Privilege Is Not Our Fault, But It Is Our Responsibility

When I look at our children in Africa, I see privilege. I probably could've seen it in the U.S., but I didn't. Perhaps I was distracted by how our very broken American systems still generally met the most basic of human needs. Education (variation in quality notwithstanding) is available to every child through high school, free of charge. Healthcare (value notwithstanding) is provided to anyone, at least on a survival level (Emergency Departments cannot turn people away for not paying cash up front). Clean water and working sewage systems are nearly universally afforded.

Yes, my children represented privilege in the U.S. They were born into a home with two parents who had completed advanced degrees. Their exposure to language alone gives them a significant advantage over children in poor American homes. They are white. They would never have to explain, on account of the color of their skin, why they are in an expensive car (not that we would ever buy one) or in a particular neighborhood. No one in our immediate or extended family is incarcerated, unemployed, or addicted to any substance (excepting caffeine). Yes, my children were always extremely privileged. I just didn't see it. Because I didn't have to see it.

In Africa, my children's privilege strikes me nearly daily. When I see them towering over kids two years their seniors, simply because they have never been hungry a day in their lives. When I make plans to deliver our next child Stateside, because our hospital (one of the best in the region) does not have an OBGYN, a stocked blood bank, readily available surfactant, or a ventilator that could be utilized in a child under 20 kilograms. When I don't think twice about mixing them a second glass of milk, because I'm just not worried we won't be able to pay for it.

We have more books on our bookshelf (less than 10% of the collection we had before moving to Africa) than in any nearby classroom. While all of our kids' toys could fit into two Action Packers, they own far more than most children here ever will. We each cycle through about ten pairs of clothes (not including two suitcases full of clothes for our time back in the U.S.) and three or four pairs of shoes, which is probably three times more than many patients in our hospital own.

We don't have a television, which people here find extremely odd, since even the very poor will often own a satellite dish that transmits low quality programming on a few channels. However, we own two computers, two tablets, and two smartphones that are worth (collectively) about $1,000 -- more than 15 months pay for an entry level worker in Cameroon. Our children will be digital natives in ways most children here never will. We don't wash our clothes by hand. We eat meat and other high protein foods regularly. We have a tiny microwave, a gas stove, a small oven, and indoor plumbing. We have tile floor and cement (not mud) walls. We have screens on our windows. We each have our own bed, with a pillow.

We've never had malaria, or tuberculosis, or HIV. We don't own a car, but we can purchase transportation (by car or plane) to nearly anywhere. We have passports that could get us into almost any country in the world, and back to a country where we could resume very gainful employment to enjoy every comfort the poor here can scarcely imagine. We are very, very rich.

It is not easy to forget our privilege in rural West Africa. This is a very, very good thing. I can only leverage for good what I know I have. And I will probably only leverage for good what I know I don't deserve. This is precisely the reason I must not hesitate to teach my children about the advantages of their condition, and the God who gave it all to them. I can only teach my children to leverage for good what they know they have, and what they know they don't deserve.

Privilege is not our fault, but it is our responsibility. Here's to using it for good -- for the lost, for the broken, for the Kingdom.


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