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Unpacking The White Savior Complex

The white savior complex refers to the idea in which a white person attempts to “rescue” or help a person of color from their own situation. Though they think that they are doing the right thing, white people going out of their way to insert themselves into the lives of POC is doing more harm than good.

This trope appears in many films such as The Help, Greenbook and Hidden Figures. The white savior trope appears in a variety of film genres where a white protagonist is portrayed as a messianic figure who typically learn something above themselves in the course of helping the non-white person. However, despite the weak attempt to seem progressive it instead comes off as tone deaf.

‘Voluntourism,’ an aspect of white saviorism, is a multibillion-dollar industry. Many volunteer placement companies market themselves as helpful, sustainable or crucial in the betterment of low-income countries. Those who volunteer abroad are very unlikely to be aware of the underlying power and privilege that is inherent in voluntourism.

Not so long along ago, London MP David Lammy called out Comic charity Relief and media personality and journalist Stacey Dooley for their part in upholding the white saviour narrative. Dooley posted a picture on the Instagram of her with a child in Uganda while working for Comic Relief.

View this post on Instagram

Here filming with Comic Relief. ❤️

A post shared by Stacey Dooley (@sjdooley) on

Lammy’s statement came after when Comic Relief vowed to tackle the white savior stereotype. To add fuel to the fire, this isn’t the first time Comic Relief were accused of white saviourism. In March of last year, Comic Relief was described as poverty tourism, and so they announced that they would be using fewer celebrities in their campaigns.

Many times, when white people post pictures of themselves with small black or brown children, it’s to say, “Hey, look at me. I’m not racist!” when in fact, racist it is.

Don’t get it twisted, there is nothing inherently wrong with charity work, but when there is poverty in your own back yard, I must question your motives when you decide to travel across the world to Africa or South Asia. If you ask yourself the reason why you are going, and you struggle to find the answer? You need to re-evaluate — your intentions.

Remember that the consequences of colonialism were so severe that building a school here and there and installing a few water pumps aren’t going to solve centuries of trauma. Also, note that like any other country, it’s not all poverty. Be sensitive to the fact that people draw their opinions from what they see, so when you’re sharing on social media, be aware of what you post.  The antiquated idea that Africa is poor and struggling through and through needs to die.

All in all, posting poverty porn and boosting your ego is helping no-one. If you truly want to fight again poverty, your own neighborhood is a good place to start.

Photo: Medium

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Tola Folarin-Coker
Written By

A lover of makeup and movies; I'll watch anything with aliens, robots or robot aliens; comedies, comic book movies and spy flicks too. I also dabble in social and political issues․

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