Why White Privilege in America is NOT so special after all...
We recently departed from the beautiful country of South Africa where we visited for one month. Needless to say, it was splendid. It was ridiculously gorgeous, stunningly diverse, and filled with heartbreaking history that still torments the country to this day. The history of apartheid painstakingly has its grip on the modern landscape of South Africa. It is evident. Everywhere we went, we witnessed it. We witnessed the chronic homeless population of 7,000 strong line the streets of Cape Town to eat, sleep, and beg in the shadow of the imposing Table Mountain. We were asked daily for food, for loose change, for anything by "bergies," the name for typical homeless citizens in South Africa. We watched as children would beg us for food as we sat next to the beautiful landscape of mountain peaks, crystal blue ocean waters, and sandy beaches. It was haunting.
You see, the beauty of Cape Town lies in its diversity. Locals joke about the diverse weather, how one could experience all four seasons in one day. We can attest to this being true. The tourism industry profits from the diverse landscape lending opportunities for visitors to be able to hike up a mountain, surf in an ocean, walk in a forest, soak up the sun's rays, feel the coolness of the sea breeze all in one 24 hour period. The people of South Africa are beautifully diverse. From native Africans to expats, from descendants of Europeans who moved there centuries ago to colored people brought there a long, long time ago mostly from Asia. The beautiful people of South Africa come from all over. But, there was an ugly under belly to South Africa's diversity. It was the diversity of money. Many people had a lot. As mentioned above, many people had little, very little.
It reminded us of our own country: the United States. It reminded us of our own region, the South. It reminded us of our own State: Tennessee. A state in which many songs have been written, but maybe none more apropos than the 1990s hit song by Hip-Hop group, Arrested Development, titled "Tennessee." A song which nods at the ugly history of slavery in the South and the torment that unfortunately rears its ugly head in the form of racial injustice, ethnic inequalities, and unfortunate disparities in the justice system. There is no easy answer to these issues lingering from centuries past but still haunting us today . We, many times, feel hopeless.
While in South Africa, we could not help but notice and observe the great majority of the homeless population were colored or black. It was painstakingly obvious. We would estimate 99% of the homeless population we interacted with was non-white. On the other hand, we would estimate the great majority of tourists who obviously have money (and, yes we MUST lump ourselves in this same category) were white. We also experienced unbelievable kindness, professionalism, courtesy, intelligence, and hospitality from many in the service industry. However, we could not help but notice the great majority of the service industry serving us were also colored or black. We were white people sitting down in restaurants, sipping coffee in cafes, having a tasty libation at a bar, etc. and all the while the ones serving us (at a low wage I might add) were black or colored. Typically other patrons were also almost always also white. The chasm of privilege was just too great to not notice. And, if we did not notice, it would be more of a choice than anything. It would be obvious disregard and apathy. It would be white privilege in the highest sense. You see, we are learning more each and every day that we are advantaged more than we think. For us, the last few years we have seen benefits due to the color of our skin come into focus while our country wrestles with racial and social issues which bump into the notion of white privilege. It's just that visiting and soaking up the beautiful culture in South Africa brought even more clarity to the white privilege we harness in a very surreal way. If we benefit from our skin color in America than is it possible to benefit from it also elsewhere in the world? The answer is yes. You see, living an advantaged life only due to the color of one's skin has shrouded this planet. It has covered it like a soiled blanket. It has existed for hundreds of years. For those of us who may deny its existence in 2017, we may need to check the history books or maybe visit another country as we have done. The advantages of our skin color is not so special in America. It is not limited to only the U.S. It is sadly everywhere.
However, despite the pain which systems such as slavery in the United States brought forth centuries ago and the sting the South African system of Apartheid left on the social landscape of South Africa, there is a sense of hope. There is a sense of renewal. There is a spirit of togetherness, of a desire to see change for the betterment of every one. We saw it in South Africa. We heard tough dialogue from a diverse cast of characters: black, white, colored. We sang with people from various backgrounds. We heard stories of overcoming. We listened to those in the minority speak of triumph over the systems that regularly and historically have held down those with a certain hue. We celebrated, cheered, and smiled when we saw a diverse cast of characters find community together. We listened to white people humbly discuss ways to level the playing field while also dealing with the demons of their ethnic past. Where did we do this? A church of all places. A church with it's namesake from a city in modern day Turkey. A church called Antioch.
We had the opportunity to commune, congregate, gather, and "do life" with the people of Antioch Community Church in Cape Town, a church just trying to do it's little part in bringing a little dose of hope to this world. A church with people from a variety of social, racial, socio-economic, cultural, ethnic backgrounds. A church who decided to explore the term diversity. A church who chose to talk about issues such as equality, treatment of others, the historical context of racism and apartheid in South Africa. We were pushed, challenged, and provoked. But, most of all we were encouraged and we were better for it.
No, white privilege in America is not so special after all. Unearned advantages exist everywhere. As much as it may sting to fully recognize and own this, we encourage you to open your eyes to this if you are white. Allow yourself to be challenged, pushed, and provoked. If you are not white, we thank you for your grace and patience as we seek to be better, to do our part to open our eyes to injustices and come to the realization that we are all created equal and all humanity deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness.