Two of my coworkers were having a discussion about wealth. The distribution of wealth, actually. I was merely an eavesdropper, but I’m sure the shock could clearly be seen all over my face when I heard one of them say, “Well, if the people in Africa wanna act like cattle, let ‘em be cattle.”
Quickly I took a look at the wall calendar in my office. I feared that Doc Brown finally got that DeLorean up to 88 mph and I was transported back to 1860. But alas, the calendar read 2014. Humor me for a second and I’ll try to translate my coworker’s under-educated sentence. What he was trying to say was that there are (some) people living in Africa that actually do not want to advance themselves. These people are fine with being “primitive” and they actually prefer it. At least I think that is what he was trying to say.
Now, if I stand back and look at his statement with a really wide lens it’s probably not 100% incorrect. Without a doubt I am sure there are some people who tend to like life as usual. They are comfortable with who they are today and prefer not to change, even if that change is seemingly much better for them. I am also sure that there are people out there (Africa or otherwise) who are so afraid of change that they would reject any sort of it, even if it was an improvement. That being said, I also am very confident that these percentages are minuscule. If you landed your plane in an extremely poor section of the world and started to shower the people there with gifts, or money, or plane tickets, or education, or employment, I have no doubt that they would be appreciative and want more. The vast majority would invest themselves into the gifts—like education—and be forever grateful for the opportunity to do more and be more than they were prior.
I’ve still yet to figure out why we privileged people feel so entitled. Especially since I’ve yet to meet anyone who picked their parents or place of birth. No one I know chose their skin color or genetics. Yet I consistently hear people around me speak as if they are somehow better than others. Have we not learned from history how dangerous and idiotic that is? Privileged people grab hold of titles and wave them as a banner. Whether the title is American, or the 1%, or white, or any number of things. Under the guise of pride or patriotism or self-worth, privileged people use these titles as a way to separate themselves from others and, often times, look down on them.
Please understand, I’m not saying we should never be proud of who we are, what we’ve accomplished, or the hard work we’ve put into advancing our own lives. But at the end of the day, my question would be, “How much hard work have you put into advancing the lives of those less fortunate?” I need to fully understand that I am very fortunate and happened to be born into a comfortable life as a white, blue-eyed American with cupboards full of food and parents who raised me with love. But I could just as easily have been born halfway across the world to extremely poor parents who didn’t even want me and had no means to take care of me. Either way, I had no choice in the matter. But I can tell you that if I was born into the latter I would definitely be hoping and praying that someone, somewhere would offer me help and not make comments about me deserving to live like cattle.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Chris Brown