Travelling to South Africa allowed me to gain a whole new perspective on how much privilege I have been granted simply by being born a white Canadian. Upon landing in Johannesburg, one of the first cultural differences I noticed was the number of people in public buildings walking around barefoot. This surprised me because I’ve grown up being taught the general rule of “no shoes, no shirt, no service,” and I found it interesting that people in South Africa were able to walk into any store or restaurant without shoes on without it being a problem.
Shortly after making note of this, it was brought to my attention that the only barefoot people I saw were all white. I wondered why and was informed that black people made an effort to always wear shoes so as to not be judged as being poor. In South Africa (and probably many other places in the world) if a black person were to walk around barefoot, people would assume they were too poor to afford shoes; yet if a white person walked around barefoot in the same places, no one would assume their choice was influenced by financial reasons. This realization impacted me because I thought that I could flaunt my wealth and privilege as a white person by dressing down and wearing less. It inspired me to wear shoes as often as possible for the rest of the semester as a personal reminder that I was born with more privilege than I’ll probably ever understand, and that I have a responsibility to use that privilege for good.
– Brianna Wiebe, South Africa student 2016-17