Earlier last week, social media exploded in response to MP David Lammy’s tweets about the White Saviour Complex. Lammy suggested that in sending people like Stacey Dooley to African countries and the media circulating photos as such only further perpetuates the idea that African countries are in constant need of help. More specifically, they need help from white nations, which reminded Lammy and many of colonialism and how even then it was framed as helping. There has been a massive wave of responses to his statements, some agreeing with his views and some disagreeing. A few people even went as far as to suggest that in making such statements David Lammy is racist.
So, what is the White Saviour Complex? The phrase ‘White Saviour’ is “a usually derogatory term for a white person who helps or has helped non-white people and may feel morally superior for doing or having done so” [Collins Dictionary]. The complex is then often found within charity work and volunteering.
The White Saviour Complex is, in my opinion, definitely real. However, I think that to some extent many white people aren’t even aware of it. It is subconscious but it is there. I’d say this because when people decide to help the worlds poor they do not think of the growing homeless population in the UK and decide to help them and start with their own nation. No, they fly out to Africa. People have an interesting way of forgetting their own nation’s problems and then deciding to fix other countries’ issues. This wouldn’t be an issue except for the fact that there is a sense of superiority attached to it. I should note that this many not always be the case. Given the sense of superiority, or the image that perpetuates a sense of superiority, it is understandable why many are reminded of colonialism, whereby white nations felt superior and thought to ‘help’ the ‘barbaric’ nations of Africa. However, some responses to Lammy’s statements suggests that some people were hurt to see how their actions could be misunderstood.
What I find more interesting than David Lammy’s Twitter thread is the responses to it. One of them particularly struck me as it said: “they didn’t mind my paleness when I was building them a well”; this statement in itself is representative of the White Saviour complex. This person is bragging about helping the less fortunate as if he has done them a favour he didn’t have to do and they should be eternally grateful. It is my opinion that in volunteering you should have a more humble attitude. This only reason you need to ‘fix’ the issue of the worlds poor, particularly, the countries in Africa is that you have benefitted from it. Whether it be by buying cheaper groceries that aren’t Fair Trade, citizens of the western world have underhandedly worked to further impoverish these communities. In the comments of Lammy’s tweets some state that they are moving their money and in one case one person suggested to a “white middle-class charity”. There is the belief that once you’ve given your money to a charity such as Comic Relief, your money will get to the nation and community in need. However, you cannot be certain of where your money will eventually end up. In fact, a significant portion of donations will end up being circulated within the organisation itself and never reach the intended community.
So, what is the problem with volunteering? The large majority of volunteers sent to these nations are vastly untrained. They have no real construction skills but many are continuously sent to ‘build wells’. These same wells that many do brag about building are then repaired and/or rebuilt by the paid professionals overnight. Therefore, the people who go across these countries are not actually helping in any way but are simply being told they are. These unskilled volunteers can then only be used as photo opportunities and in the majority being white, that sends a particular message.
Furthermore, it has come to light that some volunteers have used their time to take advantage of the very people they were sent to help. Both Oxfam and United Nations’ volunteers were found to have been abusing and taking advantage of the locals they were sent to help. In the case of Oxfam, it was revealed that one of their top officials had been continuously exchanging aid for sex in the communities he was supposedly there to help out of the goodness of his heart. It was also revealed that UN Peacekeepers had been sexually abusing children. These are two examples of two ‘great’ organisations which speak so much about helping these nations and their communities and yet the people they are sending are not only unqualified to do the job they volunteered to do but are also committing grave atrocities that they will most likely never be charged for.
I do not write this in the hope that many will stop donating or that they will learn to mistrust charities but instead that they will be smarter about helping these communities. Do your research! Instead of mindlessly donation £2 to a charity hundred of thousands of miles away from the nation you mean to help, research and see if there is a charity in the nation that you can donate to in order to help. In this way, you can at least be sure the money goes to that nation in some way. In fact, there are many homegrown charities that seek to help but are being trampled by the Oxfam, Crisis and Comic Relief. Donate to the homegrown charities instead because more than anyone they will know what their people need. If charities mean to circulate some of their donations within the organisation, use it wisely. Use the money to train your volunteers!
However, the question needs to be asked, why do POC tend not to volunteer?
Written by Gift Onomor