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White Privilege at UCU

This is an Opinion article (before the published edits) that I recently submitted to Uganda Christian University’s campus paper, The Standard, and was subsequently published this week (21 October 2013).  In 2008, I studied here with BestSemester.com’s Uganda Studies Program (USP) offered through my alma mater, Eastern University and I am currently in Mukono visiting the campus often working on a personal writing project.  I welcome your (constructive) feedback, comments, and questions. 

This may be uncomfortable, but I think it’s time we talk about “white privilege” at UCU.  Although it is rarely addressed publicly, people on campus—Ugandan, white, and other—are not oblivious to it.

I am an “other” though I am often mistaken for a Ugandan.  However, I am a dark-skinned Black-American woman.  My host mom often reminds me that if I stay quiet, I can pass for a Muganda woman and move around like any other Ugandan.  Mostly, I am grateful for this, especially when I am around my fairer friends who lament about being so obviously different and the unwanted attention it regularly attracts.  Alternatively, I have also been engaged in conversations where I have heard white students (and sometimes staff), either proud or embarrassed, talk about the passes they receive or rules they are allowed to break because they are bzungus. 

For example, in a recent conversation, an instructor told me how some of her students privately expressed elation about having a white professor versus a Ugandan one.  In another conversation, where I complained about going to the library because of the mandatory bag and water bottle check, my white friends said that they were rarely stopped and asked to check their items.  And finally, in light of the heightened security checks at the gates of UCU, one USP’er reluctantly confessed that he has frequently been allowed to bypass the line and enter without scrutiny.  Whether all of this happens because of deference or indifference, it seems white visitors are able to move around with a little more freedom and favor than their darker counterparts.

As a USP’er in 2008, such occurrences paired with my own experiences of racial inequity that is ever-present in the U.S. frustrated me and somehow left me struggling with Christianity and the imagery of Jesus Christ as represented across nations.  Is it because white people so closely resemble the image of God that we are compelled to revere them?

With the help of prayer, personal revelations, and the Word of God, I eventually reconciled my issues around Jesus Christ and the color line.  The Bible speaks repeatedly to the uniqueness of us all and, yet, our still undeniable likeness to Him.  From all men and women being created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27) which also means that we are each “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), to the New Testament promise that “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2) and that Christ’s purpose was “to create in Himself one new man out of the two” (Ephesians 2:15), the Scriptures helped me understand that it is not God’s will for any of us to be treated differently—whether it is for better or for worse.  But rather, especially as Christians, that we strive to treat each other the same—with love, respect, and honor, upholding the same expectations for all peoples.  I hope that at UCU the focus will not be to please those in our world who are lighter, but to always aspire to please the One who is The Light of the world.

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6 thoughts on “White Privilege at UCU

  1. drnal on said:

    Hmm, quite deep. You are right, Christ transcends race and colour, those who are His must consciously rid themselves of all prejudices and partialities.
    As an African living in Africa, I know that many times these privileges often wrongly extended to our white friends are as a result of the lingering colonial mentality still very much alive in the countries on this beautiful continent.
    An honest piece addressing a real issue in these our times. Thank you Zenique for sharing.

  2. Fort Portal on said:

    Interesting insight! I’m Ugandan living in Australia. Often I get similar treatment in Australia as Muzungus at UCU but I don’t exploit the situation or break the rules because I would look dumb! It is called positive discrimination though it is unwanted most if the time. A few years back, one of Ugandas top theatre writer and producer- Alex Mukulu satarised this in his famous play ‘excuse me muzungu’ It is a good insight into our society’s world view.

    I guess God was not dumb to create diversity, he made black, white, yellow, green etc all in His Image but our White brethren chose to depict Him through their light skin- that’s their world view. How do we the dark skinned, view him?

    On a lighter note, the World is small, I suspect your Host mom in Mukono to be my mother in law!

    • Lol! Fort Portal, thank you for your comment! I will have to look up that playwright and check out his work. And, alas! The world is indeed small– however, my host-Maama has no son-in-laws yet– I will likely bring the first one to her doorstep 🙂 Thanks for dropping by my blog, Fort. Be well.

      • Fort Portal on said:

        Oh,
        I know my mom in law is always hosting American Students at UCU. She won’t visit us in Australia because if her host responsibilities:)
        Let me know when you find ‘excuse me muzungu’. It is an interesting satire.
        Wish you and your host mom well in planing for a future son in law. Lol

  3. LordSiiya on said:

    I could not call it discrimination or privilege as such.
    Rather, its’ trying to be hospitable. A case in point is the guard at the gate who will a allow a muzungu to pass by not because she/he is special but because he feels the muzungu is not used to this routine check hence skipping it in order to appear more hospitable.

    • Lord Siiya, thank you for your comment. I would have to disagree with you, though. Being “hospitable” means to extend a certain kindness to a person, ie. giving up your bed for the night for a visitor or serving the choice piece of meat to your dinner guest. However, when it comes to “privilege” and what I am referring to on UCU campus, it comes down to allowing folks to break rules and be exalted, if you will, for no other reason than the color of their skin.

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