I recently wrote about the consequences of my country’s quest for world dominion under their patriarchal system of rule in a post, I’m British & White. I Apologise For My Country In Every Land I Roam,
Western privilege is one of the consequences that still plays out today.
Western privilege is a subject that doesn’t receive a lot of attention in the western world. Elsewhere in the world, it is a subject that’s brought up often as I have found out on my travels.
I could give you a hundred examples of the times that I have sat down with people from all over the world and talked about western privilege. Hopefully, this story has the potential to shed light on a different culture while highlighting one issue that has become important in both the USA and Europe.
I travelled throughout Morocco on a three-month tour in 2018. During my travels, I spent time in the coastal town of Essouira. Essaouira could be considered the bohemian town of Morocco. Indeed, Jim Morrison lived in the town for a while back in the sixties.
Which is how I found myself visiting the “hippy beach” with a group of friends to watch the sun go down one evening.
We were a mix bunched; both male and female comprised mainly of travellers with a couple of Moroccan young men. Despite being a Muslim country, alcohol is consumed behind closed doors, i.e. alcohol is not illegal. There are special shops called “caves” where alcohol can be purchased yet there are very few places to openly drink alcohol in towns and cities. Tangier is an exception, as the city has a more liberal feel due to it’s proximity to Spain, just across the water.
So, when one of the Moroccan young men asked if we wanted to visit a place called “The Hole” for a drink, we were a little shocked. He explained that there was an establishment in town where Moroccan men visited to drink alcohol. Western women were allowed to visit if they were accompanied by a male.
So, we found ourselves in this little bar which, incidentally, was right next to a Mosque. The bar was filled to the brim with Moroccan men talking, laughing and drinking just like any place in the western world.
My friends and I, as westerners, were the centre of attention in a very respectful way, I must add. People came over to say hello and share a few words. This was how we ended up speaking with a young man who posed a very important question.
As we talked over our lives, the question of fairness in terms of western privilege came up. He asked me, “Does a fish need a passport, Samantha? Does a fish need a passport?”
You see, in the western world, we have a passport that allows us to enter almost every country we wish to visit, even if we need to apply for a tourist visa.
This is not the case outside of the western world. Indeed, a Moroccan person cannot take the short boat trip of just 12 km from Tangier to Tarifa in Spain for a day trip without a visa.
To obtain a visa, they must have a permanent job for the last six months, proof of income and a certain amount of funds in their bank account. This is just for a tourist visa.
Even if they have all of the above, the process takes months and they may still be refused. Is this fair? No.
Imagine standing at Tangier port, looking over to Spain just 12 kilometres across the water, and not being able to board the ferry to go visit. Then, imagine watching westerners come and go as they please. We wonder why the rest of the world feels resentment towards us for our western privilege. This is the perfect example of why.
This system is in place to prevent people from obtaining a visa to cross the border because they may not want to return.
Which brings me to the issue of western privilege and borders.
As the western world has experienced a far greater standard of living, our countries have become the promised land for many of those who live outside of our privileged bubble. We see this play out all the time in Europe and the USA as many migrants try to cross our borders to seek a better way of life.
It is completely understandable. Yet, as I explained so many times on trip during Morocco, if all borders opened immediately, half the planet would leave their homes to head for western countries. These countries would be completely overwhelmed.
We need to look for alternative solutions. This is an issue that I have pondered over, again and again, until I read an article that made so much sense, taken from the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. This article related to the Syrian refugees that were given free passage to Europe due to the ongoing war in their country. The Dalai Lama told the world that, of course, the refugees must return to their country and we need to help them rebuild their home.
Which is what we need to do. We need to right the wrongs of the past by supporting and rebuilding underprivileged countries that experience a lack of infrastructure, healthcare and employment to bring them into balance with the western world. So that their country becomes the promised land where their needs are taken care of. This way, we can open our borders to each other in a fair and just way.
Until this happens, people will still risk life and limb to cross our western borders because, they too, want to experience our standard of living, Children will be separated from their parents, men will drown out at sea on boats rammed with too many people, and women will face the risk of becoming victims of the sex traffic trade, as they are tricked into believing that they are on the way to a new life of freedom, when instead, a life of prostitution awaits.
Many westerners may say that the underprivileged have nothing to do with them yet westerners are born into a level of privilege for one reason alone. The lottery of life which dictates our place in the world. The country we are born in and often the colour of our skin which greatly determines the quality and standard of living that we will experience. Not because we have worked hard to achieve a certain standard of living.
We need to right the wrongs of the past, my friends. We need to create a world that is a promised land for all. A fair, just and equal world so that the underprivileged no longer wish to leave their homes to search for a better standard of living.
(c) Samantha Wilson 2020. All rights reserved.