Many have probably heard at least vaguely about what is called the “white savior complex”. White people who out of the goodness of their hearts decide to volunteer to do charity work for minority communities or 3rd world countries, or even Western organizations who do charity work are accused of being “white saviors” by the Left. Many on the Left now find fault with their benevolence and personal growth into better human beings due to the perceived paternalistic attitude and history of Western colonialism. Confusing? Here’s one definition:
“The term white savior, sometimes combined with savior complex to write white savior complex, refers to a white person who acts to help non-white people, with the help in some contexts perceived to be self-serving” (Wikipedia).
If that’s a bit too vague, and I tried hard to find a clearer definition but couldn’t, it’s basically the attitude that altruism and benevolent actions such as charity and aid from white people or the West is a form of colonialist paternalism where it implies white people are needed to solve the issues of minorities versus minorities having the independence to solve their own issues on their terms. In essence, white people merely swoop in to “save” minorities and come out the hero and take all the credit in real life and in movies and literature ignoring the perspective of minorities. However, upon further research into the theory, I find their reasoning to have many deep flaws of its own!
On its face it sounds okay. We shouldn’t be paternalistic busy bodies dictating to outsiders they need our help when they in fact, are fine as they are, or can solve their own issues. Nor do I argue in the least we should just show up uninvited and “help” people without their consent and act en loco parentis for the world!
That said, it’s absurd to assume just because charitable people are white, or organizations happen to be from the West, helping minorities and the 3rd world is damaging and racist/colonialist. Perhaps my strongest point is well don’t they need the resources and aid they’re being given? And apparently, it’s not being provided by their own people or country. Proponents of the white savior complex theory argue that by stepping up to help them, it’s an imperialist imposition and strips the people of their dignity and autonomy. An exercise in cultural superiority. Their argument falls apart however, when it is pointed out that food, water, shelter and medical care are basic needs for every human being, and are not culturally biased towards one society!
The cold hard truth is the 3rd world and poverty stricken areas lack all such basic needs to varying levels, leading to higher infant mortality rates, succumbing to easily treatable and preventable diseases, living in squalid housing or none at all, no infrastructure, no clean drinking water, food shortages, famine, corrupt government, tyranny etc…etc… While the West is not perfect, we have what they can only dream of in terms of standards of living. If those countries want better lives for their people, they should accept that help, even if from outsiders.
Of course it’s hard to humble yourself to accept charity, but sometimes, when push comes to shove and your family’s lives are on the line, the bigger person must swallow their ego and accept help in a time of need. What’s more important, food, water, shelter, or your inflated ego? Get back to me when you’re starving, have no home and live in a squalid dangerous place along with your family. The saddest thing is that these countries can’t provide for their own people what we have to step in and provide for them. In that the white savior proponents do have a great point: Why CAN’T these people provide the aid they need for themselves? Why is it being left up to the West?
“But… but what if they don’t want our help? What if they want to be left alone and not have paternalistic meddlers in their village trying to “save” them?” The anti-white savior enforcers ask. Well guess what my answer is: Then we won’t!!!
You don’t have to accept vaccines that prevent children from dying.
You don’t have to accept hospitals better able to treat you and your loved ones from dying by easily preventable diseases and treatable injuries.
You don’t have to accept clean drinking water.
You don’t have to accept nutritious food.
You don’t have to accept sturdy housing, better infrastructure, education, and a democratic government.
You don’t have to embrace values such as equality for women, children and minorities and live in a democratic society where everyone is at peace, not at war steeped in violence and turmoil.
They are autonomous nations and deserve to make their own choices. We’re not their colonialist babysitters anymore. However, look at where they end up with such attitudes and where Western nations are. If people want to extend the hand of friendship and benevolence in sharing our resources and privilege, why is that such a bad, flawed and racist thing? How is it racist to literally save the lives of millions of people of color? We could just turn our backs and say “Who cares? They’re just brown people in inconsequential countries.” but countless people from the West, including white people, say instead, “They’re humans just like me and I want to give them what all people should deserve to have”. I think plenty of people in such dire straights are deeply grateful that we’re helping their families and communities. Some people would like to be saved from their abusive husbands, families, and governments. If not, don’t forget all the Americans who could use and be grateful for those limited resources! If our help is “too white” for them they don’t have to have it. That simple.
This attitude of it’s racist to help people of color in non Western countries because of imperialism or some lack of autonomy or dignity, or even accusing white people of being self serving in helping others I argue is actually a reflection of how blinded the proponents of the theory of the white savior complex are by their own privilege! How many of these people have lived and experienced the deprivation of the 3rd world first hand? How many have actually taken their assumptions beyond the theoretical framework into how people actually feel when subjected to lack of medical care, starvation, corruption and tyranny?
Pragmatically, which takes precedence? Food, water, shelter and healthcare from anyone who will give it, or some abstract notions of egos and pride? For those absentminded academics who endorse such ideas without ever experiencing or seeing people in such dire circumstances, try researching Maslow’s hierarchy of needs! Then see in which tier self inflated egos go and where food, water and shelter go… It’s simply illogical to think that desperate people wouldn’t accept anything beneficial to help themselves and their families. We are GIVING them the resources as charity out of benevolence!
Not to mention, is it not racist to limit a charitable person from helping those in need because of their skin color? White people are incapable of charity without wanting an ego trip or some self serving purpose? I for one know plenty who would take nothing in return for their altruism including my own family. Is it impossible a white person may want to empower a people to become more autonomous and self sufficient? Is it out of the question a white person could embrace a society and want to help them even at their own deep personal risk and have genuine respect for those they are serving?
Another point to consider is when people are being oppressed, the oppressors won’t listen to them, but might eventually have to if enough people in power speak out. I thought speaking up for those who can’t was a virtue, not a vice. If white people really do have white privilege as it’s often accused by the Left, then wouldn’t it be commendable if more white people used their privilege to help those who don’t have that privilege in society? What about every white abolitionist in our history for one example? Were they being “white saviors”, and if so, was that bad considering the outcome? White people who use their privilege, whether racial or socio-economic to help those in need are using that force for good instead of oppression which could more easily have been done.
Overall, I’d say if you are white, and want to help the less fortunate who happen to not be white, the last thing you should feel is guilt! Go ahead and serve who want your help knowing you’re a better person for it. Kindness doesn’t have a skin color.
We don’t need this, especially if they don’t want it!