“And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.” ―
The world has never been equal, is not equal and can never be equal. Some people are born with golden spoons in their mouths; they come into this world not wanting for anything and not having the fear of what the future has in store for them. This set of people have what it takes to conquer and dominate the world. Many are already born into stardom and have become influential right from their birth. Their names pave way for them and people clear the path when they walk. They move with the confidence and gait that their financial status and family name blesses them with.
Some are born with silver spoons. They may not have the affluence and stardom, but you can smell money on them from afar. These ones are similar to those with golden spoons; they want for nothing, they lack nothing, they go to the best schools and eat the best meals. They are sure of what the future holds and they have choices to pick from.
Some are born with wooden spoons; they are not rich, but they are not in extreme poverty. These ones eat ‘2 triangle meals’. Some of them do 0-1-0 or 1-0-0 or 1-0-1. If you know, you know. These set of people don’t have the opportunity of choices, there is no ‘fish or meat’, it is either you eat fish, or you don’t eat at all. They also don’t have the luxury of ‘wants’ because after paying for their needs. they have nothing left. Having tasted poverty, this kind of people want to become rich, so they work so hard while being saddled with fear and constant worries. They keep pushing, believing that one day, their dreams will come true.
Now, there are others that were not born with any spoon at all. These ones are one of the 90 million people in extreme poverty. These type of people have no food to eat, where to live or clothes to wear. They are commonly found in slums, under the bridges and lurking around in corners. They are also the Northern Almajiri boys who are condemned to a life of begging and hunger. Compared to those born with wooden spoons, this type of people have no hope. They accept whatever comes their way. They grow up with a constant feeling of self-insufficiency and the voices in their heads regularly condemn them. They have ‘accepted’ that they are destitute and nothing will ever work right for them, so they don’t ‘push’.
The difference between these four sets of people is that some already have a positive head-start to life, compared to others. They already have a favourable environment, a comfortable life, a certain level of education, connection, guidance, confidence and so on that are needed to make a child thrive. It is like planting a seed in good soil and just throwing some seeds on the rock.
Compared to children born with no spoon, those who come to the world with golden spoons already have a spring attached to their feet to propel them forward. They are privileged.
To understand privilege better, you have to realize that it is not by your work or power. Many people are born into privilege and have no control over what constitutes as ‘privilege’ to them.
Let’s break this further. A white person in America is ‘privileged’ in certain areas: no one will throw a banana at him or call him a monkey as he walks past. No one will also deny him a job or justice because of his skin colour. Did he do anything to deserve that privilege? No. All that was needed is to be born into a white family – to white parents.
A lady who was not shipped into marriage at 10 years of age is ‘privileged’ because she had parents who knew the consequences of such acts and refrained from it.
Privilege means you are born at the right time, right place, to the right family. Privilege means you have access to certain things another person can only dream of or smell from afar.
Let’s bring it back home.
Quick exercise: Raise one of your hands and look at your fingers, are they equal? Definitely not. Our 5 fingers are not equal, yet they are all on the same hand. It is the same way close to 200 million Nigerians live in Nigeria, yet our realities are all different. An average Northerner lives in perpetual fear of terrorism, crisis, and riots while an average Nigerian in the West sleeps with both eyes closed – and even has the grace to snore. While some people are leaving left-overs in restaurants and pouring food into bins, many more are dying of hunger.
Privilege ranges from being able to afford everything you need, being in an environment where you can thrive, to not being marginalized because of your gender, religion or sexual preference. Having complete body parts is a privilege that you may never recognize until you ‘discover’ the daily struggles of people living with disabilities in Nigeria.
Privileges are also the little ‘normal’ things you take for granted; a woman who has nannies and domestic-helps at her beck and call will never understand the struggles of a woman who has to work and single-handedly take care of her children. A child who wears a shoe may never under what it means to regularly walk barefoot. Privilege is the freedom to marry the one you love. Privilege is being able to buy the drugs you need, when you need them.
Privilege is being able to acquire an education when 13.2 million children are currently out of school. Privilege is also living in a country where tanker will not fall on you or bomb will not explode at any time. Privilege is having parents who can guide you when you talk to them, as opposed to having to figure life all by yourself. Privilege is being able to enter the bank when a person in a wheelchair hangs outside or being able to watch a movie at a cinema while deaf people are denied that fun.
People without ‘privilege’ are stunted in every sector; they are the ones whose dreams die even before they are birthed. They are the exceptional football players in that dirty field who will never be recognized by the world. They are those children begging or hawking on the busy roads just to make ends meet. They are young women forced into marriage once they become ‘ripe’. They are men and women at the lower rung of the society – who scamper to get a bowl of garri when politicians come sharing. Underprivileged are those who get admission into Harvard but cannot afford the fees and they are stuck in Nigeria. They are those who have lots of dreams that cannot be fulfilled because they don’t have the means or environment to get them fulfilled.
To solve the problems of the world, we must first recognize our privilege and admit that without them, we would have perhaps ended up as that beggar we see on the streets. This will make us see things from the lens of that beggar rather than conclude that he’s a beggar because begging is his hobby. Not admitting your privilege means that you are living in a bubble – a world where you think is perfect and poor people are only poor because they want to be poor.
This hinders you from wearing their shoes and keeping an open mind when trying to understand their plight. It also makes you shift the blame on less-privileged people rather than the economy that has not given them that platform to grow.
So before you advise someone on the street who you term ‘lazy’ to go find a job, remember that that person did not even go to school in the first place. Before you tell the poor to ‘rise up and take charge of their lives’, remember that there’s nothing put in place to help them rise up. Before you tell that woman to leave her abusive partner, remember that she has nowhere else to turn to. You cannot tell Almajiri boys to solve mathematics or think logically when all they’ve been exposed to in life is hunger, abuse, and insecurity.
Before you tell that 9-5 worker in Lagos to have a side hustle like you have, you need to remember (and acknowledge) that while you close at 5 and get to your house at 5:30 in Abuja, a Lagosian will probably be stuck in traffic for the next 4 hours. That ‘privilege of location’ has afforded you the time and strength to take on a side hustle.
Just like J.K Rowlings said: you can choose to close your minds to any suffering that does not touch you personally. You can even refuse to know that people are truly hungry out there, or you can choose to admit that the world is doused in inequality and you are at the advantageous side of it.
This acknolwedgement will get you off your high-horse, make you more empathetic, more solution-driven, more committed to the affairs of the world and propel you to give other people the benefit of doubt while helping them find their feet in their own shaky world.
Remember that privilege is not earned – we do not choose our families, gender, sexuality, race, physical ability or country of birth.