It has come to my attention I have been neglecting my blog. The people interested in my time in South Africa have been nudging me lately to write more. The truth is I haven’t felt inspired to write. Not because there is nothing to write about but because things have settled into the day to day.
I will have been here for two months in less than a week. Which in the whole scheme of things is a very short period of time. However, on more than one occasion I have been described as a “nester”. Meaning, I like to settle in. I like to surround myself with things I like and that I am comforted by. So, I settled into South Africa very quickly. I wanted to feel at home here and so I have made it so. I have finally seen the downside of that. Like everyone does, I have failed to see the wonder of the world every day. “Life’s a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.”
Before I left the state’s, I was introduced to the irreverent escapades of Auntie Mame. I love the above quote from the film. It encapsulates its entire plot. For those that haven’t seen it Mame takes in her suddenly orphaned nephew to raise. When we meet her we’re given an impression of irresponsibility, devil may care, and a general unfitness to be a parent. She is redeemed, however, by her unconditional boundless love for her nephew. Her banquet philosophy of life is not a celebration extravagance and materiality. It is a treatise on the pointlessness of self-denial and an acknowledgement of privilege.
During my time here I have been examining the meanings and implications of privilege. I often argued with classmates in college about the effects of privilege on the course of one’s life. I would often ask them, when they would say “white privilege” didn’t exist, questions like “when did you decide to be born white?”, “When did you decide who your parents would be?”, “When did you decide what country to be born in?”. I would then follow up with “Did none of these things effect your life’s trajectory?” These factors in conjunction with many others culminate in the privilege one receives in life. There is nothing innately wrong with having privilege. As these questions show, it is almost entirely out of our control what privileges the institutions of society bestow on us. However, recognizing we are privileged and what we utilize our privilege for are entirely our decisions. After all, “most poor son-of-bitches are starving to death.”
This is not an admonishment of White American Males, who are undoubtedly the most privileged group in the world. In evangelical Christian circles life’s privileges are classified as Gods blessings. In my observations of privilege while in South Africa I have learned, or more likely acknowledged that forces beyond individual control bestow upon everyone different kinds of privilege regardless of degree. People here have been given an entirely different perspective on the world than I possess or can never fully understand. There is value in that. Another dish at the banquet if you will.
I have been given the privilege to try a lot at life’s banquet. I have lived in 5 different states and now 2 countries. I was able to go to college. I’ve had access to the internet and a computer since I was in sixth grade. I won’t go as far as uncle ben of the Spider-Man comics, not the rice, and say, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” But I will say I feel the need to recognize the extent my privilege shapes my life every day and on the whole. Additionally, I feel a responsibility to utilize my skills and my privilege to better the world around me for those around me and in doing so better it for myself. I feel a need to earn my privilege post hoc.
“Life’s a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death.” Enjoy the banquet. But realize, by no fault of their own, most people will never have a spot in line. Try to change that. Celebrate the value of diversity and stand up for those who are being intentionally uninvited. Looking at you Charlottesville…