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Privilege, Guilt & "Leaning Out": The Realities Of Being A Black Expat Working In The Development Sector

I lived the black expat experience for four years across Africa and the Caribbean. It was an exhilarating time meeting heads of state, managing high profile development programmes, relaxing by the pool in swanky hotels at the weekend, travelling extensively and learning about different cultures. It was also, however, an uncomfortable time reckoning with the privilege I held as a British citizen and seeing day to day the abject poverty my fellow black people lived in.

I completed a global health master’s degree in 2009 and managed to bag myself a year-long internship with a leading humanitarian relief charity. After six months in the charity’s London headquarters, I was headed to West Africa for six months ‘field experience’. Upon arriving in Liberia, I quickly realised that most international charities were led by white middle class expats who were educated and lived most of their lives in the West. These white expats were in no way representative of the population they served and they moved in expat bubbles totally separated from the life of the average Liberian. Mixing between expats and ‘locals’ – a term I’ve come to detest – was for the most part limited to office working hours.