First, a plug: The White Privilege Conference is an important gathering of educators, religious workers, law enforcement professionals, social workers, and students. Today is the last day of the 18th annual conference and next year’s event will be in Grand Rapids, Michigan April 4-7, 2018. Mark your calendars.
Secondly, the workshop on Dismantling White Savior Mentality got me thinking about the times I have seen myself as the perfect person to save the day. But being White Savior Barbie is a terrible idea. (Same with White Savior Ken.)
It also got me thinking about the importance of moving from the individualism that’s become our God (“This mission trip will look great on my college application.”) to community engagement as servant leadership. (“How can I connect with people to serve, even if I don’t get any credit for it?“) In theological terms, community building makes earth as it is in heaven.
This is what we are supposed to be about if we are serious about Jesus.
I believe that my tribe of Christianity has learned a lot through our 200+ years of ministry. We still have – as a predominantly White denomination – some White Savior issues. But we are better at recognizing that the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution. In other words, we have built relationships with partners all over the world and we trust those partners who tell us what they need.
How can we dismantle a White Savior Mentality?
- Reconsider who is the expert: The local people on the ground or the not-so-local people who want – probably with the best of intentions – to swoop in and save the day?
- Trust the locals. Trust is bolstered when we are not benefitting personally.
- Build relationships. Imagine what it’s like for group after group after group to come into a community, take photos of themselves with “the needy” and then leave, never to connect with that community again. Authentic, ongoing relationships are essential.
- Ensure that leadership looks like the demographic of people being served. This also goes for local schools and non-profits. (Note: the majority of non-profits serving People of Color in the United States have staffs and boards that are overwhelmingly White.)
- Share our privilege.
- Consider a policy of “White Followship.” Listen more. Talk less.
I remember long ago when a group from a church I served went to Haiti to do good things. They were working on the second floor of a building in Port Au Prince and – as local children gathered below in the street to wave – the white church folks decided to throw candy down to those children who clamored for the treats below. If this image doesn’t make you queasy, consider checking your own White Savior issues.
Christianity is a communal way of life. Even though we live in a world that promotes individualism, Jesus calls us to something different. Ministry is not about us. Mission is not about us. Service is not about us. It’s all about making the world a little closer to what God created the world to be.
Image from the White Savior Barbie Instagram account. Yes, she has an Instragram account.