White Saviour Complex / Syndrome / Trope Part 1

What is the White Saviour Trope?

Social equity should come in the form of humble support from those in power,  those in power should bear in mind that they do and will continue to benefit from the same power which they may be fighting against.

Pran Patel

‘White Saviour’ comes in many forms. I will go through these in turn:

  1. White saviour through charity work. (Part 1)
  2. White saviour in film and the wider society. (Part 2)
  3. White saviour throughout the (explicitly and implicit) curriculum. (Part 3)

White Saviour through Charity Work

Activity 1

Where are the following places?

The above pictures include Canary Wharf (UK), Mumbai (India) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), I think it’s pretty difficult to differentiate. I would be surprised if these images are the ones you would normally associate with South-East Asia or East Africa. This is because we have been trained to believe (through our curricula and wider societal structures) that mass poverty and starvation are synonymous with these places.

We have also been trained to believe that poverty doesnt exist within western countries. Rarely are we shown poverty here at home, the article below took some time googling.


After working in East Africa within schools and with the community, I met an awful lot of well-meaning people who I would attribute the label of the white saviour to.

By well-meaning, I am talking about (us) westerners believing that they are there to save all the poor black people of Africa (or any other people of colour in any other part of the world). This, at the risk of alienating various people, is prevalent amongst teachers and liberals with their various social media post around this very topic. I’ll point out that this is not a dig at those individual people, this is a call to action against the system which inculcates people (us) into thinking that this is at all acceptable.

‘But I was only trying to help’

‘I gave up my summer to build a school’

My charity work cost me a lot of money’

All of the above statements have come from teachers I have met. Although the statements may all be completely true, I would first ask who benefited from those experiences. If you have photographs of you ‘helping’ people of colour and are circulating them across social media, you are propagating the myth that people of colour (especially in Africa) need white people (intervention) to save them, this means you are part of the problem. The white saviour trope appears on the racist side of the racist to anti-racist spectrum.


While living in East Africa, as some of you know my mother is East African, I met some of the richest, most affluent people I have met in my life (Note: I currently live in London). The idea that these people would need any ‘help’ from anybody is preposterous, I mean preposterous!

How do we view charity work on the global scene? The idea that rich affluent people of colour spending their gap years and giving up their summers to come and work with impoverished/children in the UK is ridiculous. Let us think this through, and ask is it really ridiculous? When we have professionals, nurses and fellow teachers, who are regularly using food banks. As well as,

‘The UN special rapporteur outlines the normalisation of food banks, rising levels of homelessness and child poverty, steep cuts to benefits and policing, and severe restrictions on legal aid.’

‘In 2017, The Joseph Rowntree reported that 1.5 million people experienced destitution, meaning they had less than £10 a day after housing costs, or they had to go without at least two essentials such as shelter, food, heat, light, clothing or toiletries during a one-month period.’

Would we ever envisage affluent black Africans building a library in our local schools because they want to help/save the white population, helping out where the UK government is unwilling to fund schools properly?

This disconnect, where black people can’t possibly support white people, can only be explained through the power structures that we have all come to accept and adopt as the norm.

This disconnect, where black people can't possibly support white people, can only be explained through the power structures that we have all come to accept and adopt as the norm. Click To Tweet

This may feel like a personal attack, this feeling is often described as feeling fragile. This is not useful in the slightest if anything we should evaluate the way we propagate this trope.

Remember even I (as a child of the 80s and 90s) was inculcated with the same structures and stereotypes through a colonised curriculum and toxic societal norms. I remember seeing black starving Africans children during the band-aid years and singing ‘feed the world’. As a teacher, things have changed, but only slightly we no longer sing ‘feed the world’ but those pictures and photos are prevalent in our assemblies and lessons.

STOP USING THEM NOW or consider simultaneously using pictures of starving children in the UK.

Activity 2

Analyse these screenshots of google searches, What do you notice about the pictures?

UK children.png
african children.png

This is wider society, these images are rife and we too have been subject to years of its toxic associations.

It is our duty to be different.

This blog is part of three part series, the links are below:

Part 1: White Saviour in Charity work.

Part 2: White Saviour in Fim

Part 3: White Saviour in the Curriculum

2 thoughts on “White Saviour Complex / Syndrome / Trope Part 1

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.