thisiseverydayracism:

By Andi Sharavsky | Jan 9, 2014 | Reductress.com
So, you’re going abroad to an underdeveloped country. Good for you! Everyone is already impressed with your bravery and selflessness, but it’s important to make sure your help and goodwill have the most lasting effects – on social media! If Oprah and Angelina have taught us anything, it’s that giving solely for the sake of giving is a missed photo op and a waste of everyone’s time. The following photo tips may not give your host family easier access to clean drinking water, or provide them protection against parasitic worms and merciless warlords, but they will ensure that everyone you know sees that you are basically a living saint.
1. Cradling the child to your bosom.
The classic shot. Instantly invokes images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that sad dust bowl mom. For added poignancy, stare off into the distance. Suggested caption: Any lyric from “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston.

2. While playing sports with all of the village children.
Women playing sports is already adorable, so this one is a no-brainer. Add a dusty, remote shanty town as a backdrop, and you’re golden. Suggested caption: “Who needs a personal trainer when you have these little cuties to kick your butt? Just kidding, Todd, I’ll be back in a few weeks, get those kettlebells ready!”


3. While wearing traditional native garb.
Really emphasize your newfound reverence for this developing country’s unique culture by incorporating it into your look. Be careful about camera angles though; dashikis do NOT cinch at the waist! Suggested caption: “I let my little host sister give me a makeover, and this is the most naturally beautiful I’ve ever felt in my life!”

4. The Family Portrait.
This quintessential shot of you and your host family (with you crouched down with their children, obviously) will show everyone how fully accepted, appreciated, and adored you are by the very people you came to help. Suggested caption: “They ended up teaching me more than I could ever teach them.” Or any lyric from Wicked’s “For Good.”
The most important thing to remember about your trip is that one person can’t really make a difference in the world, but she CAN look beautiful and benevolent while trying. You will forever cherish the posts you made on your timeline, so invest in a nice camera and get posting for all your family, friends, and vague acquaintances to see! After all, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does its Klout score go up? And if NPR never sends you your tote bag, was it even worth it to donate?
Source: http://reductress.com/cutest-ways-photograph-hugging-third-world-children/

thisiseverydayracism:

By Andi Sharavsky | Jan 9, 2014 | Reductress.com

So, you’re going abroad to an underdeveloped country. Good for you! Everyone is already impressed with your bravery and selflessness, but it’s important to make sure your help and goodwill have the most lasting effects – on social media! If Oprah and Angelina have taught us anything, it’s that giving solely for the sake of giving is a missed photo op and a waste of everyone’s time. The following photo tips may not give your host family easier access to clean drinking water, or provide them protection against parasitic worms and merciless warlords, but they will ensure that everyone you know sees that you are basically a living saint.

1. Cradling the child to your bosom.

The classic shot. Instantly invokes images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that sad dust bowl mom. For added poignancy, stare off into the distance. Suggested caption: Any lyric from “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston.

2. While playing sports with all of the village children.

Women playing sports is already adorable, so this one is a no-brainer. Add a dusty, remote shanty town as a backdrop, and you’re golden. Suggested caption: “Who needs a personal trainer when you have these little cuties to kick your butt? Just kidding, Todd, I’ll be back in a few weeks, get those kettlebells ready!”

3. While wearing traditional native garb.

Really emphasize your newfound reverence for this developing country’s unique culture by incorporating it into your look. Be careful about camera angles though; dashikis do NOT cinch at the waist! Suggested caption: “I let my little host sister give me a makeover, and this is the most naturally beautiful I’ve ever felt in my life!”

4. The Family Portrait.

This quintessential shot of you and your host family (with you crouched down with their children, obviously) will show everyone how fully accepted, appreciated, and adored you are by the very people you came to help. Suggested caption: “They ended up teaching me more than I could ever teach them.” Or any lyric from Wicked’s “For Good.”

The most important thing to remember about your trip is that one person can’t really make a difference in the world, but she CAN look beautiful and benevolent while trying. You will forever cherish the posts you made on your timeline, so invest in a nice camera and get posting for all your family, friends, and vague acquaintances to see! After all, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does its Klout score go up? And if NPR never sends you your tote bag, was it even worth it to donate?

Source: http://reductress.com/cutest-ways-photograph-hugging-third-world-children/

Reblogged from thisiseverydayracism  86 notes

thisiseverydayracism:

God Loves Uganda (trailer)

With God Loves Uganda, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams (Music by Prudence) explores the role of the American Evangelical movement in fueling Uganda’s terrifying turn towards biblical law and the proposed death penalty for homosexuality. Thanks to charismatic religious leaders and a well-financed campaign, these draconian new laws and the politicians that peddle them are winning over the Ugandan public. But these dangerous policies and the money that fuels them aren’t coming from Africa; they’re being imported from some of America’s largest megachurches.

Reblogged from thisiseverydayracism  152 notes
thisiseverydayracism:


Confronting My Privilege: Why Africa Doesn’t Need My Help
Katrina Beitz | February 20th, 2014 | thoughtcatalog.com 
I have never been to Africa. Which is not entirely unusual for a middle-class, white girl raised outside of Cincinnati.
When I moved to DC for school, I was hell-bent on saving the world. Bright-eyed and optimistic, I had resolved to major in Peace and Conflict Resolution with an area focus on the Middle East. I knew almost nothing about the Middle East. I had information from a childhood obsession with Egyptology (largely on deities, hieroglyphics, and Cleopatra) and vague musings of Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq from daily news absorption. Yet, I thought that four years of schooling would somehow better enable me to save the world, to act as a peacekeeper in places I knew nothing about, to come in as an outsider and solve all the problems.
It’s funny how things change.
My best friend in college was Egyptian, raised in a small-town in Georgia and a regular visitor to his extended overseas family. This was my first taste of how wrong I was. He was bright and awkward with an obsession with technology. He was a YouTuber who spoke Arabic. He was deeply interested in politics, but he did not need to be saved. His family did not need to be saved.
I took an Arab Studies class where the other kids were even more ignorant than me. They looked at Islam as being something dirty, something tainted. They made lofty assertions about how to change the Middle East, what they would do to improve country X, Y, and Z. They were in their first semester of Arabic and they knew that this word meant this and not that. They spoke of vacations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the places I had dreamed of going. They knew that the war in the Middle East was really about and they couldn’t believe that we were still fighting for people who were ungrateful and who didn’t want us (as if the presence of our troops was highly desirable).
The longer I spent listening to them, hating them for their words, the more I realized how wrong I was. How I was no better because wasn’t my need to major in the Middle East based upon a false assumption that they needed my help because I knew things? Wasn’t my dream to travel abroad based upon childhood fantasies I had had about archeological digs in the tombs of long-dead pharaohs, to become an Indiana Jones persona? Wasn’t my interest in all of this rooted in the idea that I was somehowbetter?
By the time I got into my Peace and Conflict Resolution class I was done. I didn’t want to be a white savior. I didn’t want to save the world. I listened to the other girls in the class with me, talking about their trips to Africa and to Israel. They spoke whole-heartedly about the potential for peace and how they were planning to move overseas after they got their Masters in Peacebuilding. We talked about genocide in Kosovo, apartheid in South Africa. We played out mock delegations to arrange treaties between warring nations, very civil and reasonable affairs where both sides were willing to make concessions. And the smiles around the room as the fake treaty was signed off on, full of assurance that this was the right path because that’s how negotiations go between countries, right?
It was that same semester I took one of the best classes of my college career. It was an introduction to sub-Saharan Africa—history, mostly, and its contemporary impact. The professor was what really made it; a South African adjunct who told stories and made jokes and had a realist view on the continent. I loved every minute of that class, from the dense theoretical reading to the excerpts of fiction. It engaged me more than any discussion of Said. The discussion wasn’t just about the pitfalls or dismal conditions, it wasn’t just about corruption and health issues. It was full of life, full of honesty, full of perspectives and cultures from a continent that I had boiled down to the midnight commercials of children with distended stomachs that I could “send to school with pennies a day.”
So, I changed my major. I decided to focus on Development—which had been a solid class. And my area became Africa, a continent I knew next to nothing about, with the decision to try and help out however I could.
I loved studying Development and I loved studying sub-Saharan Africa. I wanted so badly to go there. Every single year I would try to find some organization that would work with my schedule to send me there for a month or two to do some relief work. I wanted to serve abroad. I wanted to serve in the Developing world where I would “really make a difference” by doing hands-on work. I wanted to see the countries that I’d read about, that had reinvigorated my thirst for knowledge. I wanted to be a voluntourist.
I graduated one year ago. I haven’t been to Africa.
I’m in a one-year volunteer program in the states focusing on disaster relief/recovery. My year of service has taught me a lot. It’s taught me to look at the macro-level work, to dissect its micro-impacts so that I can feel that what I’m doing is meaningful. And that’s the issue. I work with a team of volunteers and there’s this common theme that if we aren’t able to see the impact of our work, it somehow means less. It’s not that it means less to those it impacts, but it means less to us. It makes doing the work a chore, like its busywork and pointless. It is hard to motivate a group of volunteers in an office, to convince them that they really are helping when they sit behind computers all day clicking through names and numbers that mean nothing to them.
It’s problematic.
We expect go to places and to be accepted with open arms in communities. We expect to build things with our hands and to hand food to starving children. We expect to teach non-English speakers our language with a limited vocabulary and a formal dialect. We expect to build wells and improve security at refugee camps. We expect to free women from religious oppression. We expect to teach young boys skills so they won’t become a terrorist. We expect to enter strange places and bring joy with our mere presence. We expect to be thanked.
I am a white girl. I was born middle-class. I was raised outside of Cincinnati. I went to a wealthy, private university. I majored in what I thought would help me do the most good in the world. I offered up eleven-months of my life to work for others. I am privileged. I want to do what little good I can while I’m here.
But I do not know how to build houses or roads. I know how to make a backyard garden in Southern Ohio, but I don’t know how to farm or how to set-up an irrigation system. I want to help sick children, but I don’t know the first thing about medicine. I understand international politics, but I am ill-equipped to improve local democratic processes. I speak French poorly. I’ve never worked with displaced individuals or in “third-world” conditions.
I am an unskilled white girl that desperately wants the chance to save the world.
Do not send me to a country so that I can updated my Facebook profile picture to me holding an African child. Do not send me to have a “cultural experience” so I can ruin someone’s house because I don’t know how to use plaster. Do not send me to do service in a place where I will do more harm than good.
There are some things I know I can do: I am good at organizing volunteers. I am great at research and finding new development opportunities. I can coordinate projects with multiple groups. I work well with non-profits and government agencies. I have a solid understanding of social services and humanitarianism. I understand grassroots development. I value the empowerment of local leaders and communities. I can do good where I am right now.
I still want to save the world in what little way I can. I still want to help people, to make lives easier down the road. I still want to go to Africa someday.
But I don’t have to go to Africa. 
Source: http://thoughtcatalog.com/katrina-b/2014/02/confronting-my-privilege-why-africa-doesnt-need-my-help/

[Mod note: we are allowing this to be published because it shows that even when white folks realize what’s wrong with white saviorism, they’ll still pat themselves on the back for realizing that. This is white privilege. She could have simply listened to any person of color who would have easily told her that white saviorism is a bad idea, but no, that would have been too hard.]

thisiseverydayracism:

Confronting My Privilege: Why Africa Doesn’t Need My Help

Katrina Beitz | February 20th, 2014 | thoughtcatalog.com 

I have never been to Africa. Which is not entirely unusual for a middle-class, white girl raised outside of Cincinnati.

When I moved to DC for school, I was hell-bent on saving the world. Bright-eyed and optimistic, I had resolved to major in Peace and Conflict Resolution with an area focus on the Middle East. I knew almost nothing about the Middle East. I had information from a childhood obsession with Egyptology (largely on deities, hieroglyphics, and Cleopatra) and vague musings of Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq from daily news absorption. Yet, I thought that four years of schooling would somehow better enable me to save the world, to act as a peacekeeper in places I knew nothing about, to come in as an outsider and solve all the problems.

It’s funny how things change.

My best friend in college was Egyptian, raised in a small-town in Georgia and a regular visitor to his extended overseas family. This was my first taste of how wrong I was. He was bright and awkward with an obsession with technology. He was a YouTuber who spoke Arabic. He was deeply interested in politics, but he did not need to be saved. His family did not need to be saved.

I took an Arab Studies class where the other kids were even more ignorant than me. They looked at Islam as being something dirty, something tainted. They made lofty assertions about how to change the Middle East, what they would do to improve country X, Y, and Z. They were in their first semester of Arabic and they knew that this word meant this and not that. They spoke of vacations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the places I had dreamed of going. They knew that the war in the Middle East was really about and they couldn’t believe that we were still fighting for people who were ungrateful and who didn’t want us (as if the presence of our troops was highly desirable).

The longer I spent listening to them, hating them for their words, the more I realized how wrong I was. How I was no better because wasn’t my need to major in the Middle East based upon a false assumption that they needed my help because I knew things? Wasn’t my dream to travel abroad based upon childhood fantasies I had had about archeological digs in the tombs of long-dead pharaohs, to become an Indiana Jones persona? Wasn’t my interest in all of this rooted in the idea that I was somehowbetter?

By the time I got into my Peace and Conflict Resolution class I was done. I didn’t want to be a white savior. I didn’t want to save the world. I listened to the other girls in the class with me, talking about their trips to Africa and to Israel. They spoke whole-heartedly about the potential for peace and how they were planning to move overseas after they got their Masters in Peacebuilding. We talked about genocide in Kosovo, apartheid in South Africa. We played out mock delegations to arrange treaties between warring nations, very civil and reasonable affairs where both sides were willing to make concessions. And the smiles around the room as the fake treaty was signed off on, full of assurance that this was the right path because that’s how negotiations go between countries, right?

It was that same semester I took one of the best classes of my college career. It was an introduction to sub-Saharan Africa—history, mostly, and its contemporary impact. The professor was what really made it; a South African adjunct who told stories and made jokes and had a realist view on the continent. I loved every minute of that class, from the dense theoretical reading to the excerpts of fiction. It engaged me more than any discussion of Said. The discussion wasn’t just about the pitfalls or dismal conditions, it wasn’t just about corruption and health issues. It was full of life, full of honesty, full of perspectives and cultures from a continent that I had boiled down to the midnight commercials of children with distended stomachs that I could “send to school with pennies a day.”

So, I changed my major. I decided to focus on Development—which had been a solid class. And my area became Africa, a continent I knew next to nothing about, with the decision to try and help out however I could.

I loved studying Development and I loved studying sub-Saharan Africa. I wanted so badly to go there. Every single year I would try to find some organization that would work with my schedule to send me there for a month or two to do some relief work. I wanted to serve abroad. I wanted to serve in the Developing world where I would “really make a difference” by doing hands-on work. I wanted to see the countries that I’d read about, that had reinvigorated my thirst for knowledge. I wanted to be a voluntourist.

I graduated one year ago. I haven’t been to Africa.

I’m in a one-year volunteer program in the states focusing on disaster relief/recovery. My year of service has taught me a lot. It’s taught me to look at the macro-level work, to dissect its micro-impacts so that I can feel that what I’m doing is meaningful. And that’s the issue. I work with a team of volunteers and there’s this common theme that if we aren’t able to see the impact of our work, it somehow means less. It’s not that it means less to those it impacts, but it means less to us. It makes doing the work a chore, like its busywork and pointless. It is hard to motivate a group of volunteers in an office, to convince them that they really are helping when they sit behind computers all day clicking through names and numbers that mean nothing to them.

It’s problematic.

We expect go to places and to be accepted with open arms in communities. We expect to build things with our hands and to hand food to starving children. We expect to teach non-English speakers our language with a limited vocabulary and a formal dialect. We expect to build wells and improve security at refugee camps. We expect to free women from religious oppression. We expect to teach young boys skills so they won’t become a terrorist. We expect to enter strange places and bring joy with our mere presence. We expect to be thanked.

I am a white girl. I was born middle-class. I was raised outside of Cincinnati. I went to a wealthy, private university. I majored in what I thought would help me do the most good in the world. I offered up eleven-months of my life to work for others. I am privileged. I want to do what little good I can while I’m here.

But I do not know how to build houses or roads. I know how to make a backyard garden in Southern Ohio, but I don’t know how to farm or how to set-up an irrigation system. I want to help sick children, but I don’t know the first thing about medicine. I understand international politics, but I am ill-equipped to improve local democratic processes. I speak French poorly. I’ve never worked with displaced individuals or in “third-world” conditions.

I am an unskilled white girl that desperately wants the chance to save the world.

Do not send me to a country so that I can updated my Facebook profile picture to me holding an African child. Do not send me to have a “cultural experience” so I can ruin someone’s house because I don’t know how to use plaster. Do not send me to do service in a place where I will do more harm than good.

There are some things I know I can do: I am good at organizing volunteers. I am great at research and finding new development opportunities. I can coordinate projects with multiple groups. I work well with non-profits and government agencies. I have a solid understanding of social services and humanitarianism. I understand grassroots development. I value the empowerment of local leaders and communities. I can do good where I am right now.

I still want to save the world in what little way I can. I still want to help people, to make lives easier down the road. I still want to go to Africa someday.

But I don’t have to go to Africa. 

Source: http://thoughtcatalog.com/katrina-b/2014/02/confronting-my-privilege-why-africa-doesnt-need-my-help/

[Mod note: we are allowing this to be published because it shows that even when white folks realize what’s wrong with white saviorism, they’ll still pat themselves on the back for realizing that. This is white privilege. She could have simply listened to any person of color who would have easily told her that white saviorism is a bad idea, but no, that would have been too hard.]

Reblogged from aravenhairedmaiden  3 notes

aravenhairedmaiden:

Nothing is more annoying than having white missionaries tell me about the “good work” they’re doing in Haiti when they find out I’m Haitian.

Like please get the fuck out of my face with that white savior garbage. 

It’s even worse when they go to Africa because they don’t care that if it wasn’t for colonialism certain parts of this massive continent wouldn’t have so much poverty as well as high mortality rates.

Reblogged from thisiseverydayracism  269 notes

thisiseverydayracism:

The White Savoir Industrial Complex

TEJU COLEMAR | March 21, 2012 | theatlantic.com

A week and a half ago, I watched the Kony2012 video. Afterward, I wrote a brief seven-part response, which I posted in sequence on my Twitter account (see images above).

These tweets were retweeted, forwarded, and widely shared by readers. They migrated beyond Twitter to blogs, Tumblr, Facebook, and other sites; I’m told they generated fierce arguments. As the days went by, the tweets were reproduced in their entirety on the websites of the Atlantic and theNew York Times, and they showed up on German, Spanish, and Portuguese sites. A friend emailed to tell me that the fourth tweet, which cheekily name-checks Oprah, was mentioned on Fox television.

These sentences of mine, written without much premeditation, had touched a nerve. I heard back from many people who were grateful to have read them. I heard back from many others who were disappointed or furious. Many people, too many to count, called me a racist. One person likened me to the Mau Mau. The Atlantic writer who’d reproduced them, while agreeing with my broader points, described the language in which they were expressed as “resentment.”

This weekend, I listened to a radio interview given by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof is best known for his regular column in the New York Times in which he often givesaccounts of his activism or that of other Westerners. When I saw the Kony 2012 video, I found it tonally similar to Kristof’s approach, and that was why I mentioned him in the first of my seven tweets.

Those tweets, though unpremeditated, were intentional in their irony and seriousness. I did not write them to score cheap points, much less to hurt anyone’s feelings. I believed that a certain kind of language is too infrequently seen in our public discourse. I am a novelist. I traffic in subtleties, and my goal in writing a novel is to leave the reader not knowing what to think. A good novel shouldn’t have a point.

But there’s a place in the political sphere for direct speech and, in the past few years in the U.S., there has been a chilling effect on a certain kind of direct speech pertaining to rights. The president is wary of being seen as the “angry black man.” People of color, women, and gays — who now have greater access to the centers of influence that ever before — are under pressure to be well-behaved when talking about their struggles. There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as “racially charged” even in those cases when it would be more honest to say “racist”; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem but no one is homophobic. One cumulative effect of this policed language is that when someone dares to point out something as obvious as white privilege, it is seen as unduly provocative. Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse.

It’s only in the context of this neutered language that my rather tame tweets can be seen as extreme. The interviewer on the radio show I listened to asked Kristof if he had heard of me. “Of course,” he said. She asked him what he made of my criticisms. His answer was considered and genial, but what he said worried me more than an angry outburst would have:

"There has been a real discomfort and backlash among middle-class educated Africans, Ugandans in particular in this case, but people more broadly, about having Africa as they see it defined by a warlord who does particularly brutal things, and about the perception that Americans are going to ride in on a white horse and resolve it. To me though, it seems even more uncomfortable to think that we as white Americans should not intervene in a humanitarian disaster because the victims are of a different skin color."

Here are some of the “middle-class educated Africans” Kristof, whether he is familiar with all of them and their work or not, chose to take issue with: Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire, who covered the Lord’s Resistance Army in 2005 and made an eloquent video response to Kony 2012; Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani, one of the world’s leading specialists on Uganda and the author of a thorough riposte to the political wrong-headedness of Invisible Children; and Ethiopian-American novelist Dinaw Mengestu, who sought out Joseph Kony, met his lieutenants, and recently wrote a brilliant essay about how Kony 2012 gets the issues wrong. They have a different take on what Kristof calls a “humanitarian disaster,” and this may be because they see the larger disasters behind it: militarization of poorer countries, short-sighted agricultural policies, resource extraction, the propping up of corrupt governments, and the astonishing complexity of long-running violent conflicts over a wide and varied terrain.

I want to tread carefully here: I do not accuse Kristof of racism nor do I believe he is in any way racist. I have no doubt that he has a good heart. Listening to him on the radio, I began to think we could iron the whole thing out over a couple of beers. But that, precisely, is what worries me. That is what made me compare American sentimentality to a “wounded hippo.” His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated “disasters.” All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need.

But I disagree with the approach taken by Invisible Children in particular, and by the White Savior Industrial Complex in general, because there is much more to doing good work than “making a difference.” There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.

I write all this from multiple positions. I write as an African, a black man living in America. I am every day subject to the many microaggressions of American racism. I also write this as an American, enjoying the many privileges that the American passport affords and that residence in this country makes possible. I involve myself in this critique of privilege: my own privileges of class, gender, and sexuality are insufficiently examined. My cell phone was likely manufactured by poorly treated workers in a Chinese factory. The coltan in the phone can probably be traced to the conflict-riven Congo. I don’t fool myself that I am not implicated in these transnational networks of oppressive practices.

And I also write all this as a novelist and story-writer: I am sensitive to the power of narratives. When Jason Russell, narrator of the Kony 2012 video, showed his cheerful blonde toddler a photo of Joseph Kony as the embodiment of evil (a glowering dark man), and of his friend Jacob as the representative of helplessness (a sweet-faced African), I wondered how Russell’s little boy would develop a nuanced sense of the lives of others, particularly others of a different race from his own. How would that little boy come to understand that others have autonomy; that their right to life is not exclusive of a right to self-respect? In a different context, John Berger once wrote, “A singer may be innocent; never the song.”

One song we hear too often is the one in which Africa serves as a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism. From the colonial project to Out of Africa to The Constant Gardener and Kony 2012, Africa has provided a space onto which white egos can conveniently be projected. It is a liberated space in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied. Many have done it under the banner of “making a difference.” To state this obvious and well-attested truth does not make me a racist or a Mau Mau. It does give me away as an “educated middle-class African,” and I plead guilty as charged. (It is also worth noting that there are other educated middle-class Africans who see this matter differently from me. That is what people, educated and otherwise, do: they assess information and sometimes disagree with each other.)

In any case, Kristof and I are in profound agreement about one thing: there is much happening in many parts of the African continent that is not as it ought to be. I have been fortunate in life, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen or experienced African poverty first-hand. I grew up in a land of military coups and economically devastating, IMF-imposed “structural adjustment” programs. The genuine hurt of Africa is no fiction.

And we also agree on something else: that there is an internal ethical urge that demands that each of us serve justice as much as he or she can. But beyond the immediate attention that he rightly pays hungry mouths, child soldiers, or raped civilians, there are more complex and more widespread problems. There are serious problems of governance, of infrastructure, of democracy, and of law and order. These problems are neither simple in themselves nor are they reducible to slogans. Such problems are both intricate and intensely local.

How, for example, could a well-meaning American “help” a place like Uganda today? It begins, I believe, with some humility with regards to the people in those places. It begins with some respect for the agency of the people of Uganda in their own lives. A great deal of work had been done, and continues to be done, by Ugandans to improve their own country, and ignorant comments (I’ve seen many) about how “we have to save them because they can’t save themselves” can’t change that fact.

Let me draw into this discussion an example from an African country I know very well. Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians took to their country’s streets to protest the government’s decision to remove a subsidy on petrol. This subsidy was widely seen as one of the few blessings of the country’s otherwise catastrophic oil wealth. But what made these protests so heartening is that they were about more than the subsidy removal. Nigeria has one of the most corrupt governments in the world and protesters clearly demanded that something be done about this. The protests went on for days, at considerable personal risk to the protesters. Several young people were shot dead, and the movement was eventually doused when union leaders capitulated and the army deployed on the streets. The movement did not “succeed” in conventional terms. But something important had changed in the political consciousness of the Nigerian populace. For me and for a number of people I know, the protests gave us an opportunity to be proud of Nigeria, many of us for the first time in our lives.

This is not the sort of story that is easy to summarize in an article, much less make a viral video about. After all, there is no simple demand to be made and — since corruption is endemic — no single villain to topple. There is certainly no “bridge character,” Kristof’s euphemism for white saviors in Third World narratives who make the story more palatable to American viewers. And yet, the story of Nigeria’s protest movement is one of the most important from sub-Saharan Africa so far this year. Men and women, of all classes and ages, stood up for what they felt was right; they marched peacefully; they defended each other, and gave each other food and drink; Christians stood guard while Muslims prayed and vice-versa; and they spoke without fear to their leaders about the kind of country they wanted to see. All of it happened with no cool American 20-something heroes in sight.

Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda and he is no longer the threat he was, but he is a convenient villain for those who need a convenient villain. What Africa needs more pressingly than Kony’s indictment is more equitable civil society, more robust democracy, and a fairer system of justice. This is the scaffolding from which infrastructure, security, healthcare, and education can be built. How do we encourage voices like those of the Nigerian masses who marched this January, or those who are engaged in the struggle to develop Ugandan democracy?

If Americans want to care about Africa, maybe they should consider evaluating American foreign policy, which they already play a direct role in through elections, before they impose themselves on Africa itself. The fact of the matter is that Nigeria is one of the top five oil suppliers to the U.S., and American policy is interested first and foremost in the flow of that oil. The American government did not see fit to support the Nigeria protests. (Though the State Department issued a supportive statement — “our view on that is that the Nigerian people have the right to peaceful protest, we want to see them protest peacefully, and we’re also urging the Nigerian security services to respect the right of popular protest and conduct themselves professionally in dealing with the strikes” — it reeked of boilerplate rhetoric and, unsurprisingly, nothing tangible came of it.) This was as expected; under the banner of “American interests,” the oil comes first. Under that same banner, the livelihood of corn farmers in Mexico has been destroyed by NAFTA. Haitian rice farmers have suffered appalling losses due to Haiti beingflooded with subsidized American rice. A nightmare has been playing out in Honduras in the past three years: an American-backed coup and American militarization of that country have contributed to a conflict in which hundreds of activists and journalists have already been murdered. The Egyptian military, which is now suppressing the country’s once-hopeful movement for democracy and killing dozens of activists in the process, subsists on $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid. This is a litany that will be familiar to some. To others, it will be news. But, familiar or not, it has a bearing on our notions of innocence and our right to “help.”

Let us begin our activism right here: with the money-driven villainy at the heart of American foreign policy. To do this would be to give up the illusion that the sentimental need to “make a difference” trumps all other considerations. What innocent heroes don’t always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage. We can participate in the economic destruction of Haiti over long years, but when the earthquake strikes it feels good to send $10 each to the rescue fund. I have no opposition, in principle, to such donations (I frequently make them myself), but we must do such things only with awareness of what else is involved. If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.

Success for Kony 2012 would mean increased militarization of the anti-democratic Yoweri Museveni government, which has been in power in Uganda since 1986 and has played a major role in the world’s deadliest ongoing conflict, the war in the Congo. But those whom privilege allows to deny constellational thinking would enjoy ignoring this fact. There are other troubling connections, not least of them being that Museveni appears to be a U.S. proxy in its shadowy battles against militants in Sudan and, especially, in Somalia. Who sanctions these conflicts? Under whose authority and oversight are they conducted? Who is being killed and why?

All of this takes us rather far afield from fresh-faced young Americans using the power of YouTube, Facebook, and pure enthusiasm to change the world. A singer may be innocent; never the song. 

Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/