Magatte Wade, a Senegalese-American businesswoman in New York, writes in The Guardian:
Last Saturday I spoke at the Harvard Women in Business Conference, an annual event that I love…
Later, during a discussion on Going Global, a young woman asked, “For the Americans on the panel, how do you deal with being a person of privilege while working in global development?” My eyes lit up with fury as she directed her question specifically at the white Americans on the panel. I let them answer, then smiled and added with a wink: “I am an American, you know, and also a person of privilege.” She instantly understood what I meant.
Her question assumed that those of us in developing nations are to be pitied…
For many of those who “care” about Africans, we are objects through which they express their own “caring”.
To drive the point home, Wade posts this excellent video of “actor Djimon Hounsou perform[ing] a powerful rendition of Binyavanga Wainaina’s piece How Not to Write About Africa.”
(NB: The title of the original article appears to be “How to Write about Africa,” without the “Not.”)
It runs both ways. In Replacing ObamaCare, I discuss how “the act of expressing pity for uninsured Americans allows Rwandan elites to signal something about themselves (‘We are compassionate!’). ” Also:
My hunch is that this is an under-appreciated reason why some people support universal coverage: a government guarantee of health insurance coverage provides its supporters psychic benefits — even if it does not improve health or financial security, and maybe even if both health and financial security suffer.
Or as Charles Murray puts it: “The tax checks we write buy us, for relatively little money and no effort at all, a quieted conscience. The more we pay, the more certain we can be that we have done our part, and it is essential that we feel that way regardless of what we accomplish.”