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  •  I am at a restaurant in Johannesburg, SA with my African Sister. The (black) waiter comes to bring the bill. He puts it in front of (white) me. But I am the lowly missionary guest of my high profile, (Black) Attorney sister/girlfriend.
  • I turn on the TV. There is a show on of fat bellied starving, sick and dying (black) kids with flies on their faces. I know that most of the African Africans, (not African Americans) cringe at the sight, are put off that this is how their Africa is being portrayed.

Africa is a big place. It is not all like that. And why is it usually a nice, clean (white) American who is lending the helping hand? (at least for the camera) What about the local workers on the ground who stay behind and feed, care for the sick and bury or nurse to health those poor dying souls? Where is their photo? Will they ever see the money raised on behalf of those in their care? Will their names ever be published as the ones who did all the work for the aid workers, mission outreaches, etc., to come and “serve” their people? Will they be noticed in time gone by as the true heroes of help?

Probably not. While their own children and families likely suffer at home in near poverty because they are working so hard to help THEIR own people, they rather look the other way as long as some good is coming out of it. “After all,” they think, “we need the help”.

Because then, what would the people who were doing these noble things by coming from their affluent America, say to the donors who financed the trip? “Yes we were really there. We saw it first hand. We came and really did something. The people were so grateful there, so warm and welcoming. We have to bring more people to help. They will die without our help”. It is called the “Savior Syndrome”.

We (white America) sees it this way: “shouldn’t they just be grateful we left our homes, came all this way, sacrificed to be here? After all, they are so blessed to have all this help. They must really love us a lot.”

Hopefully, I have sparked something in you through this. Don’t get me wrong. I am one of those Americans. I have spent over 30 years of my life in Africa working amongst some pretty big needs. But now, I am African on the inside and my eyes have been turned into African eyes. I cringe at my early thinking. I feel ashamed that (my) Africa is so patronized, exploited and pitied. I only wish that America and the rest of the world, could learn even a touch of what makes Africa rich in resources. Yes, there are resources of gold, diamonds, copper and the like. But that is not what makes Africa rich. It is the culture of respect, honor, the value placed on relationships that make her great. America is, in fact, impoverished in these areas. America needs Africa and Africa’s values. I am forever indebted to be able to embrace the true heart of Africa, barely skimming the surface of understanding just how rich I have become through being here.

This post from bytheirstrangeproof.com pretty much sums it up for me: “The ‘white savior complex’ is particularly strong when it comes to white aid in Africa. Often church missions have a concept of the ‘poor starving children of Africa’ and very little understanding of the self-empowerment and independence that can thrive in our absence.”   

See this tongue-in-cheek video on common pitfalls of media portrayal. How Not to Write About Africa – Binyavanga Wainaina – narrated by Djimon Hounsou

What feelings has this post stirred up in you? What have been your experiences,-on both sides of the globe, and what can we learn from them?

My 500 Words Day 19