THE WHITE SAVIOR IS ALIVE AND WELL

Empirical nature is seen as the driving force behind philanthropy

A month after Hurricane Eta and Iota wreaked havoc across Honduras, who is actually helping the worst affected?

“Imagine losing everything, being on top of the roof of your house and there’s nowhere for the water to go. It is still flooded.” Vanessa Velasquez lives in the coastal town of Tela but describes a scene that can be found across Honduras.

She continues, “The aftermath is causing COVID-19 to rise, dengue fever has not stopped, malaria is coming back, tuberculosis, leptospirosis from rats’ urine contaminating water. People are dying and these are things you won’t hear in the news because the government won’t allow it to get out of Honduras.”

Boris Johnson is yet to acknowledge the destruction these hurricanes created and left behind. The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) jolted into action five days after the first hurricane. A celebratory blog post of their activities reports how RFA Argus will be helping “the US military’s relief operations in Honduras” and will provide “vital humanitarian and military support”. Pictures of intimidating ships with the British naval Ensign Flag fluttering in the wind complement the heroic writing. Hondurans helping their fellow citizens are not mentioned. Instead, they are “the people most in need.”

The MOD are not the first, and will not be the last, to portray themselves as the White Savior. Straubhaar has described the role of “White outsiders” lifting the “poor and oppressed in developing countries” as “universal in the Western world and its thinking”. The mentality can be found at all levels of society. From critically acclaimed Hollywood block busters, to young adults venturing into the world for the first time determined to make a difference. Many celebrities have been criticised for perpetuating this mentality, from the Royal Family to British documentary maker Stacey Dooley and singer Ed Sheeran.

While the White Savior mentality is clearly widespread in the modern Western world, it is not a new phenomenon. Rudyard Kipling’s poem, from 1899, implores readers to:

Take up the White Man’s burden –

The savage wars of peace –

Fill full the mouth of famine

And bid the sickness cease”.

Kipling evokes a mentality that was typical of the British Empire. This mentality did not end when the Empire did.


Cover Photo: George Dispiris

By Hannah Lingard: Political Columnist


No White Saviors are combatting this attitude, which they describe as “the continued portrayal of white people as heroes of every story from time immemorial”. In 2018, a group of professional women in Uganda launched their Instagram account, which now has over 800,000 followers, to hold white people accountable for harmful actions as they “have been allowed to act with impunity on the African continent for centuries”. 

Aside from history, the group acknowledges that a genuine, but misguided, want to help is fuelling the problem. They believe that while white experts might have useful skills, nothing of substance will be achieved without collaboration with “leaders, experts and community members” from the country. Most importantly, the group states, “even if you are helping, you should not be the hero of the story.”

The MOD needs to yield to this advice. Honduras will need assistance in the coming months and years.  But, instead of presenting themselves as gallant knights rescuing “devastated Honduras”, the MOD must adapt its language and how it views itself. Hondurans are not idle bystanders, pining at their blown-out windows for the British Navy.

Vanessa explains, “If anyone is getting anything, it is from the people. I’ve seen fire fighters helping and many churches are donating things that are actually helpful. The money that is coming in [to the government] is useless because it’s not reaching the people. We haven’t heard what the UK and USA is doing for Honduras. I have no idea if that help came into Honduras.”

Vanessa is modest and slow to reveal how she has been helping the hardest to reach communities close to Tela. “We had to get there by horse and had to build a small bridge with rocks so we could pass the things we had brought.”

“I know that we Hondurans are strong people. We’ve been through a lot in our lives. We will get through this.”

MACKAYAN: THE WHITE SAVOIR

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