White Savior Complex

Hello again!
It’s been a little while. (I feel like I have been saying this at the beginning of every blog post lately lol).

A couple of things before I dive into today’s topic!

  1. I am gonna start a “book club” on here! Our first book is “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. This book is a guide for beginners on their antiracism journey. It is a 28 day reflective work that pushes you to confront the ways that white supremacy has impacted and uplifted your life (if you are white, white passing, or lighter skinned biracial, multiracial, BIPOC). I am starting my reading journey here and I invite you all to do it along with me. At the end of the 28 days, I will post about my thoughts and feelings, and invite you all to comment on the post and engage in a dialog with me. I am super excited for us to do this together!
  2. I know my posts haven’t been very fun lately. But the topics I am writing about are important and they are important to talk about. I find more fulfillment talking about this and doing the work than I do sharing weird pictures that I have taken recently. (but the main reason is that I am not doing anything so I have no pictures lol)

Okay let’s get down the topic at hand: the white savior complex.

I saw a post on instagram today that reminded me of how important this issue is to talk about. So bringing it up today to reengage it in our conversations.

What is the white savior complex?

It is a trope and a mindset in which a white person provides help to nonwhite people in a self serving manner.

Let’s look at it in action. One of the most famous examples of the white savior complex is: the White Man’s Burden; the mindset of the colonial western powers as they took control of other countries around the world.

At the end of the 19th century, Rudyard Kippling wrote the poem “The White Man’s Burden” in regards the the war between the United States and the Philippines, arguing that the United States should control the Filipino people.

I read the text in high school, but here it is for those who haven’t read it and those, like me, who need a refresher:

(Trigger warning: White people being White people in the 1800s and being super racist)

Take up the White Man’s burden—
    Send forth the best ye breed—
Go bind your sons to exile
    To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness
    On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
    Half devil and half child.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
    In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
    And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
    An hundred times made plain.
To seek another’s profit,
    And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
    The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
    And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
    The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
    Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
    No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper—
    The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
    The roads ye shall not tread,
Go make them with your living,
    And mark them with your dead!

Take up the White Man’s burden—
    And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
    The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
    (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—
“Why brought ye us from bondage,
    Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden—
    Ye dare not stoop to less—
Nor call too loud on Freedom
    To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
    By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
    Shall weigh your Gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
    Have done with childish days—
The lightly proffered laurel,
    The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
    Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
    The judgment of your peers!

Curtesy of Wikipedia

Gross poem, huh?

The mindset in the colonial era was that Europeans were doing the rest of the world, the “savages”, a favor by coming in and taking control of their “poor, backwards nations”. They were supposed to push through their own plight for the betterment of the “savages”. The White Man’s Burden was to bring greatness and culture to the rest of the world.

In reality, the White Man’s Burden was an intense public expression of the white savior complex. The colonizers stripped everything of areas they took hold of, and left power vacuums in their place after they abruptly left. There is honestly WAY too much I could get into about colonization, however, I will leave you read about that on your own.

So, you’re probably thinking that the white savior complex ended with colonialism. No. And another surprise, colonialism is alive and well. It has simply transformed to fit a new set of circumstances. Colonialism still dictates every relationship between the Global North and the Global South. It dictates mindsets, such as the white savior complex.

The white savior complex is seen in movies, books, tv shows where the white main character comes to the self serving rescue of all of the BIPOC characters in the show. Examples of this: Avatar (the blue people one), the Blind Side (but it was so heartwarming, right?? no), the Help, and others. I encourage you to rewatch these movies now understanding this new lens. You’ll be surprised with what you find.

But the white savior complex goes beyond the media, where it is really saturated. The white savior complex is most vivid in the missionary culture of Christianity in the United States.

This is a controversial take solely because it criticizes the work of Christians. If you been triggered or have an abrupt reaction to this or instantly go to defend yourself, I invite you to decenter yourself and listen. I also invite you to understand that this is your white fragility rearing its ugly head.

(For reference: white fragility is the discomfort and defensiveness of a white person when topics of racial inequality and injustice are discussed. All white people have it, it is a symptom of white supremacy. I have it, you have it, your neighbor has it. Don’t try to think you are above it. Accepting these things is crucial to your antiracism work. )

Anyways: why are missionaries modern day colonizers?

Rachel Card writes:

“Missionary work has become so normalized within our society that the more sinister aspects of its fundamentals have gone, for the most part, unchallenged, despite the less than subtextual nature of their racism. Missionaries show blatant disrespect toward the cultures they have inserted themselves into by framing Christianity as a touchstone of civilization, a narrative that was historically used to justify the colonization of America itself.”

https://www.ntdaily.com/missionary-work-is-just-another-name-for-colonization/

CHRISTIANITY WAS NOT IN THE AMERICAS UNTIL IT WAS ENFORCED ON INDIGENOUS GROUPS THROUGH COLONIZATION.

Just had to get that out there, phew. Missionaries are simply a new form of colonialism. It enforces the ideal that White people are superior and know what is best for the community, that their language and religion must be enforced. Colonization erases cultures.

A question that I think is important for missionaries to reflect on is : would you still go if you could not tell people about it? Would you do the same project in the US or is it all about traveling to see kids who have been trained to view you as the hero?

Your gut reaction will be “yes of course I would go” and “I would do this work anywhere!!” but reflect on it as well as the rest I have to say.

The white savior complex is dangerous; missionaries are dangerous.

They spread the word of their own religion to areas that did not have it prior to the beginning of colonization, continuing that cycle. It is disguised as this benevolent, humanitarian effort to solves the problems of Black people, Indigenous People, and People of Color. However, the same people who have colonized, wrecked havoc, exploited, enslaved, and committed genocide are the ones who are now going back to these areas and are saying they are here to take over once again. Like I mentioned before, colonialism has never ended, it has simply changed forms to adapt with the times.

It is never about true justice and solving inequalities. It is about maintaining the status quo. Making sure that these people will always rely on you. Making sure that white people will always be above others. Making sure you have a feel good story to tell on Sunday or the ability to post a photo with a Black child and be called a hero.

Having this big emotional experience helps to validate your privilege. You go and work down there for 1 week, and never think about it again. You are not continuously doing the work. You are not working with the community. Rather, you are imposing on the community. You are telling the community what to want. It is not for them. It is for you.

Missionaries often only care about intention rather than impact. Good intentions can still cause a lot of harm. Missionaries are self centers, meaning that they do not rely on BIPOC and community experts, instead they rely on White people to lead them. Additionally, and one of my largest issues with missionaries, they only focus on the symptoms of the problem. There is little effort to actually, and properly I might add, address the root cause of the issues. Their bandaid won’t fix in the long run. It will, instead like I mentioned, continue to maintain the status quo.

I know this piece won’t be one of your favorites. But the White Savior Complex is such an essential part of White Supremacy that is left out of conversations. We need to talk about the harm that it caused by centering ourselves in issues that are not about us and valuing feel good experiences over true impact.

I am against the missionary system, but I am not against helping people.

I want that to be made explicitly clear.

However, there are ways that similar work can be accomplished without centering yourself, the colonist narrative and harming the people you are supposed to be helping.

I am interested to hear your thoughts on this and invite you to reflect and engage in this conversation with me.

Additionally, if you have another topic you would like me to break down and discuss, let me know! I would love to write about stuff other people are also interested in.

Thank you for giving me this space.

Remember to read and engage with our book this month! We’ll chat about it again in 28 days!

Black History Month: Environmental Racism in Chicago and Hazel M Johnson

It’s been a minute since I have even looked at my blog. I started school shortly after the last post and have been incredibly busy with school work, extra curriculars, and job hunting.

But this month is Black History Month and, while it is almost over, I knew that if I wrote anything this month, it would have to be surrounding this topic.

Before I dive into my main topic, I just want to point out a couple of quick things.

In Utah, parents were able to chose to opt out their children from the Black History Month curriculum. Since the story has now gone viral, the Utah school districts have rescinded that option. But this instance brings to light an incredible point. Racism begins at home. What you say behind closed doors, what you whisper, what you chose to ignore/opt out of, is all noticed and is passed on to your children.

Racism begins and spreads at home.

Anyways, let’s begin.

I wanted to spend this blog post talking about an issue that hits close to home: environmental racism in the city of Chicago. For the many of you who are not Chicago natives/residents, after reading this, do a quick google search of “environment racism *your area*” and see what pops up. I’m sure it will be incredibly interesting and eye opening.

The environmental racism in Chicago is pretty well known. Chicago is the third most segregated city in the country as of 2018 according to the Census Bureau. However, most Chicagoans don’t need a formal study to know that. We see it every day. The Northside of the city, where all of the money and resources are, is largely white and affluent. The Southside, where none of the money and resources are, is largely Black and disenfranchised. The Eastside, where the lake is, is, again, very affluent. The Westside is not.

So what even is environmental racism?

First let’s define the environment.

Environmental justice advocates define the environment as anywhere we work, live, and play. Instead of separating ourselves from nature, this definition invites it in. It makes it apart of our community. Because, in this definition, the environment is now central to us, it makes it easier to see how people are affected by it. This is by far my personal favorite definition of the environment.

So, now what is environmental racism?

Environmental racism is the disproportionate effect of environmental hazards on people of color.

(From GreenAction:) Environmental racism refers to the institutional rules, regulations, policies or government and/or corporate decisions that deliberately target certain communities for locally undesirable land uses and lax enforcement of zoning and environmental laws, resulting in communities being disproportionately exposed to toxic and hazardous waste based upon race. Environmental racism is caused by several factors, including intentional neglect, the alleged need for a receptacle for pollutants in urban areas, and a lack of institutional power and low land values of people of color. It is a well-documented fact that communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries (and very specifically, hazardous waste facilities) and lax regulation of these industries.

Environmental justice, then, is the response to these inequities. There are 17 principles of environmental justice and I invite you to look at them.

How does this all play out in Chicago?

Very poorly.

In January of 2020, the city of Chicago did an air quality study. They found that all over the county, the air quality was not great, but the air quality in the South and West sides of the city was life threatening.

Here is a map of their findings.

Staggering to actually have it visualized, huh?

This map is not an unfamiliar one. Throughout the years, there have been many maps that look the same on a variety of topics. The story always ends up being the same. The Black and Latinx populations living in the South and West sides of the city of Chicago face greater health risks than White populations in other areas of the city.

Environmental injustice has been occurring in Chicago for an extremely long time.

There was one woman who recognized it before most others.

Hazel M. Johnson.

When her husband passed away, young and suddenly, from cancer, Johnson began questioning why there were so many in her area, and other public housing areas in Chicago, experiencing inordinate rates of cancer.

Johnson and her husband lived in Altgeld Gardens, a public housing project on the far south side of Chicago. Its residents are 97% Black.

After researching, Johnson discovered that the area had 50 landfills, hundreds of hazardous waste sites, and underground storage tanks that were leaking. She called the community “the toxic doughnut” as it was completely surrounded by pollution and hazardous materials.

In 1979, Johnson established People for Community Recovery in Chicago, which aimed to help the community understand hazardous waste, demand cleaner environments, test for lead, and strengthen their own personal connection to the environment. Johnson also helped to create the 17 principles of environmental justice, which I linked earlier.

Because Johnson’s background was not science based, the media and politicians often painted her as the “angry Black woman” trope, as they thought she was too uneducated to know what was going on in her own community. Despite all attempts to silence Johnson, she pushed onwards, continuing to organize her community members and advocate for environmental justice.

Hazel’s influence in Chicago, and in the environmental justice fields, is still felt today. However, as seen from that map at the beginning of this post, the South side of Chicago still faces incredibly high rates of pollution. Johnson’s organization People for Community Recovery in Chicago, now led by her daughter, continues to fight for the rights and protections of minority and low income communities from environmental hazards.

Hazel is the mother environmental justice. Throughout her life, she dedicated all of her energy and efforts to the people of Chicago. She paved the way for what environmental justice was able to evolve into. Johnson continues to have such an incredible influence on a community so close to my heart.