Move over, white privilege. Being African has privileges of its own.

I find the concept of white privilege at once fascinating and appalling. Stripped of its normative elements, it's not entirely unreasonable. After all, it was mainly white people who architected the modern world, and it is mainly white people who have reaped its greatest material and political benefits for the longest time. This is no secret, and shouldn't be controversial.

However, the idea of white privilege was formulated precisely for its normative elements. No one brings it up merely to talk about its existence. Rather, its promoters wield it to promote what should be done about it. It's a club with which they seek to beat white people into a submissive guilt, to shame them for the deeds of their ancestors, and to push them to forego the benefits they have inherited.

But this is a devious sleight of hand, as many thinkers more articulate than me have argued before. Privilege is, by definition, unearned. It is illogical to punish people for having it, whether by virtue of being white, or simply being tall enough to reach the top shelf in the kitchen. There is nothing wrong with white people being aware of their privilege; but the right response is gratitude, not guilt.

The main reason for this is that white people are not the only ones blessed with the gift of historical privilege. For even we Africans, who unquestionably rank last in the standard global totem pole of privileges, have many of our own. In many ways, our privileges are probably better, and more consequential, than most of what is usually lumped into the basket of white privilege.

Creature comforts

Consider, for instance, the little fact that most of us are dark-skinned, and so don’t need sunscreen to enjoy the outdoors. Of course, this is not absolute, and the sun can still burn us, as I was scandalised to find out a few years ago after a day-long hike. But there is something to be said about the ability of most of us to calmly walk out of our houses without worrying about the sun frying us into a crisp.

If you think saving on sunscreen is an absurd privilege (it isn’t), here’s a more serious one: since most of Africa lies within the tropics, our weather is consistent year-round. We have no wild swings in temperature from season to season. It’s always summer over here. Sure, the northern, southern and high-altitude extremities of the continent are different, but that’s beside the point. For most Africans, the weather is just rain and sunshine. That’s it.


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There are many upsides to our climatic privilege. We already enjoy some, like the fact that we don’t need different clothes for different seasons. We dress the same all year, and only accessorise with boots and umbrellas when the rains come. Other effects will only manifest over time; for instance, since climate gives the continent a year-long growing season, we will never run out of food (once we sort out our infrastructure).

Close-knit communities

Not all our privileges are biological or physical, though. Some are social, like the tendency of our families to have more than one child. Unlike most white societies, where having children has been so effectively discouraged and made difficult that it takes madness to become a parent, Africans remain ever eager to push out new generations, and most African children get to grow up with siblings.

While the resentful evangelists of white privilege consider access to money and political power to be great privileges, nothing quite beats the cacophonous evening warmth of an African home teeming with children. No amount of money can buy it, and no extent of political disenfranchisement can dim it. It would take a revolutionary paradigm shift for white societies to return to this norm; most Africans enjoy it without giving it a moment’s thought.

I can think of a million other privileges Africans have, from our dizzying ethnic diversity and geographical variation; our clear night skies and communal land tenure practices; our vast natural resources and the weird propensity of our people to smile; to our intact landscapes and wild animals. There is no end to them, as there should be no end to our thankfulness for them.

The point of this treatment is not to brag (any well-raised African will tell you that boasting, especially over unearned benefits, is decidedly distasteful). Rather, it is to point out that privilege cannot tell the full story of a people. As with white privilege, the privileges of Africans do not excuse them from the malaises of the human condition. For despite them, Africans still suffer weakness and want.

So, dear white people, be not ashamed of the benefits you inherited from your ancestors. Enjoy them and, to the extent that you can, share them out. We too will share ours. Except for the melanin, I suppose.

PS: Yes, some Africans are white.

This is an angle on "white privilege" that you won't find anywhere else! Share this article with your friends. Use the social media buttons on this page. 

Mathew Otieno is a Kenyan writer, blogger and dilettante farmer. Until 2022, he was a research communications coordinator at a university in Nairobi, Kenya. He now lives in rural western Kenya, near the shores of Lake Victoria, from where he's pursuing a career as a full-time writer while concluding his dissertation for a master's degree. His first novel is due out this year.

Image: Peace Alberto Iteriteka/Pexels


Showing 18 reactions

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  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-15 12:21:19 +1100
    Incidentally, latest Starship launch. Not a success but definitely progress over previous attempts.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-15 12:03:51 +1100
    LOL Jürgen Siemer, you really don’t understand.

    I don’t have any messiahs. I don’t ever remember hero worshipping anybody.

    I can admire someone’s achievements while understanding they are, like all of us, flawed human beings. For example I admire Elon Musk’s achievements in building two amazing businesses, SpaceX and Tesla. But I still think when it comes to politics he’s full of the brown stuff and that’s putting it kindly.

    I admire Marx for his truly remarkable prescience in understanding how capitalism was developing.

    On the other hand, while Marx is definitely not my messiah, he seems to be your personal bogeyman. You’ve constructed a whole mythology around him, attributing to him some sort of superpowers that no real world person has, He is not responsible for Lenin’s personal shortcomings.

    BTW, his predecessor, Nicholas, was no bargain either. To the extent that World War I can be blamed on any one person, he’s it.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-03-14 17:45:12 +1100
    Steven, my fundamental criticism of Marx seems to have hit the button that turned on the heat in your blood.

    I conclude that Marx is indeed your personal messiah.

    Marx’s books brought ideas to Russia that led to 8 to 14 mio dead in a civil war, that was actually a counterrevolution of the Bolsheviks versus the social democrats. If you add the dead if the Chinese civil war, then Marx climbs really high in our ranking.

    Marx’s disrespect for private markets for goods, which he claims is always leading to monopolistic exploitation of consumers, and labor, which he claims, is always exploitation of the laborer, is I believe at the core of his stupid economic theory.

    If you then add that he basically gave the people an explanation why it was acceptable to kill whole classes of people, then you really have something evil.

    Am I not right?

    But I concede that Marx was probably nice to his cat.

    By the way, Jesus, being a good Jew, was pro free markets! You can read it in his teachings.

    Jesus attacked the liers, the powerful, the egomaniacs and, one may say, the evil in the world and in all of us.

    But his advise was the opposite of Marx.

    While Marx told the people to murder all oppressors, including those who just might become oppressors but did not know it yet, and of course including those who just did not agree, Jesus said something totally strange, something most people did not want to hear:

    Accept your suffering, your pain, take your cross, and fight against the evil with love.

    Not easy, revenge is an emotion, that just comes so easily.

    In the end your love will be victorious, most importantly, you yourself will be the winner, when you enter heaven.

    A murderer is a murderer. His defense that he murdered for the benefit of his class or his cat, which is of course always a lie as he murdered for personal gain, will not be accepted by the judge, never.

    Mathew, if you can show the dignity and beauty in simple people, their families and their work, when they try to do good even when they suffer, I believe you will be really honoured.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-14 01:28:42 +1100
    Marx brought out the evil in people?


    Howard C. Kauffmann, Lawrence G. Rawl, Lee R. Raymond, Rex Tillerson are former CeOs of Exxon and ExxonMobil. Darren Woods is the current CeO..

    In the 1980s scientists at Exxon laid out in detail what adding CO2 to the atmosphere would do. All the above then engaged in a campaign of disinformation which continues to delay effective action to this day.

    You think they took their lead from Marx?

    Raymond V. Gilmartin, CeO of Merck, engaged in a coverup of the deadly effects of their blockbuster drug, Vioxx that resulted in the premature deaths of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people. And that’s not counting the even greater number who suffered debilitating strokes. Was it Marx that guided him?

    In Australia Andrew Thorburn, former CeO of NAB explained on national TV how he would be guided by his Christian principles while running the bank. $600 mn worth of fraud later, and being judged an unreliable witness by the Banking Royal Commission, he stepped down. Was it Marx or Jesus who guided him?

    Do you think the (very profitable) tragedy that is American healthcare is some sort of Marxist plot?

    Come to think of it, were the people who incited mobs to launch pogroms against Jews guided by Marx or Jesus.

    Blaming Stalin’s personal shortcomings on Marx is like blaming Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition on Jesus.

    “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.” Adolf Hitler, to General Gerhard Engel, 1941

    Who do you blame for Hitler, Jesus or the Pope?

    It’s all hogwash.

    Marx died in 1883 when Lenin was 13. You remind me of the people who are still trying to blame the UK’s ills on Maggie Thatcher who left office more than three decades ago.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-14 00:05:11 +1100
    Jürgen Siemer

    I’ve read a number of biographies of Marx including a few hit pieces.

    More to the point, I’ve read what he wrote, the unexpurgated versions.

    It was not only Judaism he despised. He had a pretty low opinion of all religions. As you know, he called it “The opium of the masses.” Today I’d call it one of the many opiates of the masses. It has to compete with social media, nationalism, actual opiates like fentanyl and, of course, booze.

    He got a few things wrong but, today, his critique of capitalism looks remarkably prescient. Of course I’m talking about contemporary real-world capitalism, not the Ayn Rand/Milton Friedman fairy tales.

    In reality I’m neither a Marxist nor a communist. But neither am I a believer in the myth of benign capitalism or the fantasy of the “invisible hand” that makes everything right despite the malign activities of corporate CEOs.

    As for Milton Friedman, he may have been a nicer person than Marx but he was also a prolific disseminator of flapdoodle. Orwell supposedly said, “There are some things only intellectuals can believe.” One of them is that Friedman was some sort of economics genius. I think I’d find it easier to believe that Jesus walked on water.

    And don’t get me started on the arch-flapdoodler of them all, Ludwig von Mises

    Fun Fact: Marx’s father was not a rabbi. He was a lawyer forced to convert to Christianity in order to continue practising.
  • John Fannon
    commented 2024-03-13 20:58:29 +1100
    Jurgen Siemer. The account of Marx and Engels during their time in England, as described in the book ‘To the Finland Station’ by Edmund Wilson records that Engels married a girl of lower class to the great dismay of Marx and his family. Engels comes across as a much more attractive and generous character,
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-03-13 17:53:00 +1100
    Steven, if you say so…

    By the way, Karl Marx admired Charles Darwin. Marx even sent him the book Das Kapital together with a personal note. Christianity / creation and evolution contradict each other, are antidotes, so no surprise there.

    You should read the biography of Marx, his personality is actually interesting. He was a terrible husband, a terrible father and clearly lacked the friendship or the love for the poor, when he met them personally. He preferred not to talk to them, but instead loved studying in the library. In summary: a man full of hate, with little contact to the real world and real people, and, obviously without any sense for the beauty in creation, in truth, in normal human beings, and definitely no in peaceful souls.

    He was a descendant of a long line of rabbis, but hated Judaism as well. His parents were wealthy, had previously converted to protestantism, I suppose for commercial reasons.

    Marx is related to the man who founded the Dutch company Philipps.

    Unfortunately, Marx brought out the evil in many people.

    Evil is also an antidote to beauty.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-13 08:32:59 +1100
    Jurgen Siemer, thank you now I can add “evolutionist” to my self-description

    I am now an evil commie, socialist, Marxist, atheist, leftist, evolutionist intent on enslaving good Christians.
  • Juan Llor Baños
    commented 2024-03-13 07:00:59 +1100
    Very good article
  • mrscracker
    A variant of the story I heard was that some people enter the offices of the Brazilian equivalent of the IrS white and emerge black."
    That worked for the benefit of Brazilian students. If they could prove African ancestry, even remotely, there were some advantages they could be eligible for when applying to colleges.
  • mrscracker
    Cyberspace is still a bit of a mystery to me. I think it swallowed up my original comment that urged caution about skin cancer & the amount of protection one’s shade of complexion can provide. Bob Marley died of melanoma after all. If you visit the Caribbean today you’ll see people carrying umbrellas for shade.
    The other part of my disappeared comment was that some folks in the US still have homes filled with children & the Latin Mass I attend is a prime example of that.
  • John Fannon
    commented 2024-03-12 22:09:24 +1100
    Oh dear, where did that extra ‘s’ creep in? ‘Served up with humour’ was what I meant to say.
  • John Fannon
    commented 2024-03-12 22:07:45 +1100
    Nice one, Matthew – served up with humours.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-03-12 17:29:03 +1100
    Steven and David, you to seem to suffer from some form of selective blindness. Your socialist and evolutionist worldviews coupled with TDS (Trump derangement syndrome) seems to make you blind towards genuine beauty.

    Mathew, I really wish you success in your career as a writer. I believe I can see your talent in this text.

    It is a very noble task to help people see the genuine and true beauty in life and creation, in love and family, and finally in God.

    But be aware: it is very difficult especially when you deal with an audience suffering from some form of dis-privilege (I am refraining from the word disadvantage which sounds so discriminatory), that has had an impact on their souls, their brains and eyes.

    Be also aware that it is very easy to make people hate each other.

    And always be careful: Those who hate, also hate the prophets of true beauty.

    Therefore again: I honestly wish that you will be successful in your work.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-12 08:59:54 +1100

    A variant of the story I heard was that some people enter the offices of the Brazilian equivalent of the IrS white and emerge black.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-03-11 18:37:28 +1100
    Steven, you remind me of a phrase I was told was common in Brazil, “Money whitens”.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-11 11:41:13 +1100
    That bearded old Jew you all love to hate got one thing right. In most societies there is really only one privilege that counts.

    It’s class privilege.

    It happens that in the United States a preponderance of the upper class are white.

    Wealth is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being upper class.

    The great example of this is Donald Trump. He may not have been as wealthy as he claimed but, thanks to the efforts of his father, he had sufficient wealth to be considered upper class. But the wealthy in New York never accepted him as one of their own. They regarded him as an inept businessman and a boor with ideas above his station.

    Much of his presidency looked like playing out his rage at the “cool kids” who looked down on him, I think that’s why he resonates with so many American men who, while they may not be “losers” are not exactly “winners” either.

    But, whatever it is, it’s class that gets you privilege.

    Here’s someone who puts these things better than I can:

    8 Insane Things Rich People Think Are Normal
  • Mathew Otieno
    published this page in The Latest 2024-03-09 16:21:46 +1100