“Me and White Supremacy” has been without doubt the most important book and I’ve read this year. It’s helped me make sense of how we’ve got to where we are in the world. Importantly for me, it’s put a name to experiences and conditions that people of colour find themselves in every day. The simple act of reading about a particular, uncomfortable feeling and confirming that it’s actually “a thing” is empowering. It’s opened up real conversations.
I’ve wanted to write a review of this book from the moment I finished it, but it’s a daunting task, because it’s so important, and so fundamental to my person growth. I would hate to do it a disservice.
So I’m breaking it down into sections to share my own views on certain elements. Starting with “White Saviourism”.
So what is “White Saviourism”?
There’s no doubt this is one of the more surprising and complex manifestations of White Supremacy. It unpicks a lot of good intentions to reveal how it preserves the narrative of White people are “better” than Black people.
On Day 18 of the “Me and White Supremacy” programme, we’re introduced to a quote from Angie Thomas, incredible role model and author of “The Hate You Give.”
Funny. Slave masters thought they were making a difference in black people’s lives too. Saving them from their “wild African ways”. Same shit, different century. I wish people like them would stop thinking that people like me need saving.”
White Saviourism is the ongoing assumption that White people from wealthy, Western worlds, can save the poor, ignorant, inferior people of colour through their natural superiority.
“Oh dear. Look at those poor Black people in that African village. What they need is a village hall! I’ll nip over there with my buddies and build them a village hall. That will save them. Honestly…..imagine living without a village hall. How positively barbaric.”
This concept really got me thinking, especially about popular culture’s role in this harmful narrative. Layla F Saad, author of “Me and White Supremacy” shares examples including The Last Samurai (thank goodness Matt Damon was there to rescue all those people. There won’t have been a single strong, brave, competent person among the Samurai population), The Blind Side, Avatar and The Help.
When I saw The Help quoted, I dug out my old copy. I loved this book when I read it in 2010. Marian Keyes quotes on the front, “it’s vitally important, deftly handled and VERY courageous.” (Phew. If a popular White author recommends it then it must be ok.) I was so naïve. And I’m really sad about it, because I really did love that book. I didn’t know any better back then, I hadn’t read any better, even as a woman of colour, I hadn’t explored more diverse narratives than the literature of White authors. I didn’t understand the tightly bound systems that keep White people on top.
I thought about the basic plot of The Help more closely…..
Mississippi in the 1960s, just before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Wealthy White families. Black maids. Precious White children cared for by maternal, big bosomed, sassy Black nannies. Smart, intellectual, empathetic White heroine.
The racism shown by the White families towards their Black employees is depicted in many ways, most notably through the emerging trend to build separate toilets for the Black members of the household (the ones cleaning the toilets in the main part of the house). Our White heroine, Skeeter, is a budding journalist and with her superior education saves the situation and rescues the Black people. By comparison, the best thing our Black leading character can do is shit in a pie.
Take this down to its basic level.
White people write. Black people defecate.
Now I appreciate this is a very crude summary of the book. I’m being deliberately simplistic to demonstrate my point. One of the reasons White Saviourism is so complex to learn about is because it’s disseminated subtly. It’s so interwoven into Western culture that we’re conditioned not to see it. It’s perpetuated by well-meaning people (most of the time) who would be mortified to think they’re harming any body.
That’s why self-education is absolutely crucial. Taking the time to learn about these uncomfortable truths helps all of us understand. This gives us the ability to gradually unpick systemic racism. Deliberately changing the narrative is a powerful act of anti-racism.
In the style of Layla F Saad, who demands her readers ask tough questions of themselves, I challenge you to think of how you’ve accepted White Saviourism. And now that you’ve learnt a little bit more about it, what will you do to understand the world in a balanced way?
(Thanks for reading this – I know I’ve been pretty sarcastic in places. This subject just puts me in that kind of mood.)