The thinking behind the ‘White Saviour Industrial Complex’ (WSIC) has been one long on my mind since before I first read Teju Cole’s thoughts on, and naming of, the idea. There have been many times where I have thought to myself ‘what right do I have to go anywhere and think I have any god damn idea what I’m REALLY doing among these vastly different cultures?’ I reconciled that with the fact I’m only intending on reporting with as unbiased a view as I am capable of, and not actually participating or telling anyone what to do.
The genesis of the WSIC for Teju was after seeing the Kony2012 video. He posted a series of messages to his Twitter account that got some folks a bit riled up. There was some language in there I found a bit off-putting, but for the most part I felt the same way he did. I was not swept up in Kony2012. I only thought ‘I wonder what is really going on here.’ I felt the narrator was a borderline zealot and possible nut job (which if my spotty memory serves me proved to be true) with his heart in nearly the right place. I was also annoyed with his endless attempt at tugging at my very firmly planted heart strings with images of his son, but Kony2012 isn’t the subject here so I’ll lay it to rest.
The main notion that Teju touches on with WSIC, and that has been ringing through my mind, is how these types of experiences are being turned into commodities and being hyper industrialized by Western society. The west loves doing this, we’ve been doing it for more than a century, and I’m sure that anything you care to name could be commodified and industrialized by someone in this society. It irks me to think that people helping people can, could, and has had this done to it. We need to take caution in this regard, in my opinion.
He also argues that people would be better off worrying about their own countries doings, such as the Iraq war, rather than the “awful African warlord.” Which is fair, people should be worried about their countries. The issue it raises for me is this potentially a line of thinking that lead to Martin Niemöller and his “First they came for the communists, but I did not speak out because I am not a communist” statement.
I am by no means comparing Teju to a Nazi mentality (whom Martin was speaking of in those quotes) or anything o that nature. Rather it seems to me that someone could take a line of thought like that and interpret it that way. It’s a slipperly slope unless you have good cleats on, and most people these days wear slippers.
I feel that Teju was touching on the idea that other people’s problems were just that, other people’s problems and that we should not interfere directly without all the facts. He was saying it would be best to hang back and influence foreign policy in our own countries, but even that sounds to me like ‘stay where you are and do not explore the reality.’ That isn’t what I want to do. I don’t want to experience the world from North America. It is no way to get a true picture and the whole story. I want the whole story. I want to breath it and feel it under my fingernails.
I’m going to need some more time to digest all of what he said for this is a matter that I do care deeply about, but this last point is one which rubs me the wrong way. I believe quite fiercely that borders should mean nothing and that we are all one people on One Earth.
At the need of all this I highly respected the position he has taken and how he articulates it. I am glad he helped to put words to thoughts I have been having. His main thesis is that you must know the underlying causation of a problem before you can truly solve it. That has been my goal all along. To find out what is really going on and share it. It takes a bit more time, a bit more thought than ‘liking’ a video on Facebook to pursue real change. It takes a few pushes on the doors leading to the corridors of power.
With all that in mind, I still believe that there is time for people to take time out of their lives, get away from this awful monstrosity we make of modern consumerist culture, and see some more of the world so we know first hand what we are talking about when we tell our governments we want to change how our country treats others.