White savior complexes, hurt feelings and the undue pressure put on writers of color

Teju Cole has a deeply nuanced and informative piece at the Atlantic Monthly about a phenomenon that now finally has a name: the White Savior Industrial Complex. According to Cole, the specific type of activism where white and/or other privileged people enter communities, countries and cultural contexts that are not their own, is still a site rife with misunderstanding, assumptions, faulty generalizations and ultimately, misguided “do-gooding.” His piece was in response to Kony 2012 and in defense of a series of poignant tweets, including:

@tejucole 5- The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.

I suppose you could see how these tweets were controversial–except that they are totally correct. So, really the only people that are going to be offended by them are people whose very work relies on them always thinking everything they do is good, and to help people, and worst of all, irrespective of their race. Cole was forced to spend much of the article defending the minutiae of the tweets that were retweeted, defended and debated endlessly, but ultimately ruffled some feathers. The kind of feathers that rely on the White Savior Industrial Complex.

After laying out the very real considerations that people of color are tasked with if they ever want to critique anything ever, he responds to Nicholas Kristof’s potentially hurt feelings for being grouped in with the “white savior,”

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:

“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.”

Cole, rightly notes, this is a problematic response on behalf of Kristof. I would add that it is also childish and something I would expect someone in elementary school to say, not a famous columnist for the New York Times. Are you going to tell me next that you don’t “see” race like Stephen Colbert or that you are so happy that there are so many different kinds of people in the world and you see them all as your kin?

Kristof’s response asserts a certain type of holier-than-thou supremacy where he mitigates any possibility that there is a problematic relationship between a white person and a person of color–even that there is a history of problematic relationships between white people and people of color when it comes to social welfare. Instead, it is flattened to banal ideas of racial harmony and helping others.

As a result of Kristof’s continually fragile persona, relying so much on his white savior complex, Cole is forced to “tread lightly.”

I want to tread carefully here: I do not accuse Kristof of racism nor do I believe he is in any way racist. I have no doubt that he has a good heart. Listening to him on the radio, I began to think we could iron the whole thing out over a couple of beers. But that, precisely, is what worries me. That is what made me compare American sentimentality to a “wounded hippo.” His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated “disasters.” All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need.

I am sure, calling Kristof a racist wouldn’t have gotten this piece published at the Atlantic, nor would it have gotten such tremendous circulation. And calling him a racist would defeat the larger point which is that this is not really about whether Kristof is or isn’t a racist. Kristof benefits from a very specific type of global racism and has a long history of saying problematic things about people of color. Sadly, unintentional or intentional is not really relevant when it comes to “helping people” since the unintentional harm is sometimes the worst. Specifically, Kristof relies on the historical narrative that (dare I say) Gayatri Spivak long ago named the “white man saves brown woman from brown man” a holdover from colonial times and a legacy that continues to have very real consequences in our foreign policy and overseas NGO work, especially the stuff motivated by women’s rights.

Yes, people like Kristof and Oprah, bring critical attention to some of the worlds’ most deeply disgusting and heart-wrenching problems–but they do it at a cost. They directly benefit from the power relations that perpetuate those problems and the solutions attached to them. A knee-jerk reaction to this critique may be, “at least they are doing something,” and “wow, I guess we can’t really do anything” but this is ultimately lazy thinking. It’s not that their hearts are not in the right places, it’s that their analysis isn’t–as long as the West has the kind of economic, cultural and militaristic stronghold over places like the countries of Africa–our change efforts do not target the root or causes of oppression. Our main goal should be lobbying the government on our own soil–not short-term solutions that make us feel like we “done good.”

Transnational feminists have long critiqued Western intervention tactics whether around social and women’s issues (“The Search for the Afghan Girl”) or economic (IMF funded structural adjustment programs). For example, as I have written before–calling out the deplorable conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan was the exact rhetoric used by the Bush administration to engage in military intervention in Afghanistan. This is one of the many examples where well-intentioned awareness raising and the hope of changing conditions led to some kind of state-sanctioned, military endorsed violence upon a community you are trying to “uplift.” And maybe this is where we differ–but long-term military campaigns don’t really do the people of those countries much good.

Cole makes all these points really well. I am more concerned with his larger point–which is the limited avenues we as people of color have to call out racism and racists. He himself has to explain how he comes from a place of privilege–an unfair pressure put on writers of color so they are not laughed out of white circles of thought. And it’s a trap, a trap he himself knowingly falls in to, a trap that I am continually catching myself from falling in–that awkward moment we have to backtrack and apologize for rightfully calling out racism.

Perhaps, I shouldn’t say this since I did take an fly in an airplane earlier this week and have a computer, iphone and ipad–but I’m going to say it anyway: sometimes, when you are trying to help my “people,” you’re being a fucking racist.

So, let me not mince my words: I’m not critiquing the need for self-reflection and recognizing where you fall within lines of privilege–where you are speaking from or as academics call it your “standpoint epistemology.” But it should be a standard everyone is held to, not just people of color because they dared to point out, well, the truth.

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18 Comments

  1. Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    I think Kristof made a lot of good points in his interview in On The Media by fairly explaining a lot of the problems with Kony2012 and explaining what was meant by the White Industrial Savior Complex, to an NPR audience that might not read The Atlantic. I agree that there are many problems with the White Industrial Savior Complex in general (and even more with Kony2012 in particular). But many of these problems stem from a misplaced, miseducated desire to end injustices. I don’t think injustices can be righted if people don’t acknowledge them and really feel how wrong they are. As Teju Cole so eloquently points out, many injustices are extremely complicated and the way forward is often obscure, and is probably indirect when the problems are not yours (changing who you vote for and what you buy may feel indirect compared to giving money during a telethon). But that level of self-awareness and self-education usually doesn’t come before awareness is raised and people are motivated to “help.” Privileged people have to start somewhere, and gain understanding through a confusing and uncomfortable process, and fight against their privilege to give up when it gets really hard and uncomfortable.

    People in general may be more reactive, more lazy than we’d like. If that’s the case, I think we may have to work with that rather than against it, by making self-awareness and self-education easy and welcoming. I think Kony2012 was so popular because it was simple, easy to access, and gave people something clear to ask for, making them feel that they could bring change. Maybe there are ways we could apply some of those aspects to more nuanced, educated, non-agency-denying social justice platforms and actions, so that people adopt such platforms instead?

  2. Posted March 24, 2012 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    I agree with this so much. I try to explain some of this to (white) people sometimes but most just don’t get it.

  3. Posted March 24, 2012 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    I basically agree with you although I think the term “white savior industrial complex” is exactly the kind of elitist liberal arts hipster bs that smacks of the class privilege so damaging to this entire issue. Do you not think the term “neo-colonialism” is helpful here? Coined by a Ghanian…

    I wouldn’t dismiss Kristof as being just childish, although I do think he is very misguided. However, one thing I think which looms large in the background in the debate over humanitarian intervention is what happened in Rwanda and Srebrenica (to name just 2). I think the guilt and shame felt over this is a major motivator for people like Kristof and campaigns like Save Darfur. However it seems to be conflated, (even by Cole here, who refers to “hungry mouths”) with the wider debate about poverty and aid in totally different situations (legally, humanitarian intervention is quite narrowly defined).

    Why do we keep doing what isn’t working? Development aid is not reducing poverty. Military intervention is not bring peace, democracy and the rule of law. I think it is, as you and Cole say, about power and stronghold and in that sense, is much worse than just being “fucking racist.”

    • Posted March 27, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      How is “neo-colonialism” any less classist/academic language than “white saviour industrial complex”? It doesn’t make it less classist that it was coined by a Ghanaian (especially as he was from a well-off family and a head of state for god’s sake). I really have a hard time believing that any given person who is unfamiliar with academic sociology/political science would be like “oh neo-colonialism that’s such an everyday word”. Especially because Cole explains what he means in clear terms. We’re not dealing with another Judith Butler here.

  4. Posted March 24, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Samhita & Teju Cole somehow manage to oversimplify where they seek to add nuance, and they somehow manage to over-complicate the more straightforward aspects of the issue of charity in poor places across Africa.

    What’s really odd is that Mr. Cole seems to have embraced the notions held dear by old American conservatives regarding whether to assist places like Nigeria or Uganda. He writes, “What Africa needs more pressingly than Kony’s indictment is more equitable civil society, more robust democracy, and a fairer system of justice. This is the scaffolding from which infrastructure, security, healthcare, and education can be built.” This is the exact same argument used for decades whenever American fiscal conservatives argued against foreign aid (when they were accused of implicit racism for not giving money to impoverished Africans).

    Republican leaders, until GW Bush made wonderful history by committing $15 billion to fighting AIDS, felt like we would just be throwing money at a poor place, with no hope of long term improvement in governance or standard of living there. Thus, the burden of distributing AIDS awareness, mosquito nets, vaccines, clean water systems, and literacy programs fell to NGOs and private citizens working in a strained but altogether useful public-private network of charities.

    Oh, but most of those charitable people are white! Oh noes!

    Right, we should deny the simple equation of [observe problem] + [possess solutions] = [go help people who need help] because there might be race-based sensitivities involved! And Americans back home in their cushy apartments will take some of the credit though they do nothing! And what if some of the do-gooders incidentally benefit from their charitable efforts? That makes them practically racist, of course!

    Nicholas Kristof & I have walked some of the same ground, at different times. I wasn’t in Uganda & other African nations for NGO or charity work, and I wasn’t there as a journalist, but I can corroborate what you read from those guys. I can tell you, as much as I despise the unfortunate underlying efforts to distribute Bibles & Christian gibberish to the unsaved masses, there are good people doing amazing things at various outposts, in hellish jungles, backwards villages, and nasty cities, and most of the do-gooders aren’t Kristof. They do not directly benefit from their heroism or some sense of transmogrification of privilege into “white savior complex.” They don’t have any awareness of a transnational charity industry meant to make them feel good about their efforts.

    I’m aware there are complexities & misconceptions that should be further explored so that people can maximize their efforts to improve the world, but these people are not politicians or philosophers or bloggers. Their job, their calling is to cure sicknesses at ground level. They’re not celebrities, and they never will be, but they save lives. Shame on you for belittling their efforts.

  5. Posted March 24, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    “His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated “disasters.” All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need.”

    ^This^ is another conservative talking point used in the 80s, 90s, and today to deny foreign aid. This talking point, the importance of figuring out “the need for the need” rather than simply addressing the problem of feeding hungry people, is what compelled many idealist bleeding heart types to accuse conservatives of racism.

    Irony!

  6. Posted March 24, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    So, really the only people that are going to be offended by them are people whose very work relies on them always thinking everything they do is good, and to help people, and worst of all, that race doesn’t matter. Cole was forced to spend much of the article defending the minutiae of the tweets that were retweeted, defended and debated endlessly, but ultimately ruffled some feathers. The kind of feathers that rely on the White Savior Industrial Complex.

    Let’s say, theoretically, charities pulled out of African nations and focused more exclusively on, say, Mississippi trailer parks, impoverished Arkansas families, and very poor West Virginian children. And maybe they’d set up medical centers in some poorer Mexican and Guatemalan towns, since that’s not a long trip from the US, and there’d be arguably negligible racial tensions, and it’d still make it seem like they’re caring about our neighbors. Do you think maybe there’d be some outrage over why all these charities ignore Africa? Do you think maybe they’d face accusations of racism, of a lack of courage to travel to the poorest places, the worst failed states, to do their good deeds?

    **************************

    Separately:
    A knee-jerk reaction to this critique may be, ‘at least they are doing something,’ and ‘wow, I guess we can’t really do anything’ but this is ultimately lazy thinking. It’s not that their hearts are not in the right places, it’s that their analysis isn’t–as long as the West has the kind of economic, cultural and militaristic stronghold over places like the countries of Africa–our change efforts do not target the root or causes of oppression. Our main goal should be lobbying the government on our own soil–not short-term solutions that make us feel like we ‘done good.’

    Yet again, Samhita, ^that^ is essentially a conservative talking point used to argue against the notion of foreign aid and helping sick & hungry people. You perhaps don’t realize how much your arguments line up with the goals of old callous conservative Republican isolationists.

    We appreciate your watchdogging subtle forms of racism, and identifying who benefits from it and why that’s a problem. I’ll always love that I get that kind of analysis & opinion here. It makes me a better person. However, in this case your attempts to advance the salience of “White Savior Complex” is tragically accidentally going full circle toward fundamental agreement with the goals of actual racists, would-be colonialists, & anti-do-gooders.

  7. Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    I finally have a term for this phenomenon which has made me uneasy in the past.

    Case one: When I was in high school, plenty of my classmates went on mission trips, usually to a poor part of Mexico, and usually to build something for a community. They came back saying how wonderful the experience was and that “the people did more for me than I ever could do for them!” And that always threw me off because that never seemed like that should be the point. Like the blog post pointed out, this is about an emotional high.
    -One actual bad thing about this type of work is that it denies people in the community a chance to earn money by participating in the construction.

    Case two: Tom’s shoes. You buy a pair and they will donate a pair. The shoes are made in sweatshops! Tom could provide a living wage, and then the employee could afford to buy shoes for his/her family for the foreseeable future, as well as many other things. And fair trade isn’t “charitable” “helping” but conducting business as equals.

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      I somewhat disagree with your first “case.” I would argue that people usually try to do activities that make them feel good about themselves. Helping others is an activity where someone can immediately feel good about her/himself. Ask teachers or social workers or doctors or even parents, and I am sure they would all have the attitude “the students/patients/children did more for me than I ever could do for them!” sort of feeling. I don’t think it is wrong for people to seek out activities that will give them “emotional highs.” I think that is just part of human nature.

      However, I think where it can go wrong is when someone makes things worse for or exploits the people s/he is trying to help in the first place (e.g. your example of taking paid work away from locals if one were to carry out the labor free of charge).

  8. Posted March 25, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    I as a woman who has grown up in poverty doesn’t believe this complex applies to every white person. I think people of color have a way of projecting racisim on everything you may do as being such. I believe everyone is capable of being a racist, racism within your own race is complex but true, and not learned by colonialsim. If we are saying that racism is geneticly indoctrinated into white people’s genes (thats how it sounds btw), than women of any and all colors are just as much of a victim of discrimination as people of color are.

  9. Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    You are right. I never considered it before, but I am totally going to stop giving time and money to those sorts of charities. I”m going to try and convince my7 friends who do those Mexican mission things to rethink matters and come up with something that isn’t so condescending. Thank you so much.

  10. Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    As a black person I actually find this really sad. I agree there are certain white people in this world with superiority complexes and it is down right annoying. But there is a quote that some’s up how I feel perfectly. “You cannot let the actions of few determine how you feel about an entire group of people.” There’s a lot of suffering in the world, and quite frankly I don’t care about the skin color of those suffering. So what, should white people only want to help other white people? There are a lot of genuinely compassionate people in the world who honestly just want to help others. I take it as a sign of progress not something to get offended over. 50 years ago were interracial adoptions even heard of? I’ve read “Half the Sky” and it totally changed my life and the way I looked at things and it’s really unfair to single out someone like Nick Kristof who does just want to help.

    • Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Interracial adoption? Are you seriously saying that is a form of charity?
      I’m not even sure I can unwrap the layers of that this early in the morning. But I think that stands as a quite good example of the patriarchal attitude that I think is a problem when Americans get involved in global anything. There are those who get up on a soapbox and claim to speak for the disenfranchised, and those would would offer a soapbox to the disenfranchised to speak for themselves.
      I don’t say, “I can solve your problems”. I say “Tell me about it-and let me know if I can help”.
      I’ve had ‘friends’ who seem to think that they know better than I how I should run my life, what my goals should be, and how to fix all the things “wrong” with my life. Those people just want the emotional high it gives them to be in control-all in the name of helping. Then I have true friends who listen, advise, and facilitate. The difference is palpable and fairly obvious.
      I don’t see why it should be any different when you start talking globally.

      As for interracial adoptions and patriarchal “white savior” attitudes about it, you should have a looksee at Anne Patchett’s Run. I did a a pretty thorough breakdown of just how racist a lot of the attitudes and assumptions are when it comes to the white industrial savior complex, even within our own society. Interracial adoption has a long, painful, and even eugenic history in our country. Native children ARE STILL stolen from their families and placed with white foster and adoptive families, even though it is AGAINST THE LAW-all in the interest of “charity” and “for their own good”.
      Lost Children, Shattered Families.

      • Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        I read atiya’s comment as to simply mean that a world in which an adoption (which is a beautiful thing) can take place regardless of the race of the participants is a world that has gotten better when compared to times past when an interracial adoption would have been unthinkable.

        I have been a participant in both intra-racial and interracial foster parenting and adoption situations. It is a beautiful thing when an unwanted or abused child enters a home where they will be loved and nurtured, regardless of the race of the child or the participants.

        A child being kidnapped, on the other hand, is not a beautiful thing, regardless of if the participants call it “adoption” or think they are doing something good. I generally dislike the trans-national adoption industry and suspect much of what goes on is actually kidnapping for hire, and I mostly just become thoroughly sad when I think about all the unwanted kids in my own nation, waiting for that adoptive family that’s never going to happen for them.

  11. Posted March 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Race is not the only factor in identity. I really feel that Kristof’s track record shows he does see people all around the world as his kin.

  12. Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Excellent article by Feministing.

    Its always amusing how the misguided (or maybe not) Kristof defenders come out of the woodwork to defend him whenever he is criticized.

    Whether Kristof is a racist is debatable (I happen to think he is), however, what is not debatable is that Kristof is a flat-out imperialist, that he believes the West knows best and that the West has a duty and obligation to impose its superior ways on the non-White world. He is a propagandist & a mouthpiece for ‘aid workers’, some or most of whom are on little more than subsidized adventure travel tours. What right do these people (overwhelmingly White, overwhelmingly middle to upper class) have to go into other countries, (overwhelmingly non-White) with American money (and, implicitly, American military power at their backs) and ‘change culture’? The fact that huge numbers of these ‘aid workers’ are Christian proselytizers goes without saying. There is little to no oversight of this industry, and the fact that a ‘journalist’ like Kristof is basically doing no oversight on this industry is bullshit.

    Where aid is needed, money and food should be given out via local agencies and the number of Western aid workers should be kept to a minimum. Adventure tourism and proselytizing needs to be done on one’s own time – without any government subsidies whatsoever.

    The West doesn’t have all the answers and we are going to find that out the hard way over the next 10 or 20 years.

    • Posted March 27, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

      Yet again, this logic leads to the same goals espoused by the likes of Ron Paul today or Republicans like Jesse Helms years ago. This is appalling.

      “Most [aid workers]. . . are on little more than subsidized adventure travel tours”? What are you talking about? You have stats? Or did Doctors Without Borders do something to offend you?

      “What right do these people have” to do aid work? It’s not complicated — discover where genital mutilation practices put thousands of people at risk for disease & abuse, and go to that place to show them a less barbaric way of dealing with disease & abuse. Discover where malaria kills, where fresh water is scarce, and deliver nets, vaccines, and water filters.

      It’d be nice if the silly spiritual & proselytizing elements were completely absent from this set of problems & solutions, but I don’t see how you can denounce an entire field of work due to your race-based sensitivities and contorted doubts regarding aid workers’ intentions.

  13. Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Yes, people like Kristof and Oprah, bring critical attention to some of the worlds’ most deeply disgusting and heart-wrenching problems–but they do it at a cost. They directly benefit from the power relations that perpetuate those problems and the solutions attached to them. A knee-jerk reaction to this critique may be, “at least they are doing something,” and “wow, I guess we can’t really do anything” but this is ultimately lazy thinking. It’s not that their hearts are not in the right places, it’s that their analysis isn’t–as long as the West has the kind of economic, cultural and militaristic stronghold over places like the countries of Africa–our change efforts do not target the root or causes of oppression. Our main goal should be lobbying the government on our own soil–not short-term solutions that make us feel like we “done good.”Transnational feminists have long critiqued Western intervention tactics whether around social and women’s issues (“The Search for the Afghan Girl”) or economic (IMF funded structural adjustment programs). For example, as I have written before–calling out the deplorable conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan was the exact rhetoric used by the Bush administration to engage in military intervention in Afghanistan. This is one of the many examples where well-intentioned awareness raising and the hope of changing conditions led to some kind of state-sanctioned, military endorsed violence upon a community you are trying to “uplift.”

    Wow, okay, there’s a lot of things in here that I do agree with completely and some things I sadly take major offense with on behalf of many, many groups of people including the ones devoting their lives to try and help make oppressed women get similar chances in life like we do. As for me, I’m a Caucasian Belgian person which I do not think should make me immune to being able to study and understand (albeit not “first-hand”) the intricacies of racial relationships in modern countries and the effects of cultural and military colonialism perpetrated by mostly white nations in the past and present while STILL noticing the horrible cultural/religious oppression men and especially women have to endure still. My heart will not stop bleeding for my fellow women who die every single day because their cultures treat them than something lower than cattle; I will not back off fighting against the horror that is FGM, I won’t sit back and ignore what Middle Eastern culture for example does to people of my gender and I will not stop going back and forth from Somalia, Uganda and Iran to Europe helping women and their children to emigrate to safer countries because I happen to be aware of my (white) privilege. Being aware of said privilege is ironically the first step, along with having a basic human decency and a dose of empathy, in becoming a humanitarian activist. It is not “white guilt” that has driven me personally to do what I do; it’s blind outrage and the need to help fellow “sisters” in barbaric circumstances. And yes, one could say that a white person should not be allowed to criticize another culture as “babaric”, but I don’t – the environment in which a lot of women live in Africa is one reminiscent of pure HELL that no educated person (whatever their race or creed) with a heart could say is enlightened and not in need of help. This kind of passivism and this “it’s all obviously just white guilt and we’re only doing it to feel good” kind of attitude both suggests that nobody on the outside can genuinely care about the horrors of people lacking any privilege as well as sets up a very weird comparison between civilians and their humanitarian activism and military intervention/cultural colonial imperialism (!). Humanitarians are NOT to be painted in broad strokes together with pro-military interventionists.Trying to actively work day and night for individual victims to have a better future will not address the structural problems of oppressive cultures, of course not. But in what way should that hold me back from helping as many people as possible? And when you label reactions such as “But what are we supposed to do then?” as “lazy thinking”, you are (whether you intended it as such or not) advocating passivism, complete passivism even from a civilian point of view. My women’s rights activism does not correspond with military or cultural actions/sanctions from countries in power; neither does the work of most activists I’ve ever worked with. Of course we’d all prefer changes from within to fix the enormous structural challenges within problem areas – which is why efforts such as microloans for women to start up their own businesses, volunteering to teach or financially support local and governmental programs aimed at education for young girls and such are very successful in helping the individual and in possibly starting to make a bigger difference, culturally, as well. Someone being a white activist does not equal being in favor of military intervention and the like. I would never even think to refrain from helping people out any way I can just because armchair activists label assume humanitarians all do their work out of guilt/a feeling of superiority. To the contrary, it is my privilege that makes me ABLE (financially, logistically, etc.) to hopefully change some lives for the better and it is my awareness of the privilege I have that feeds my disgust at how women are treated around the world. I don’t have the illusion that civilians from the outside can do much, structurally speaking, but is it that “borderline racist” and “condescending” if a white individual who knows they’re privileged in many ways decides to do what little they can personally or in a group because they can’t just sit back and know how many women die each day of FGM and religiously/culturally sanctioned abuse, or of the never-ending custom of child brides, sky high rape statistics, structural injustice made specifically to silence women, etc. to name a couple of examples?

    I know race relationships are even more of a tricky a subject in the US because of the fact that historically both the abolishment of slavery and later the ending of government-condoned segregation happened relatively recently in an already young country such as the US. On top of that America is still a superpower and enforces this through military “interventions” (Afghanistan, Iraq, maybe even Iran) in what are supposed to be modern, enlightened times, and through cultural imperialism. Compared to other nations that have a history of colonialism and are predominantly white but do not have the background (and present) your country does the definitions and relationships of and between “savior” and “victim” could be much more murky, but that is specifically in an American context and to assume this should apply to the whole Western world is nothing but misplaced Americocentrism. But questioning the intent of individuals who are aware they can change very little but do what they can is downright abhorrent. It’s always the “women’s rights vs. religious rights issue”, and the US’s recent past and present plays a huge part in this problematic ongoing issue. Whenever cultural and religious practices are concerned, it’s thought to be PC to back off if you’re white (“because your race has already done enough damage”) even when those religious rights completely trample any remnant there might have been of women’s rights and spit in the face of humanity in general. That is a disgusting trend, and equating civilian work with large-scale governmental/military work does NOTHING but tell people: “Just do nothing at all, because you don’t have the right to do so, not even on an individual basis. It’s just their culture, they want to live this way and if we do something it’s all about subjugating them and assimilation into OUR culture instead of honest empathy. Helping them is hypocritical and all about making the white guy feel good, no matter how that work pays off for victims of cultural injustices. If there’s true empathy involved it’s just white guilt. So why would you bother?”

    I expected a lot more from this site. This article was shameful.

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