Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wearing your Privilege- Erin Craft-Otterbacher

            In these brief two weeks, Ghana has already taught me more than I could ever convey in a blog posting or an infinite number of blog postings. Generally being a good communicator, it is interesting to be experiencing things so extraordinary that words fall short in describing everyday realities. Because I am generally unable to describe my life here in Ghana, I feel as though I am functioning more like a very large and dry sponge, attempting to soak up every detail around me with the hopes that I will never forget the little oddities of life here.

I could ramble on forever about the daily surprises, shocks, and joys I am experiencing on this trip but that would take me hours and certainly lose the interest of readers quickly. Instead, I am going to briefly describe one of the most surprising and at times uncomfortable aspects of life here – being white.

Growing up in the majority, there is something shocking about being thrust into the minority. Everywhere you go in Winneba the exclamations of  “Oburoni, oburoni!” follow you around as persistently as a shadow. Oburoni means foreigner in Twi and Fante, which are two of the languages spoken in Winneba. Because we are not only foreign but pale Caucasians we frequently get the extended “Oburoni kayo!” which means fair foreigner. Walking down the streets of Winneba you hear this hundreds of times. Small children run from shacks and alleys to follow you, singing “Oburoni kayo, oburoni kayo!” over and over again. They reach out with beautiful little arms to touch your pale skin, to hold your white hand, or score a high five. Even the adults get your attention by shouting “Oburoni!” Adults and children alike ask for pictures with you or simply take your picture without asking. Others are less vocal and merely gawk as you walk by.

It is at times flattering and fun to be noticed everywhere you go. However, most of the time it just feels uncomfortable and awkward being raised to celebrity status because of your skin color. Quickly you realize that your skin color announces your privilege as loudly as an all caps sign.

While looking different than everyone else is challenging, it is the immediate connection with privilege that is most difficult for me. In America, I live everyday knowing that I am blessed. Blessed with an amazing family, a beautiful home, purposeful life goals, and friends that make life worth living. However, I rarely take time to feel thankful for a toilet that flushes, trash that is picked up weekly, roads that are paved, toilet paper in every bathroom, and supermarkets that provide every commodity I could desire. These are blessings that so many Americans and myself take for granted everyday. This is the ignored privilege of everyday life in America.

In Ghana, this ignored privilege becomes abundantly clear and as obvious as the pale color of my skin. As a compassionate individual, it is painful to accept that you have more material privilege than most of the beautiful, welcoming, and loving Ghanaians you meet everyday. Being labeled as different and wealthy creates an uncomfortable disequilibrium. In America, I do not think of myself as wealthy or exceptionally privileged. I live in a comfortable state of denial about my own privilege next to most of the world. Coming to Ghana strips away that denial and makes my relative privilege obvious.

All of this brings me to my biggest challenge in Ghana – accepting that I am a privileged oburoni. No matter how little money I have, my pale skin color permanently marks me as a privileged minority. No matter how hard I try to blend in here, I will always been an oburoni.  The more difficult fact to accept is that I am not only marked as privileged but I AM privileged simply by being American. Accepting your own privilege is a tough task, one that I have not yet fully achieved.

The difficult reality that I am privileged is changing my entire mindset. Allowing my own privilege to be an aspect of my self-image demands that I live my life in a way that continually acknowledges these blessings. Becoming an oburoni has stripped away any comfortable denial about my level of privilege. The motto at Challenging Heights is “To whom much is given, much is expected.”  I have been given much. I will never again be just an American girl, instead I have become an oburoni, a world citizen, and with that comes great responsibility. Being a privileged oburoni raises the question: How can I live my life in a way that honors and returns all I have been given? 




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