The Secret to Owning Your Privilege

Let’s get taboo

The sacred mosque of Tuba, Senegal

Let’s talk about privilege. It may be taboo for me to speak up about this being from a racially homogenous community in the USA. But I believe everyone has a reason to feel privileged. Thinking who is this girl to talk about privilege? Well, then I should begin by defining the lens I understand privilege through. When I’m talking privilege: I mean an opportunity to feel gratitude anytime anywhere.

Question to the curious ones…

Thing about privilege is we ALL have it, some in very different ways than others. From me, Taylor, in the US, to most lovely Absa in Senegal to dear Anh, a bachelors student in Vietnam, to your biggest inspiration on the Internet throwing fresh quotes deep in your mind. Question is: how are you using your privilege? 

Privilege. We all have it.

At the beginning of my journey through Senegal in 2019, I wrote this reframe of my relationship to my own West World privilege. And this is how I decide to use it. To plant a seed of perspective.

From my journal: March 26, 2019

Fourteen days I have been in Africa. Fourteen days total with cold showers and low water pressure— in fact, a good part of those days feature absolutely no running water at all due to city-wide shortages. Thus, we can’t even flush a toilet nevermind washing our hands. As a result, it seems I now have an aggressive cold and plentiful headaches. Time to build my character and my immunities.

Now, in Senegal, I have landed myself in Saint-Louis, a town where flies scavenge every last inch of earth, wall, and skin. Where dirt blankets the houses and our beds, a sweet little touch of hospitality from the Sahara. Where mosquitoes, Africa’s deadly vampires, find a place in your room at night feasting on fresh, foreign blood. Heat has no boundaries in the bright of day and a bitter cold creeps in once the sun drops below the desert’s horizon. It’s an untamed land. 

The magic of being in a Community

Okay… dramatic? Yes. But also accurate? Relatively… Although there is another side to my experience here in the far-away continent of the Lion King. These peoples are some of the most welcoming and hospitable I have come across in my travels. I may not speak Wolof or Pular or any of their other 30 dialects, but I seem to make my way around joyfully via French and gesticulating hand motions. Sometimes someone comes and stands next to me and starts playing the tamtam, so I feel the beat and we have a little concert on the street corner. Or perhaps I just stand outside doing absolutely nothing and I can connect with smiles from all different strangers on the streets. It’s obvious there is no shortage of hospitality here.

And even more inspiring, these people, although they do not have much, will always welcome a smiling Toubab (a White foreigner) to share their plate (literally) and their home. They are satisfied with next to nothing and probably cannot even imagine what it is like to have a machine that washes their clothes or a room in their house just for their cars. Why would you? 

Here, in 2019, iPhones are like a Mercedes, products only the wealthier have. Forget taking sides with Apple or Android. These guys go old school with classy T-9 keypads and Nokias. That’s right: cellphone capabilities for many people here include solely calling and texting. No Instagram. A little Facebook. Hardly even Google. The family would have to be privileged enough to have a computer in their home, so Youtube is a ‘maybe’. However, every house is luckily equipped with a chunky, 12’’X12’’ TV box set from 2004.

The power of grounding yo’ Self

As one can see, it is the simple things that make life so precious here. The mealtime communities, the opportunity to go to elementary school with educated teachers, the ability to provide for yourself with a few cents a day. Gratitude vibes everywhere! Even having a tissue to wipe your nose seems a luxury for the children running through the streets. They go all-naturelle. By no means was this place built for the yellow bellies and the craven. 

Befriending the culture has also been a process.

Today, two weeks later, I have rows of African braids pulling my scalp tight and I have started to acquire a colorful wardrobe of dresses. My left foot is henna-ed & my tan has leveled itself up a notch to attempt at competing with the Senegalese’s darker pigment. In the end, the sun wards me off with a slap on my back and I retire to the safety of the indoors. I am pale, what can I say… My reddened skin also makes me stand out like a sore thumb here. They can’t help but point and laugh about my vulnerabilities.

All the same I have wonderful moments with my new family. Absa, a gorgeous 19-year-old school girl from around the corner, has become my guide and best friend. She has brought me to discover the most beautiful fabrics for having a tailor made traditional Senegalese dress. Extravagant this beauty of a dress is, red and glowing in all its glory. What a fashionably colorful world here… 

Dress up with Kadia in St. Louis, Senegal.

What it means to ‘have’

Most of all, thank you, Mama Africa, for introducing me to the freedom of letting go in the face of discomfort to embrace the beauty of presence. My privilege back “home” in the U.S. starts to feel a bit different here, where I feel so pressured to own things I don’t really care to own. My “West World” privilege is starting to feel distracting from the essence of my life— to be present and to be part of a conscious community that’s building a healthy, connected, and adaptive world. While my origins are more concerned with material consumption and “owning” sh**, the things in my life I cannot see are more important to me. 

Turns out, I want to use my privilege for building a more sustainable, self-compassionate, and good-feeling life so that I can share it with others. Because when those 3 things are THE core of our experiences, we will only expand as we give.

It’s the Law of Reciprocity, homies.

Stretch your mind with this:

So, how do you want to use your privilege? Better yet, what even is your privilege? 

A great place to figure out how to answer that question, declare your top values.

School musical at Action Femmes Enfant Centre in St. Louis, Senegal.