A Trip to America's Heartland Helped me Accept my Life of African Privilege

I have lived a pretty good life, by most accounts. In fact, i wouldn’t have known (or thought) I was “poor” if I hadn’t gone to school with or lived in close proximity to so many people who were “rich”. Because of those factors, I have been labelled a dadaba (literal translation: Daddy’s girl; or someone whose parental wealth has afforded them a life of luxury) by association. As  children, my friends went to London for summer vacation, and today they go to Thailand and Dubai just to “check it out”. My summer vacations were spent in the small town of Larteh and now in basements/on sofas in Columbus, Ohio. Not exactly exotic, but family is there. Family makes everything fun.

My cousin died recently, and we drove from Columbus to Detroit to say our final farewells on this past Tuesday. I’ve seen the poverty that is rife within that once great city in pictures and on the news, but to be IN it was something completely surreal. It was disorienting. The funny thing about American poverty – for me, at least – is that it’s hard to believe that it CAN exist in America. This country grows and produces enough food to feed the world, most of which goes uneaten or ends up in landfills; but people are hungry. There is enough land to give every citizen a decent home and a place to live; but people are locked out of home ownership or can’t qualify to rent. Homelessness is an epidemic in every major city in this country. Analyzing America is like staring into the face of Janus.

I thought a great deal about American poverty as it threatened to close in around me when my cousin took a detour through The Bottoms, a crumbling, neglected and predominantly white neighborhood on the west side of Columbus. I was taken aback by what I saw. When my father visited Kentucky for the first time in the early 80’s, he expressed his shock by how people lived.

“Malaka, there are villages… proper villages….in Africa that are more advanced than that area,” he once said while reminiscing. “And you have this in America? Tweeaaa!”

Finally, I could identify with his perceptions. The Bottoms is not a place for human dwelling…but as one Twitter user told me, the people are very happy to be there.


The irony of watching America crumble while the the Western Gaze is fixed on “Africa” does not escape me. Africa is a generic term for impoverished. You could post a picture of a starving child in Guatemala and folk would still associated it with “Africa”. (Insert monkey hoots.) I’ll show you what I mean.

On my Delta flight back to Atlanta, I was flipping through their in-flight magazine and saw this article/announcement:

photo 1Read the second paragraph and pause to think about what’s being said here. Got it? Ok. Now look at this:

photo 2

See the photo grid? See the Indian women, the South American looking man, etc? Why weren’t these areas highlighted or at the least, mentioned, in her tribute? Why couldn’t the article’s author(s) simply say this was a tribute to her work against “global poverty”? Of course we already KNOW why: Africa (and African women in particular) elicits a heightened reaction when your selling poverty porn. This is some bull.

You know where the Western Salvation Gaze needs to direct its glare? Inwards. America needs to start looking at itself, because there’s no reason on God’s green earth that white folk in this country or in Greece should live that way. That’s I’m appealing to all Africans to lend a hand in support of these poor souls. We have the resources and knowledge to give them a better life. We’ve been doing it since they made first contact 500 years ago. This is also why I have embraced my African privilege. I may never have nor still not have a lot, but at least I’m not “America poor”…

Sometimes, I wonder what it would look like if there was an Oxfam or Feed the World ad directed at white Americans. Hmmmm.

Just GHC 100 a month can help get a young woman off the streets or give a 40 year old stock worker suffering from malnutrition access to healthy, vitamin packed meals like plantain and spinach…something he’s probably never had in his LIFE. Don’t delay…give today!