Photo: Gloria Atamno
Why is it such a sensitive subject when it comes to admitting and accepting that some of us carry so much of it?
As a general rule, privilege is usually something you’re born into or naturally obtained from pre-established circumstances. It’s not something to feel guilty about if you learn how to let it humble you while appreciating the opportunities you’re afforded.
That being said, the most common privilege in America is White Privilege. And although so many people still love to deny it exists, I’m not here to argue with them. I’m here to show you the privileges I became more aware of from traveling abroad, as a solo, African-American female. Yes, African-American because both my parents were born in Nigeria, while I was born in California.
In me revealing the privileges I became aware of, I hope you too, can come to terms with yours.
My English-speaking privilege
This was revealed to me during a dinner in the Czech Republic with a girl from Hong Kong. She was telling me about her life back home and as she recounted story after story, I was so impressed with her incredibly fluent English level, that I had to ask what age she started learning the language. She told me she began in Kindergarten and I told her Dora the Explorer was my Spanish Professor for a few years, but even then, I was already a teenager.
She told me how lucky I was to be born with English as my native language, as it’s spoken and understood practically everywhere — including her hometown. The majority of places I travel to, will always have an English translation, whether on the menu, ATMs, or street signs. That is a privilege.
My millennial privilege
Although we tend to make the worst type of tourists with our need to take a selfie with everything we think has a foreign element to it, we’re lucky and fortunate to grow up in this digital era. We have access to offline maps, traveling networks, and all kinds of resources to make every step of our trips as easy and manageable as possible.
I can’t tell you when was the last time I was able to navigate, book, or do anything without the help of the Internet, my phone, or some robot machine that I’ve deemed smarter than I. The truth is, we’re spoiled rotten and generations before us never traveled like we did because it wasn’t as affordable or as accessible as it is now. An incredible privilege.
My religious freedom privilege
I’m a proud, born again Christian who can practice her religion freely and openly without fear of judgement, criticism, or discrimination.
Many times I’ve been to parks or plazas around Europe and walked into the middle of a live music set of people singing gospel or praise songs. You can see others joining in, dancing, and worshiping without a care of their surroundings.
People pass by, smile, clap along, and enjoy the music, but of course, not every religion will get this same reception.
My religion isn’t associated by bigots with terrorism, and there isn’t a day I have to fear about my safety because of a direct correlation with my religion.
My access to internet privilege
According to NPR.org, over 50% of the world still does not have access to the Internet. You know, the World Wide Web. The thing you’re currently using and have probably been perusing through for the majority of your day, and maybe even the better part of your life (looking at you, Millennials).
My ability to access any information I need in the world to not only ease my travels, but navigate and connect with others makes my life so easy.
I have to remember that when I visit small villages and get stared at, I may very well be the first person of color they’ve ever seen up close. They might not have any knowledge about my kind existing, let alone in their village at that very moment in time. While it can be extremely uncomfortable and even disheartening, it’s also a great opportunity to turn it into a lesson.
The history textbooks, the global news stations, and the overall access to the Internet gives me a world of knowledge at my fingertips. Some have no idea what exists outside of their home town or village, and it’s a privilege if we can turn this into a beautiful cultural exchange.
My African-American privilege
If you’re black and you’re reading this with a “GIRL, NAH!” look on your face, let me explain. In America, this privilege doesn’t exist. But remember, I’m talking about the privileges I’ve experienced from being abroad.
It’s no secret African immigrants get treated poorly in many European countries. Many of them just want a better life for themselves and their family, but the jobs they’re able to get barely keep them above the surface.
I’m of African descent, but being born in America means I have an American accent, which alone, gets me better treatment than an African immigrant.
Despite my Nigerian cheekbones and nappy hair, Europeans can almost immediately recognize that I didn’t come straight from Africa, and because of that, I don’t get discriminated against as much as African immigrants. They won’t judge as hard or fear me as much. I’m westernized (or civilized in their eyes) and that alone has prevented me from getting randomly stopped and asked to show my papers while living in Spain, when I know this happens quite often to Africans.
There is also another positive aspect of being African-American in Europe. A much more unexpected one.
While I was buying beer from a street vendor with another African-American friend in Barcelona, and asked how much the purchase would cost, the man said, “€1 each.” But not more than five seconds later, a tall, blonde couple, presumably from a Scandinavian country asked the same question with a hint of a European accent in their English and without skipping a beat, the vendor replied, “€3.50”.
Whether he thought we wouldn’t be able to afford it, or he knew he could capitalize on people who looked like they had money, that is indeed a privilege. Morally wrong, but still a privilege of not being treated or looked at like a dollar sign.
My foreign job market privilege
While living in Spain for a year during the peak of their economic crisis; there was never a time I was without work.
Whether I was au pairing for a family, playing semi-pro basketball, teaching private English classes, or working at a hostel, the fact that I could walk into a country and find work when almost half of the people in my age bracket who are natives couldn’t, is indeed a privilege.
This doesn’t discount their work ethic, but being a native English speaker can open so many doors for you in a foreign country, that the fact that I never had to search for work was indeed, a privilege.
My health & able body privilege
How often I find myself racing up thirteen flights of stairs of castles or cathedral towers to get that beautiful, envied skyline photo of a city, or trek for three hours up a mountain to get that breeze and overlook the town like it’s my kingdom.
But then only to pass by others with canes, in wheelchairs, and the most touching, a blind man, crossing the street in Berlin.
I was moved by his fearlessness and ability to navigate better than me as I can’t even take a few steps, map in hand, without getting lost or missing a turn. So I gently and nervously wrapped my arms around him from behind — guiding his arms to continue beating the ground with his cane as we both slowly walked forward in front of traffic.
How humbling and inspiring to see the confidence in his stride from simply tapping the ground and slowly gliding his way down the street. The path opened up for him as people just watched in awe, and I hope that same type of gaze is the one I continue to have as I keep traveling and letting these sporadic humbling moments take my breath away, reminding me that as a 25-year old, female, African-American, college graduate, I’m absolutely honored, blessed, and privileged every day to travel and live the way I do.