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The concept of privilege has been brought up frequently during my time in South Africa. Whether it was by myself, my fellow group members, or at my internship, there always ends up being a discussion on the privilege we possess in this country and what we can do with it while we’re here.

What has bothered me about this discussion is that many have expressed that being in South Africa has opened their eyes to the various privileges they have in the U.S. I often didn’t comment when this was said – mainly because I knew I couldn’t blame others for the privileges they enjoyed. It was just the cards they had been dealt in this game called “life”.

However, during one group reflection I found myself commenting anyway. Someone had commented on the state of policing in South African townships and made the claim that the police department in one of the townships was ridden with corruption. The speaker made reference to how the Black Economic Empowerment program (akin to America’s Affirmative Action) gave black people the economic privileges previously available to whites. Many blacks from these townships were for the first time, able to become police officers. Gang members, the speaker said, were able to threaten these new cops. If they didn’t cover up for the gang, or do anything else they wanted, their families would be in immediate danger. This person also mentioned that this had shocked them – they had never heard of something as dire in America.

But of course, I immediately thought of the history of the ghetto in the U.S., which has a scarily similar backstory. While I once again knew that the ignorance toward the plight of black people in America wasn’t anyone’s fault, it still angered me that it existed. It was unfair to me that people could go through their lives without knowledge of the various trials and tribulations that their fellow citizens experience, while I have known and have had to talk about it for so long.

It also brings up an important discussion of the education system in America. The country has never grappled with its dark, racist past (and present), and it shows in situations like this. Why is it that so many people across America don’t know what black people have faced and what we still have to face today? But, I do realize its cleverness – if people don’t know or know an incomplete version of history, they can easily deny that something like racism still exists, and nothing will have to be done by lawmakers or those in power to fix it. Good one, America.

What can we do to fix this? I think about the answer to this too often. It’s easy to say “change the education system,” but until people actually recognize the importance of black history when it isn’t the month of February, I don’t think there will be much support for it. I guess this is just another problem that will get talked about in group discussions like mine, never to be resolved.