Winding down Kloof St. toward the waterfront in an Uber with iPhone in hand, I came to a dramatic realization. All the tools I utilized to function on a daily basis there in beautiful Cape Town were tools I had already been using back home. Uber to get around, Facebook and WhatsApp to communicate, AirBnB to find accommodation, Snapchat and Instagram to share experiences, and Google to look up anything. Not to mention my iPhone itself. Everyone around me made use of these Californian born tools to manage their own routine tasks as well. Then, exploring the city and local watering holes, I noticed myself already assimilated in terms of threads. I swam in a sea of CA brands — RVCA, Hurley, Volcom, Vans, and Oakley. I even spot a guy wearing an In-N-Out shirt, 14,000 miles away from the nearest double-double.
I’ll spare the city of Cape Town the injustice of attempting to explain the complexity of its society after living there for only a handful of weeks. But living in South Africa for a month has opened my eyes to a social inequality that actually skews in my favor. I have become unequivocally aware of my California Privilege.
I had ventured down to the waterfront to catch “Star Wars”, just one of dozens of Hollywood flicks making their way to Capetonian theaters. Companies, lifestyle brands, and cinematic stories from California have pierced through cultural and national divides to spread as if on crusade. The effect has made a ubiquitous impact.
From the Uber rides to the fine fare, everything was exceedingly cheap. It would take a dedicated effort to spend more than $10 for a delicious dinner and a drink, and the cuisine rivals the best in the world. The South African Rand to U.S. Dollar ratio is around 16 to 1 right now. 10 years ago it was around 6 to 1. The booming tech industry no doubt had a hand in this.
Tech companies have been suffocating real estate markets rendering living in urban California nearly, and for many, literally, unaffordable. It further precipitates ill sentiment when a company buys up a local favorite spot and shuts it down. But these types of companies are also spearheading the global economy thereby allowing Californians monetary and social benefits around the world. Eating gourmet meals in Cape Town costs one-third of California market value. Talking in a Californian tongue and donning certain attire grants seamless integration into a new group by. This is California Privilege.
The privilege extends beyond clear and present benefits just as travel presents more than mere Instagram opportunities. With each service, brand, and movie adopted, a piece of culture, a kind of ideological belief or value, is adopted along with it. Thus, Californians remain at the cutting edge of not only tech capabilities, but also of ideation and dynamic societal norms. They gain an early understanding of the twists and turns the future intends to take. Sharing this state of mind should then equip people with the means to operate as leaders.
Is this neo-imperialism rearing its head? Perhaps, but a key distinction severs ties between what occurs today and what occurred during the unjust imperialism era. People are not subjected to an ideology or foreign power, but instead, choose to make use of products or services that enhance their lives. Nor does this mimic the injustice of white privilege, which bears weight from the arbitrary determinant of skin color. California privilege has amassed because of chosen societal beliefs based on virtue. These values rooted in the culture have seeded blossoming cities and industries. These values — connectivity (Facebook), innovation (Uber), beauty (Instagram), sharing (AirBnB), creativity (Snapchat), organization (Google), fitness (lifestyle brands), and entertainment (Hollywood)— that I have experienced throughout my life as fair social norms provide solid footing for people to take leaps toward any desired lifestyle.
By no means is Shangri-la housed in a CA zip code. California would certainly continue to thrive without the superficiality, social climbing, and celebrity ridiculousness that manage to make headlines time and time again. But these are surely lesser evils compared to those experienced around the world. In South Africa concern for safety constantly gnawed at the back of my mind as I continued to hear alarming anecdotes, from robberies to break-ins to homicides. Naturally people had their guards up around town. Lack of security in any society discourages collective progress and decimates individual ambition. A society’s ability to thrive will forever be linked to its citizens’ faith in safety. That’s the bedrock. Cultural norms and values layer on top of that foundation to encourage societal progress
So, to answer your inquiry, Mr. Dallas Green a.k.a. City and Colour — everyone is still singing about the Golden State because embedded within the culture are just and righteous values.
Finally, a call to action to all corporation and business leaders. Let those eager and underutilized young people in their 20’s lead your venture abroad. People around the world can utilize the benefits stemming from CA values. California privilege need not be for Californians alone.