The Only Kind of White 'Saviour' we Really Need

The white saviour complex was something I remember first learning about in my first year of university in my Women & Gender Studies course — it was basically explained to us as when white people direct their energy to seemingly ‘help’ a person or people of colour (POC) who are in need, but ultimately do so to serve themselves and their own narrative. Pretty self explanatory, and we see it in Hollywood all the fucking time (i.e. The Blind Side, Green Book, The Help, that stupid scene in Hidden Figures when Kevin Costner axes down the ‘Whites Only’ sign over the bathroom, and so many others; probably some in production right now). It’s existence in the media is one thing, but it’s also true with organizations, government agencies and nation states. Where these white bodies act as the all-knowing saviours who can solve our problems only if we let them into our communities to help us. I spent years fundraising for international development organizations and I don’t have enough fingers and toes combined to count the amount of times a white person (usually a middle-aged man) came up to me to explain what the ‘real’ problem with Africa was and what they need to do to get themselves out of poverty and become more like us.

I’m not even going to go into how and why this is so problematic and detrimental to our communities and our future, because who actually has time for that… But what I will say and stress is that we don’t need fixing. Especially not from the descendants of those who are responsible for most of our suffering for centuries.

Nonetheless, like any other movement, we still need support and help, and that help does sometimes need to come from white people. It has to come in the form of taking responsibility for their actions and the actions of their ancestors. To be held accountable for how we have been and continue to be oppressed by the society they’ve built. We need white people who will acknowledge the generational damage that was caused through their advancement in society. We need reparations. And when I talk about reparations, I’m not always referring to monetary forms (although living in a capitalist society does make having money very necessary to move forward anywhere), but rather in the form of real attempts to repair damage in a way that will actually serve us and not to make them feel good about themselves; like in the form of legislation, for example. We need white people asking us what we need, and being an invisible warrior to the cause. Not helping for any reason that’s for their benefit, but simply because it’s right and has to be done. We need them getting involved with grassroots community organizing and helping by really listening to what is said is needed to thrive, and by using the privilege and power in society that comes with having white skin to help those goals be met. Using their voice against racism in the world today, in their homes, and online. This next one might only be an opinion that I hold, but I think that if one isn’t aware of what their ancestors have done, they should research it and try to make amends with the populations and communities of those that were harmed. For example, if someone is of Italian decent, perhaps giving support to the large Eritrean community in Toronto. Or someone with a Jewish background standing up and speaking up against the Palestinian occupation. And if the only thing that is known is one’s Canadian or American lineage, then maybe they should try to do all that they can to improve the lives of Indigenous populations across this continent. We need spaces that are created specifically for POC to learn and express themselves and heal. We need donations in funds and more importantly, in time. And I’m going to mention this one more time, because I don’t think I can stress it enough, but we need white people who speak up against the racist, closed-minded, or right-winged members in their family at Thanksgiving dinner. Not to simply shake their heads and blame it on older generations being a lost cause, because those older generations are the ones creating the policies that are shaping our lives today and our future. There is power in numbers and there is power in the union of voices. There will always be ways to help and there is always something to be done, but I feel that it only happens when one removes themselves from the centre of the narrative and moves away from the superiority complex of a European/Western frame of mind.

White guilt is inevitable but it is not useful on its own. Feeling guilty doesn’t actually help anyone. Feeling sad for others or feeling lucky for the life you were born into without giving back to those who were not as lucky does not serve the collective, and does not help the progression of society. Instead of guilt or shame, that should be channeled into feeling empowered and motivated to help the cause, because you can. We just all need to simultaneously play our part.

Lastly, since this blog is a space for POC, I can’t let this piece only be directed to white folk and white allies, so I’ve complied a list of local community services and programs that are here for us. I strongly believe that the trauma that comes with living in North America in a racialized body and the trauma inherited through our DNA from what our ancestors endured are things that should automatically qualify us all for free counselling and therapy and other forms of mental health support. When someone is born at a disadvantage than the rest, that requires extra investment, a boost in the right direction to account for the unequal level playing field. (I also think this would be a great area for government bodies to intervene as a form of reparations too, but that’s a topic for for another time.) So, here’s a list of some things that readers may find helpful, and is by no means an exhaustive list — there are plenty more in the area, and if you know of any others that do great work, please share for others in the comment section!

I love us for real ~

  1. (free trauma-informed counselling)

  2. (outside Toronto, within the GTA, free drop-in counselling)

  3. (low cost art therapy)

  4. (free drop-in counselling & activities)

  5. (free counselling for youth)

  6. (free counselling for Black youth)

  7. (free counselling for LGBTQ+, Black, Indigenous and new comers)

  8. (list of Aboriginal resources for youth, women, sexual health, legal aid, educational or employment training, pre and post natal services, and more)

  9. (free health services for all Native persons in Canada)

For those with benefits and insurance: (list of Black Canadian counsellors with services in Toronto)

For those who’d like to research on your own:

And for anyone in immediate crisis:

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