White Saviours and Poverty Porn

The term ‘white saviour’ has been causing a lot of controversy in the media lately, but it is far from a new concept. The idea of the white saviour is a common trope found in books, films and our own history which depicts the white character as the centre of the story, essentially saving the people of colour from their own oppression.

The recent discussions surrounding the so-called white saviour complex was provoked by MP David Lammy’s tweet condemning journalist Stacey Dooley posing with an Ugandan child on her Instagram. Although Stacey Dooley was in Uganda filming for Comic Relief, her actions were picked up upon by many for enforcing a white saviour narrative which portrayed Africans as reliant and in need of Western aid. It didn’t really help her case that the photos had her with a fresh blow-dry resting a starving African child on her hip like an accessory.

Since this tweet, more people have spoken about this type of ‘poverty porn’ enforcing stereotypes which are harmful to society. Journalist and author Afua Hirsch appeared on The Pledge and explained how projecting images of white saviours enforces a narrative about European supremacy and buys into the wrongful depiction of Africans as passive victims. She goes onto say that the white saviour complex is not confined to white people, but citizens of the Europe in general as it still enforces this power dynamic.

A number of white people have responded to this saying that accusing white people of having these intentions promotes hate and will eventually stop white people from giving. But I think the real problem is the refusal to accept that the whole white saviour complex is completely spot-on.

I can’t be the only one who finds it odd when I see people posting pictures on Instagram of them on their gap year, in the centre of a selfie surrounded by loads of Black children with little to no context. This portrayal not only buys into the colonial narrative of white people going to save the people of colour because they are incapable of doing it themselves, but also the key motivations of colonialism as largely for the White person’s gain. It is very difficult to think these people volunteering are doing it entirely selflessly when it is plastered on social media, it is almost as though volunteering in the global south is seen as a trend.

Western countries continue to focus on the extent of poverty in African countries, but fail to also acknowledge the recent rapid development in some central African countries. The focus on African poverty and neglect of poverty in Western countries suggests that Europe want the continent of Africa to be reliant on the West in order to exert dominance. Moreover, charities like Comic Relief seem to centre the West as the reconcilers of poverty and ignores the work of locals who help their communities on a daily basis, not just once a year.

This is not to say that white people should not volunteer or travel to African countries, but even when intentions are pure it is still easy to slip into the white saviour trope. It is important for people to think carefully about their intentions when volunteering; is this because I really want to help or because I want to appear selfless to my followers on social media. The general consensus is to stop with the selfies and if you want to take pictures, to not be included in it or at least not be the centre of the image.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close