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white saviour complex

Breaking down the White Saviour Complex

Jessica Bokete

At first, I didn’t understand what people meant by the term ‘white saviour’. Most people wouldn’t see the problem with a white person coming into a space, which is predominantly people of colour, and helping the people there. I suppose before we actually break down the problem we should explain what it is. The ‘white saviour’ complex is the notion that white people are the benevolent benefactors of helpless ‘others’. Just in case you didn’t catch on, ‘other’ stands for basically anyone who isn’t white. Now that we have defined the problem and we’ve reached a common ground, let’s look at where the white saviour complex exists.

The origin of the white saviour was founded in colonialism. Rewind a few hundred years and you have Africa, this large continent with a whole lot of people minding their own business. Enter the Europeans – they see Africa and are amazed. They can’t even understand how such a lovely continent doesn’t belong to them, so they take it. Let’s not forget how they took it upon themselves to Christianise the so-called ‘savages’. So now you have all these people (read: Europeans) creating this perception that the ‘savages’ are ever grateful for white aid. We still see this today. Although different from olden days, the principle still applies. How many people from the West come to Africa hoping to change millions of people’s lives?

The notion that Africa is helpless, war-ridden and in need of help is still strong in the West. The white saviour comes into these spaces and is automatically liked by the community for bringing aid. This instantly undermines the work of the community members and basically indicates that they are unable of helping their own people. Although Africa does need help, this doesn’t mean that Westerners are the solution to our problems.

Let’s not forget all those Hollywood movies which make people of colour look so helpless that they need a white person to come in and save them. All these films undermine the ability of people of colour to solve their own problems. For example, the film Dangerous Minds is extremely problematic. Michelle Pfeiffer’s character comes into a class full of racially centred stereotypes. You have everything from a pregnant teenager to lazy ‘thugs’. At first it’s hard for her to get through to the students, which is expected, seeing as how she can’t even begin to relate to their experiences. But like any other romanticised Hollywood tale, she manages to win over their affections with sweets and inspirational speeches.

If you still don’t see the problem, look at it this way: this school has an academic staff which is predominately black, but they can’t seem to help their students until Pfeiffer comes in with her ‘poetic justice’. That’s the thing about the white saviour complex; it literally indicates that people of colour can’t solve their own problems. It indicates that white people are the only people with the knowledge and skills to solve problems that they can’t even understand.

Now before I leave you to ponder and question everything that you have ever know, I want to mention one last example. Earlier this year, a Muslim couple was racially abused by an old white woman in Australia. The racial slurs included linking them to Al-Shabaab among other comments. You can imagine how frustrating this all must have been, but of course it was stopped by another white knight. Stacy Eden is the lady in question and she did not hesitate to shut down the racist. Cue the loud applause from all the people who have been reading this article and still don’t understand the problem.

Although Stacy’s actions are seen as heroic by some, it doesn’t take away from the fact that she spoke on behalf of this couple as if she could possibly understand their experience. You see, Stacy basically told the racist that the Muslim woman wore a hijab to be modest with her body and that she didn’t wear it for people like the racist, of course. Oh Stacy, what would this couple have done without you? It’s not like they’re two functioning adults who could have spoken up for themselves. They just needed her to come to their rescue. They didn’t even get a chance to speak and it wasn’t for lack of trying, it’s just that Stacy was too busy protecting them.

Are you making the link now? Surely this has to be getting clearer and clearer. White saviours, like Stacy, believe that their voice is the most important and they can get the message across. The real problem is that the ‘other’ people aren’t given an opportunity to speak for themselves or work out their own issues. Hopefully you now got the idea and can run off to Google to find out more about the white saviour complex.

Photo Sourced from thyblackman.com

One comment

  1. The white saviour complex is very obvious in South East Asia, especially the Philippines where literally thousands of young women wait for some old white sugardaddy coming to rest them from powerty, and their own unfaithful and lazy men. Due to heavy exposure from western media they have internalized the dream of the white saviour.

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