choice to go to college was a choice that a very small percent of people are able

to make, and that even while at Concordia, I was able to create a bubble preventing me from having to face the harsh realities of injustice everyday. The more I experienced in India, the more I learned that I am the definition of a privileged, white, middle class American.

 

I felt guilty, ashamed, angry, sad, and so much more. My heart ached at the fact that half

of Indians live on 50 rupees, less than 1 US dollar (66 rupees) a day. I hated the fact that I

was born into this privilege, and that there is nothing I could do to change that, and the fact that my skin color and nationality give me opportunities that so many people don't even

know are possible.

Reality slapped me in the face every time we entered into the city, passed a slum, saw a

person with a disability begging on the side of the road, smelled the pollution in the air and saw the mounds of garbage on the side of the road, watched the power flicker on and off, huddled around the water filter for clean drinking water, and listened to the raw and beautiful stories of native people who have struggled with oppression all their lives.

 

There is one experience that sticks with me when I think about confronting my privilege

while in India. It was our first weekend in Bangalore, India. We broke up into groups with

a leader, and we were given 50 rupees to eat breakfast and lunch. At first, I thought the amount of money that I had in my pocket was going to be the most impactful part of the

tour. But then I had a conversation with women washing dishes outside their homes who warned us about the poverty in Bangalore. Then, I met a man who told me that Americans always take what isn’t theirs. Then, I met two street workers on their lunch break who have been picking garbage off the street their whole lives. And then, another woman who told us she makes 5,000 rupees a year cleaning garbage.

 

The hot sun beat down on me as I inhaled the smell of pollution and garbage, and I stood in the middle of Bangalore sick to my stomach because of all I had experienced. At that moment, everything that I had learned about poverty, economic injustice, the wealth gap, and much more no longer mattered. What mattered was that I was standing in the street as a privileged American, and there was nothing I could do for these beautiful people who surrounded me.

 

We stopped to talk to another lady on the street who was selling flowers. We learned about her life story, how she had many children and grandchildren, that she was seventy years old, and that she was working because she wanted to earn money for herself. We quickly learned that she made between 50 and 100 rupees a day. She told us that we reminded her of her children, and that she was extremely happy that we stopped and talked with her. As we were about to leave, she insisted that she would buy us juice. We could not politely walk away from the situation, so we accepted two large bottles of ice cold mango juice. I reached in my pocket and felt the 30 rupees I had left. I wanted to buy flowers from this lady. I wanted to give her all that I had left, but she would not accept. She told us that for most of her life, she lived without food; now, she has everything she needs, so she wanted to share with us. We thanked this kind, beautiful lady, and walked down the street drinking the refreshing juice.

 

I found out that each bottle of mango juice costs 37 rupees; she spent a total of 74 rupees on juice for us. That is her whole day’s wage. And again, I stood in the middle of Bangalore, but this time I no longer felt sick to my stomach. I was no longer concerned about the privilege that I have. All I could think about was the amount of wisdom and generosity this woman

had showed to me. That moment gave me the energy I needed to get out of big city and back to the comfort of my hostel. And that is the moment I realized that this woman knew more than I will ever know about poverty and the issue of economic justice. We are so focused

on solving the issue of economic injustice that we forget about the human dignity that all people have and deserve. We jump to the facts that we know and the theories that we have learned, but we never share the stories. Talking about poverty, the wealth gap, and all issues of economic injustice are important discussions that must be had. We must create a framework to help understand where the changes can be made, and we must struggle with our own privilege so we can rip off the masks our society has forced upon us. But let us not forget about the people, the beautiful people, who share their stories and teach us more

about life than we will ever learn.

Photo by Laszlo Balogh/Reuters. Bickse, West of Budapest, Hungary. September 3rd, 2015.