Media can make activists into white saviors

Posted on Apr 1 2016 - 7:02am by Reuben Johnson

Is the White Savior Complex real at UM? I like to think not, but trying to measure a person’s sincerity is not easy. It is strategically smarter to focus more on the efforts put forth and not the character, or lack thereof, of the person.

Since my freshman year, I have borne witness to many despicable events surrounding race dynamics. Considering the volume of forewarning I received concerning UM’s racial history and its effects on the present, I cannot say what I have witnessed here thus far is the least bit surprising, sadly enough. The white faces that strive to understand the concept of structural oppression as opposed to denying its existence, however, consistently pique my interest.

While many, including myself, meet this act with gratitude, internalized confusion follows. The damning confusion stems from the belief that the motives of the activists aren’t genuine. Tirelessly, I wonder if their drive is fueled by the idea of attaining personal gains or the hankering to enact change because, as many have pointed out, these activists could be striving to attain a cookie by wreaking havoc down avenues where many who look like them wouldn’t dare go (cc: Kony 2012).

Last semester, the UM community witnessed a monumental step towards progressivism by pulling down the Mississippi State flag. Naturally, organizations such as the BSU and the NAACP joined forces in spearheading a coalition of students unified in support of a goal. Momentous as this occurrence was, it failed to garner the attention it deserved. This wasn’t the case for a particular white male, whose similar efforts rose to national prominence quicker. Easily, I dismissed the fact that no one a part of either organizations critiqued this issue as I attributed the silence to the idea that this was expected by other organizer’s, even though efforts for inclusion started well before he embarked on his “woke” journey.

While I know his efforts were the product of sincere allegiance to the advancement of the great cause, he focused way too much on the public’s perception of his actions. This made his actions seem exploitive and made him appear to be a vain person.

As an activist or ally, it is vital to continuously educate yourself so you are aware of the effects of your actions. I would rather not hear about anyone checking their privilege all of the time nor does it comes as no surprise that your ancestors may have had a hand in slavery; I think we all had that realization during our first history lesson. There is no need for a Twitter dissertation about your sudden realization because that is when attention is taken away from the cause and given to the activist.

In closing, I’ve grown into the realization the white savior complex is a product of media bias and a subtle comment on whose opinion they choose to validate. It is also clear that, we all come from different walks of life and, in those lives, we experience very different journeys – that could shape our views on the world.

Reuben Johnson is a junior journalism major from Indianola.