The work that I do is complicated, and I don’t always feel good about it. I have been struggling with issues like whether White folks should profit from diversity and inclusion work, and I have been trying to figure out where I fit in all of this.
Part of what makes this work complicated is that I get a lot of positive attention for the work that I do. As a man who speaks out against sexual violence, I am lauded. As a White person who speaks out against racism, I get a lot of pats on the back. I regularly have young people tell me that my words and my actions have inspired them and changed their lives. That’s enough to make my ego the size of a house . . .
So I have to check myself. I have to ground myself in the reality that the work I do must be done in concert with activists of Color, with women, with Queer activists, and others. I must remind myself that women have no choice but to do work to end sexual violence very day, and they don’t get accolades (in fact, they are often called “femi-nazis“). People of Color must combat racism every day, and they are often rewarded with accusations of “playing the race card.”
I’ve got to be careful, or I could get a complex.
Perhaps I can ride in on my White Steed of Privilege and “use my privilege” to end racism on behalf of people of color and end sexism on behalf of women and ensure that every building is accessible for the differently-abled and end hate crimes and save all the African babies, and then I can ride off into the consensual sunset!
And that complex is the exact problem that often arises when people of privilege attempt to work “on behalf of” those who are “invisible” or “don’t have a voice.” This kind of complex is created in a vacuum where there is little or no accountability to and relationships with the communities affected by the problem in question (racism, sexism, heterosexism, what have you).
I like to call this complex the White Savior Complex (though I definitely didn’t coin the term, and you could easily substitute White for any other position of privilege – “Straight Savior Complex”). White people who are in no real way accountable to those they are trying to save attempt to ride in on their privilege and save the day, often making things worse for those they are trying to serve.
I see this complex everywhere:
- White teachers who want to “save the poor brown kids”
- White “voluntourists” who want to “use their time abroad to do some real good” and help build a school while they spend a week in Guatemala
- White college kids who want to create a video that tugs at the heart strings to get people to donate a bunch of money to raise awareness to a vague cause about an African rebel who steals children and makes them child soldiers
“Wait, I think I’ve seen something about that last one on Facebook!”
Enter Kony 2012.
Kony 2012 is an effort by Invisible Children to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, a Ugandan paramilitary and commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group that is known for committing terrible atrocities against civilian populations in Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. The Kony 2012 campaign aims to make 2012 the year that Joseph Kony is captured and tried for war crimes that he has undoubtedly committed in his commanding of the brutal paramilitary army.
The main vehicle that the Kony 2012 campaign is using in their effort is the now infamous Kony 2012 viral video:
55 million views and counting