One of the biggest differences I notice when traveling to Kenya is the socioeconomic status that I automatically have. White people are assumed to have money (which is generally true since they have money to fly to Africa). Nonetheless, the stereotype bothers me.
When I lived here, I was once told on a public bus that my fare was double because “my skin is the color of money”. People laughed and I refused to pay more than anyone else, but I realized that the attitude was indicative of people’s attitudes towards Westerners in general. “Buy me lunch” and “What did you bring me” are phrases you will hear often.
This has bothered me because it’s so different from what I am used to. A Japanese person would probably starve to death before asking you for a handout. Americans usually split things 50/50 and don’t ask for much either. Besides the fact that people generally have more money in Japan and America, I come from cultures where what you earn is yours to keep.
African culture is different. It’s tribal and family-oriented. Everything the head of a family earns is dispersed among the members of the family, at times even distant relatives. This is a way of creating social capital so that in times of trouble, you have someone else to rely on. Since white people have money, it is a natural extension of this culture to ask us for it in times of need.
We have also perpetuated the idea that we bring free money by doing projects, building businesses and giving aid with no accountability, often to the detriment of African countries. If you want to read a lot more about this, see my Other Writings section where I talk about how aid played a part in destabilizing The Democratic Republic of the Congo.
When it comes to money, I’m not saying that African culture is worse than Western or Japanese culture. I’m just saying it’s challenging for me because I’m a white person in Africa and it’s different from what I’m used to. In fact, in the face of a rapidly disappearing government social safety net in America, I think we might learn something from Africa’s caring and sharing mentality. They can’t rely on the government for anything here so they have to support each other to survive. We might be there sooner than we think in America.
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If you want to read more about why the culture is this way, I’ve heard African Friends and Money Matters is a great resource.