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A Savior No One Needs: Unpacking

and Overcoming the White Savior

Complex

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Hady Nyah/Getty Images

Helping people is a good thing, right?

Not always.

White savior complex is a term that’s used to describe white people who consider themselves wonderful helpers to
Black,
Indig
enous and People of Color (
BIPOC) — but they “help” for the wrong reasons (and sometimes end up doing more to hurt than help).

Keep in mind that this doesn’t refer to
all white people. White savior complex, sometimes called white savior syndrome or white saviorism, refers to those who work from the assumption that they know best what BIPOC folks need.

They believe it’s their responsibility to support and uplift communities of color — in their own country or somewhere else — because people of color lack the resources, willpower, and intelligence to do it themselves.

In short, white saviors consider themselves superior, whether they realize it or not. They swoop in to “make a difference” without stopping to consider whether that difference might not, in fact, have more negative effects than positive ones.

Real-world examples

White saviors often speak passionately about their desire to “do the right thing.” Yet their actions usually involve very little input from the people they’re attempting to help.

Their intentions may be noble — many white saviors believe their actions challenge the white supremacy and racism so deeply threaded into American society.

In reality, though, white saviorism tends to emphasize inequality, because it continues to center the actions of white people while ignoring (or even invalidating) the experiences of those they’re claiming to help.

Here are a few examples.

Missionary work

Missions regularly send young people to provide short-term support to developing countries, especially after disasters. These missionaries bring with them plenty of enthusiasm and love, but they generally have little to offer by way of actual work qualifications.

Some missionaries set up clinics and provide healthcare services without any medical training or experience. Others work together to build schools or homes in the community, completely discounting the skilled but unemployed workers in the community who actually have construction training and experience.

Consequently, the help they provide often creates more problems than solutions for the people they intend to help. It’s a quick, temporary bandage for concerns that