Never before had I thought of myself as coming from a place of privilege. Why, by international standards, I grew up below the poverty line. I’m a candidate for aid! Am I not?
During the time of my education at Wellesley College, though, I began to detest the aid mentality. Of course we’re indebted to help each other. What I abhor is the mentality that looks at “poor Africans” and wants to help the inferior…Or the African mindset of entitlement that says, “you colonized us and robbed us of our resources and created arbitrary borders, so now you owe us to build us up.”
When I first moved to North America, the temptation was to play into the aid mentality and describe my homeland in language that solicited sympathy. It has taken years of internal struggle to learn how to present the realities of my background with fairness. That struggle has involved a change of worldview, an obliteration of entitlement and victim mentality, and a faith in what Africans are capable of (I say faith because in too many instances, as evidenced by political turmoil and financial mismanagement, we have yet to see a demonstration of the capability).
In spite of these strides in my own thinking, this is the first time I have tackled my relative privilege and its implications for my life. Although my family was never well off, we’ve always been better off than others. My parents have a substantial backyard, for instance, and my mother always shared of the fruits and vegetables with others who had no land to grow their own and couldn’t afford it otherwise.
Yet we are always striving for more…for better…And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! It’s in our DNA to strive to improve ourselves. The problem is when we our striving lacks gratitude…when our striving is only to better ourselves with no thought of those in a position worse than ours – and you’d be shocked to learn that no matter how badly you’re doing, someone’s doing worse!
Realizing that you are privileged lays a burden on you to give of yourself to help others. Then your striving to improve is only so that you can be of greater assistance to those without. Instead of working for greater comfort in this life, you work for more opportunities to serve. That attitude of sacrifice is born of a spirit of gratitude.
So goodbye to the victim mentality that says, “help me, I’m a poor African” (or an oppressed black man…or an ostracized Asian…or a poor anything at that!). And hello to the Christian mindset that recognizes God’s tremendous blessings and accepts the inherent challenge to give to others of what I have freely received.