A white savior is someone who attempts to “fix” the problems of struggling communities of color. Often ignorant of the social, cultural, religious, and political complexities of these communities, white saviors paternalistically claim to “rescue” the so-called suffering victims of poverty and warfare.
I was a white savior when I arrogantly flew to Kenya to “save” poor students by volunteering at an under-resourced school. The other foreign volunteers were white saviors, too.
Many celebrities – I’m thinking of the likes of Bono and George Clooney – who use their fame in order to, supposedly, raise funds for “starving children,” for example, are also white saviors.
But, you might ask, what’s wrong with volunteering and raising funds for those in need?
Well, during fundraisers and events, even well intentioned white saviors regularly speak over and actively silence the communities they claim to want to help.
Indeed, reflecting centuries of political, cultural, and narrative imperialism, white saviors tend to swoop in and reproduce supremacist discourses, rather than working with and providing a platform for marginalized groups to articulate real grievances and produce their own narratives.
Not surprisingly, many in these communities accuse NGOs and their spokespersons of exploitation, suggesting that they’re more interested in improving their images than they are about actually helping impoverished groups around the world.
This is bad news. Because even well-intentioned white saviors thus prevent community-driven collaboration that more effectively addresses local issues.
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