Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Mayor and Me (Or: How White Privilege Taught Me the Art of the Left Hook)

I've had the tremendous fortune of arriving in San Fernando during the annual city fiesta – a two-week long party and all-around good time.

Friday was boxing night.

I hadn't really gone into the city, at that point, except in a work-related capacity. I was standing outside the central plaza where the event was to take place, when a security guard from inside pushed through the crowd, pointed at me through an even larger crowd and offered me a seat in the (still empty) VIP section.

Surprised, I told him I was waiting for friends (the truth). Friends arrived an we tried to sit in the corner somewhere, but were quickly accosted by a gentleman whom I was later able to identify as the mayor's personal bodyguard.

In Canada, one is usually able to determine which offers it would be rude to decline, and which it is not really expected that one will accept. The offer of a beer is probably genuine, but the offer of one's house (after several beers) may not be. I still struggle with this distinction here, but it was clear in this instance that the request fell under the former category, so off we went to sit front and centre next to the mayor, the vice-mayor and Manny Pacquiao's trainer.1

Then there was the boxing. I'd never seen a live boxing match before, but the conceit of unearned privilege had me discussing the finer points of the left hook with the vice-mayor, as if I could possibly have done more in the ring than just bleed. Maybe whimper a little.

The following night, another Canadian and I were whisked around a crowd into an event without so much as a cursory glance at our tickets (which were free to begin with). On the rare occasions I've been given VIP treatment at home, I've lived it up like I were the Prince of Monaco, because I know that my limousine will turn back into an oversized gourd at midnight, and I'll be back in the cheap seats with the rest of the suckers.

The problem is that the cost of the cheap seats at home can pay for a whole heck of a lot over here. I don't want to be given the key to the city, for several reasons:

1) I haven't done anything to deserve it.

2) The people in San Fernando's cheap seats don't live in nice suburban houses. They're hungry.

3) The specter of neo-colonialism follows me around like an over-protective parent; escorting me through the poorest parts of town and ushering me into VIP seating.

4) Part of my purpose here is to encourage the participation of marginalized groups in environmental activities, thus decreasing their relative marginalization. I see some pretty easy conflicts of interest on this count.

No problem: I'll just implement a solid waste management plan in a couple of communities, and the entire city, if not the better part of the country, will surely be immediately hoisted out of poverty.

In the interim, a quick bout with Manny Pacquiao should be enough to keep me (permanently) grounded.

1Possibly the most famous person I've ever met, now that I think about it.

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