Excerpt from Teju Cole’s article published in The Atlantic: “The White Savior Complex”
Cole: It’s only in the context of this neutered language that my rather tame tweets can be seen as extreme. The interviewer on the radio show I listened to asked Kristof if he had heard of me. “Of course,” he said. She asked him what he made of my criticisms. His answer was considered and genial, but what he said worried me more than an angry outburst would have:
A Response to Cole: There has been a real discomfort and backlash among middle-class educated Africans, Ugandans in particular in this case, but people more broadly, about having Africa as they see it defined by a warlord who does particularly brutal things, and about the perception that Americans are going to ride in on a white horse and resolve it. To me though, it seems even more uncomfortable to think that we as white Americans should not intervene in a humanitarian disaster because the victims are of a different skin color.
Ultimately, I do recognize the “White Savior Complex”. This blog post coming from a more personal note, I really do know a lot of individuals who yearn to be missionaries of their god’s word and spread the ‘good news’ or help build houses or share the wealth (all without really ‘sharing’ the wealth) or hug little starving kids in third world countries and then post photos of themselves doing ‘good’ on whatever social networking site will create the most buzz for them.
Now, I can’t tell if these opinions spewing out of me are only because I am slightly (and subconsciously) somewhat bitter because I have not yet traveled in the name of any humanitarian efforts. But I do know that there is a fine line that I am walking on with the strong words I’m saying about all of the people who do what they see fit in order to “help”….but by placing themselves in a position to “help” the other, they are adhering to a power relationship between one in a position of dominance and the ‘other’, one who must be given aid or help. I do think that it’s good to help where you can or donate time or money to what you see fit as a ‘good cause’ to invest time or money into, but there comes a point when all of the aid and attention to one group of people or culture only further oppresses them.
I think that this is where Haiti may still lie.
After the earthquake in Haiti, I personally know of multiple individuals who flew into Haiti and brought medical supplies or food and donated their time and money to aid those who they saw struggling. While I do appreciate this effort and I do think that global support is especially important to a struggling nation, I must point out and can NOT ignore that in situations like this is where the image of the “White Savior” comes to play. This “White Savior Complex” only perpetuates tension and awards power to those White indivuals and inadvertantly lessens the power that those ‘in need’ hold.
Maybe the White people just truly do want to help, but the fact that they must fly in and impose upon a preexisting culture and then highly publicize their efforts (see KONY2012 effort or the multitude of Facebook albums of people who have gone on mission trips to the Caribbean), but regardless of what their intentions are, they must recognize the power displacement they cause.
I know that this post may sound very jumbled and be offensive, but at the moment my eloquence has slipped away.