• Carmen Milligan

White Savior is not always bad

I have heard more and more about white people being accused of acting like a "White Savior" of black people. First things first, though, is the definition of the term. It was coined by Nigerian American writer Teju Cole, and (very basically) it describes white people coming to the aid of people of color without properly understanding/acknowledging their own influence in the existence of that problem.


One video I watched used a few movies as examples: Hidden Figures, Avatar, Django Unchained, and The Help.


"Why wouldn't they want to center themselves in every narrative?", the speaker asks, talking about the white star of the movie.

In "Hidden Figures", the Kevin Costner character is hardly the center character. He is not featured on promotional material, and his name is fourth in billing, after the names of the main (black) actresses playing the lead roles.


In "Django Unchained", Jamie Foxx is centered first and foremost on the promotional material, as well as receiving top billing. The same goes for Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird", Leigh Anne Tuohy in "The Blindside", Samuel Bass in "12 Years a Slave" (which was historically accurate, for cripes sake), Branch Rickey in "42", John Quincy Adams in "Amistad", and the list goes on and on of films said to be based on this complex. Are you trying to tell me that ANY of these white characters could/should have been played by an actor of color? Really?


The speaker in the video referenced above goes on to say that White Savior complex is a part of white supremacy and was the foundation of slavery.


Wow. I don't know what history book she is reading, but slavery in America happened for one reason and one reason only: free labor. There was NO (notice the all-caps used here) altruistic intention of "saving black and brown people from a living hell of heathen savagery". This narrative is as wrong as saying that the Civil War was not fought over the right to own slaves. European countries, then America, captured and transported these people because white men had better weapons, better organization, and dominated those they were capturing.


But there have also always been white people who believed this was wrong, and actively worked against it. I have never heard Abraham Lincoln accused of having white savior complex. Why is that? Why does the Kevin Costner character in "Hidden Figures" get accused? Because he pulls down the bathroom sign that says "Colored Ladies Room"? He wasn't doing it for accolades or social media likes, but because he wanted his best mathematician closer to him.


And the white dentist in Django wasn't looking for anything more than for Django to identify the men who would bring a hefty bounty when captured, dead or alive. So, what makes this character have the white savior complex?


If you are going to throw examples out there, you should be prepared to support them. And I'm not buying these examples.


Are there examples of white savior complex out there? Sure. What about Madonna adopting a child from Malawi, despite laws requiring adoptive parents to live in the country for 18 months? And what did Madonna say about the controversy? That all that mattered was that she was able to bring the child home? Nope. That she was looking forward to providing the best environment possible for this child? Nope. She said that the adoption controversy had made her stronger. Well, thank god. Because we were all concerned about YOU, Madonna. White Savior Complex? Hell, yes.


In 1965, when the most far-reaching civil rights legislation was passed in the United States, there were six African American members of the U.S. House of Representatives and no Black people in the U.S. Senate. Was it a Congress full of people with white savior complex? No. It was a Congress full of white people who did the right thing.


So, get your facts straight, accusers. There are, indeed, a few who can be called out for this complex, but not nearly as many as you'd like to think, and certainly hardly any of the ones you are calling out.


White people have made a difference in the history of black civil rights because the white people were the only ones other white people would listen to. There are far more Caucasians that care about doing the right thing than gaining accolades, and you are only going to push those to the side while you are busy (and loudly) calling out the few who only have their own pride in mind.


The bottom line is that you can't do it alone. We all need one another. Just like women couldn't own property or vote until men said they could. Those men weren't pandering to women. They were doing the right thing. And women took the power they were given to gain more power, freedoms, and positions. And we continue to do so as the glass ceiling is broken, piece by piece. Unfortunately, the white patriarchy has been around a long, long time, and you refusing help because of the color of skin that it comes in may not be progress.


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