Thoughts on the ‘White Saviour Industrial Complex’ From a Born White Male

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.

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About matthewryeoman

Matthew Yeoman is a freelance writer currently living in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Simply Computing, and WSI Milton. He has long been interested in soccer and Africa and has combined these two passions into the work you are reading on this site. Read up on his other work at www.MatthewYeoman.com
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4 Responses to Thoughts on the ‘White Saviour Industrial Complex’ From a Born White Male

  1. shawn says:

    What a coincidence. I presented a paper at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport and talked about the White Savior Industrial Complex almost the same day that you posted this. His article is also something I have thought about a lot…trying to come to terms with my own white savior impulses.

    On a different note, I’d be interested to hear more about what you mean by being unbiased? Is there a problem with being biased?

    I like this quote from Chris Hedges, referring to the focus on objectivity in journalism. I’m not sure if objectivity and what you mean by unbiased are the same things.

    “I have never sought to be objective. How can you be objective about death squads in El Salvador, massacres in Iraq, or Serbian sniper fire that gunned down unarmed civilians, including children, in Sarajevo? How can you be neutral about the masters and profiteers of war who lie and dissemble to hide the crimes they commit and the profits they make? How can you be objective about human pain? And, finally, how can you be objective about those responsible for this suffering. I am not neutral about rape, torture, or murder. I am not neutral about rapists, torturers, or murderers…And if you had to see the butchery of war up close, as I did for nearly two decades, you would not be neutral either”

  2. I’m very glad you came by to share your thoughts Sean. Always appreciated!

    What I meant by unbiased was by boiling out my perceptions as a ‘born white male’ who grew up in a very white town and didn’t have a very worldly view until leaving said town and venturing out. I still have much to learn, and I won’t know much of anything until I have my feet on the ground in Africa. I will have to leave behind my biases developed over 32 years of living in Western society and understand as well as I can what the issues are, just as Teju was talking about understanding the underlying causation of the problems.

    As far as being unbiased in the actual crimes and such, well that touches closely on how I view news gathering and journalism. Where is the point that I’m nothing more than a security camera relaying data, and where I am a human interpreting data and sharing my real emotions? How much is safe and how much is needed? It is a tricky line, but I find more and more people are drawn to other people’s thoughts and opinions. I was trained to completely boil all personal thoughts and opinions out of my non-fiction writing, but I’ll sway more in a person direction as my comfort with my subject grows and as the topic dictates.

    • shawn says:

      Thanks for the response. I agree with you about the importance of bringing your emotions and opinions into your writing.

      Good luck with your project. I look forward to reading updates.

  3. Robert says:

    “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 think you’re missing the point. As a born not-white male, the issue is a white male thinking that they’re some sort of white Christ, or morally superior person (which some call the “Mighty Whitey” trope) who was put there to save lesser, helpless non-whites. You’re probably going to say “he never made those claims” but unfortunately, they are implicit in what he does. Why, you might ask? Because whether you like it or not, Europeans raped Africa, and often did it this this set of justifications. To simply pretend that colonialism didn’t happen, or historical pretext doesn’t exist, is to make the situation worse. He may claim that he hates the “White Man’s Burden,”

    Now I’m sure that the Kony2012 guy doesn’t want to rape Africa… just maybe slap it around a bit and bend it over to fulfill his own fantasies of being a white saviour, and maybe make some cash along the way.

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