In our pre-departure training we had a session on race, privilege and gender that was really eye opening. They said that most of us have privilege because we come from a country that is WEIRD.
We also read a great article called “White Privilege:Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” which was very eye opening. As a white person in Canada I do not face racism on a daily basis. In fact, if someone asks me to think about a time I was discriminated against back then, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a very good answer. I know that this is not the case for millions around the world, who suffer daily examples of racism or other ways were they are treated poorly because of who they are.
A message to white people – white privilege is not saying you’re bad, or racist, or that you don’t deserve a nice life. Understanding this issue is simply recognizing the fact that it’s easier to get around in this world if you happen to be white. You may be great to your friends of different races or socioeconomic classes, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t systematically put at a disadvantage in their everyday life. So don’t feel offended when people bring it up. Just try to understand that others may have a life that’s more difficult, and try to fight that injustice if you can.
Being white can be uncomfortable in Ghana, because I’m a minority (for the first time in my life). Sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate if people treat you a certain way because of your skin colour. It might be that I’m white, but it might also be because I’m a woman, because I’m Canadian, because I speak English or any number of other factors.
Here are some negative factors I face on a daily basis….
- Everyone on the streets calls me an obruni, whitey, white woman, etc.
- Random people I’ve never met feel entitled to ask me for money, and think it’s rude when I don’t continue talking to them or I walk away.
- Hawkers on the street grab my arm to try and force me to buy their wares.
- Children literally treat me as if I’m an alien (with some screaming in horror at the sight of me, some laughing and following me down the street, and some poking and prodding at my white skin and blonde hair).
- I have no privacy. Everyone knows where I live and everyone stares at me on the street (even if I’m having a bad day and just want to be left alone). It’s like everything bad about being a celebrity.
- Everyday Ghanaians become the paparazzi, with random people taking pictures of you in the background. They want to prove they have a white friend, or even worse, a white girlfriend.
- Random people say “Hey, buy me this”, even if they obviously have enough money to buy it themselves.
- Everyone insists you take them back to your country with you. It’s often difficult to discuss much else.
- Men try to propose to you or confess their love, so that you’ll brin them to Canada with you.
- My coworkers bring me to meetings because I’m white so it will “show they mean business”.
Most of all, privilege means I get to complain about different aspects of life in a “developing country” only because I choose to be here. I suffer through the badly maintained roads, corrupt police officers, and worry about basic sanitation practices here, just like everyone else. But the difference is… I get to leave.
I get to choose a different life if I want…
- I can go to a good school
- I don’t have to worry about being denied access to any country, because I can easily get a visa
- I can eat healthy, wonderful food for every meal (or junk food if I prefer)
- I could choose to fly if I don’t like the long hours of busing on bumpy roads
- I can buy a fancy water filter to ensure I don’t get cholera…
- If I do get sick, I can easily afford the medication
And if Ebola comes to Ghana (or any other serious threat to my well-being), I will be evacuated to somewhere safe by my company or government. I can leave… The people here cannot, and this is their life that I’m complaining about, which is something I need to do better at keeping in mind. I can’t say I’ll stop eating fancy imported cheese or going to the movies on the weekends, because those things keep me sane. But I think it’s on important to beware of the reality of others.
White privilege has been in the news in a big ways recently. It was mentioned as part of the Toronto Municipal Election, and Huffpost described how it relates to even broke white people. Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly debated it, Sasha Dichter discussed the issues of what we deserve, and one guy even talked about how riding his bike taught him all about the issue. My favourite story about privilege is one of a boy from Canada who grew up in an African village, it’s a bit long, but a great read.
“You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how f*’in exhausting it is living it.”