Activism, BLM, Politics

White Saviors Need to Leave the Room

She called herself Kalamity, though that’s not her real name. She’s the white woman who called me a racist for noting that Indigenous children who live in communities where parents own their homes tend to have a higher standard of living and care than those who live in reserve communities where property is owned communally. This was the day after she schooled me, a Desi, together with a Kenyan woman—the only two non-white individuals in our class—on the proper use of people-of-colour nomenclature.

“I’m not sure I like that phrase,” said the Kenyan woman.

I agreed. Of all the ways to describe oneself, why would I self-define as not white.

“Women of colour chose it,” Kalamity informed us. By this, I learned, she meant black intersectional feminists.

This wasn’t the first or last time that Kalamity treated us like elementary-school children in catechism class. I didn’t like this feeling.

Kalamity also called me out as racist for disagreeing with her pronouncement that those Charlie Hebdo cartoons from 2015 were racist. That Kalamity could not read French and was unfamiliar with both Charlie Hebdo and the French satirical tradition made no difference to her. Kalamity was acting like a good white person because she was saying the things that good white people are supposed to say.

One might call it White Saviourism. It nourishes the idea that those who have little melanin must adopt a heroic pose in regard to those who have much. So women like me require saving, regardless of whether we consent to it or not. Melanin people must know their low place in society, since the conceit of the white saviour depends on the existence of someone in peril. Otherwise, there’s no demand for white saviours to come charging in heroically on their white horses. Why does this remind me of some surreal form of colonization?

For all the talk about “people of colour,” I’ve noticed that East and South Asians lately have been having trouble getting their woke parking stubs validated. The socioeconomic data make the narrative harder to sustain, and you hear a lot about people like me “internalizing” white supremacy. That’s the thing about “whiteness,” we’re told. It can be spread, like a disease.

As a Desi—a person of South Asian ancestry living abroad—I feel like the custard filling in a culture-war mille-feuille, with alt-right xenophobes on one side and Kalamity’s Wokus Pokus acolytes on the other. More and more, this latter group is migrating to new terminology that more explicitly sets out the intersectional status hierarchy, such as with “BIPOC”—“black, Indigenous and people of color.” The old adage among activists was all about a sense of solidarity spanning all people of color. Now, things are more complicated. In early June, the president of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) recently got called out by anti-racist activists for not explicitly name-checking anti-black racism in her denunciation of racism more generally. So she had to publish a whole new, and more specific, denunciation of racism.

The kind of supremacy we hear about is white supremacy. But history shows that, when given the chance, everyone likes lording it over everyone else. I think of Guyana, my dad’s South American homeland, a place devastated by racial strife. Europeans in Guyana depended on slave labor until it was abolished in 1838. To run their plantations, colonialists then brought in indentured workers from India. When their descendants speak of the coolie trade, some are reminded that it wasn’t true slavery—and that it’s a form of anti-black racism to compare the two. Taken to its extreme, as it often is, this kind of denial of historical nuance can become a form of collective gaslighting.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer, America’s conflicts have spilled into Canada, where I live. We have our own issues north of the border. But I wonder how much of the recent social panic here is just an opportunistic outpouring of pre-existing ideological grievances.

When it comes to the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous population, “reconciliation” has been the watchword for years now. But it’s a collectively told lie, a polite euphemism for coerced public confessions. We are being instructed to validate the oppression experienced by others. Predictably, this sort of exercise becomes a competitive game, since every group has something to complain about. There is never any honest attempt to understand the real human condition we all inhabit.

Just a few years ago, the attention of Canada was focused on Attawapiskat, a tiny Cree community in northern Ontario that had fallen into crisis. Adrian Sutherland, a singer from Attawapiskat, recently told the media that the old problems are still around—undrinkable water, poverty, degraded infrastructure. All those land acknowledgements we love to be seen reciting don’t seem to have helped Attawapiskat much. June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada. But you wouldn’t know it from reading Canadian social media, which is all about Black Lives Matter, the cause de jour.

Last year, a report came out that accused the Canadian government of perpetuating an ongoing genocide against Indigenous women. A few months later, Justin Trudeau was telling the world that Canada deserves a seat on the UN Security Council. Genocide? That was so 2019. It’s all about optics and letting people know how woke you are—as with CBC journalist Piya Chattopadhyay, who instructed her Twitter followers to “diversify your friend group by race, class and gender,” like stocks in a portfolio. As always, buy low, sell high. Black Lives Matter is hot right now, so it might be a good time to invest in Central Asian, working-class, and gay.

A term we hear a lot today is “structural racism,” often called “institutional racism.” The idea here is that some kinds of racism are invisible forces embedded within organizations, laws, or even whole political systems. It’s not a crazy idea. But what the Kalamitys of the world like about it most is that, since structural racism is invisible to lay people, the masses require the priestly guidance of anti-racist experts so they know what to denounce. This week, it’s one thing. Next week, it’ll be another. Check Twitter daily for instructions.

I struggle with the cognitive dissonance that has come to define Canada—a country with a real history of colonial cruelty in regard to Indigenous people, while also becoming (by international standards) a bastion of tolerance and multiculturalism. Which one is my Canada—the one where Indigenous people can’t drink the tap water, or the one that settles tens of thousands of refugees every year? Sometimes, we’re expected to wave the flag and announce our patriotism. At other times, it becomes a thoughtcrime to speak of Canada as anything but a hive of bigotry. As a victim of domestic abuse who sometimes reads these political manias as allegories for the gaslighting I endured at home, I find it hard to divide the personal from the political. It all reminds me of Flowers in the Attic.

Race doesn’t matter: Wasn’t that the whole idea we’d been fighting for in the first place? How has this non-existent category become something that none of us can stop talking about? That’s one of the questions I was looking to answer at Kalamity’s course, which was supposed to help people like me run our own workshops. But after she branded me a racist, I never went back. It upset me, actually. At the time, and for a long time afterwards, I didn’t really understand why. Now I understand that she was gaslighting me, trying to make me believe that I was the crazy one, the racist. Who knows how many other “women of colour” have left her course feeling the same way.

We need to have a discussion about racism—including a discussion about what that word means. I don’t know what that discussion will look like. But I know it will be different from the one we’re having now, with more nuance and fewer accusations. All those white saviors are welcome to attend. But first, they’ll have to dismount from their steeds and take a chair, just like everybody else.

 

Rukhsana Sukhan tweets at @RukhsanaSukhan.

Comments

  1. But after she branded me a racist, I never went back. It upset me, actually.

    May I suggest that the next time a white liberal calls you a racist, you respond by saying, in a loud, voice: “Shut the f**k up, you stupid white bitch!”

    Black women would never allow a white woman to call them racist.

  2. Turns out people get upset when they are insulted, for instance by being called a racist by a sanctimonious asshole.

    I just don’t understand.

  3. “The kind of supremacy we hear about is white supremacy. But history shows that, when given the chance, everyone likes lording it over everyone else.”

    This is exactly right. Europeans are no worse than any other major power in world history. Every successful civilization has been ethnocentric, exploitative and expansionist. Historically, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Khmer, the Mongols, the Ottomans, the Egyptians, the Inca, the Aztec, etc. all regarded themselves as superior to other cultures. They conquered and enslaved their “inferiors” and justified their actions on the basis of supremacist ideology. Europeans are singled out as being uniquely evil because they were extraordinarily successful at subjugating vast areas of Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Other civilizations would have almost certainly done the same if they had the opportunity, as Japan proved in the 1930s and 1940s.

    The descendants of Europeans should acknowledge the atrocities their ancestors committed, but history should not focus exclusively on the horrors of slavery and colonialism. It’s deeply unfair to compare the worst aspects of Western civilization with idealized versions of non-Western cultures. An honest appraisal of Europe’s heritage must include the uplifting influence of Christian morality and the intellectual achievements of the Enlightenment, which combined to abolish slavery for the first time in world history. American slavery was an abomination, but the civilization which established that institution also ended it. It’s possible and necessary to hold these two ideas in one’s head at the same time.

    In the past, U.S. history often whitewashed the awful realities of the American past. Now, many historians focus exclusively on the country’s crimes while ignoring its accomplishments. We should take a balanced approach to the study of all cultures, admiring their triumphs and acknowledging their failures – including our own. Instead, we have “coerced public confessions,” and “[t]here is never any honest attempt to understand the real human condition we all inhabit.”

  4. A quick observation of protests in the US is that they are largely composed of young white people, doing the screaming and trashing, a perfect example of the white saviour complex. I agree with the writer that this complex is widespread and part of the ongoing problem in racial relations. Peggy McIntosh, originator of the white privilege theory and Robin diAngelo, originator of white fragility are perfect examples of white saviours. In my view, both women and others like them are poisonous individuals whose theories are dangerous to society. One thing I have been wondering but rarely see reported on is the reaction of ordinary black people to the violence and destruction being perpetrated by white people in their name. I should imagine they are horrified and afraid for what might follow. Do the white youth ever bother asking the black people if they want their help or is it just more white saviour action?

  5. I lived in Attawapiskat for two years. In that time I saw the Chief and his friends get new pickup trucks and skidoos while others in the town had no running water. The money was coming from Canadian taxpayers. It was intended, of course, to go toward the infrastructure and school resources.

    By the time I left there was a new Chief and she was blasting the gov’t for auditing the expenses given to them. Kalamities everywhere, who had never set foot on the reserve, were with her. They said the gov’t had no right to investigate what happened to the money they gave. They were trying to figure out why the town wasn’t getting it’s buildings and schools fixed and they were trying to get the damn buildings fixed. But the Chief in Attawapiskat and all the Kalamities in Southern Ontario called such an initiative “racist” and tried to block it.

    Author missed a chance to follow through on bringing this up. Not only does our grovelling predictably accomplish nothing, but sending them money to fix the issues also accomplishes nothing when their leaders misappropriate all the funds.

  6. “We need to have a discussion about racism—including a discussion about what that word means. I don’t know what that discussion will look like. But I know it will be different from the one we’re having now, with more nuance and fewer accusations.”

    No, thanks. No such “discussion” is possible. There are 24 hours in a day, and every minute spent talking about racism is a minute taken from real, important questions. Race is not the needle of our moral compass.

    The clandestine communism, the bolshevism in blackface, that aims to replace Christianity as our dominant religion is counter revolutionary. Genuine “domestic enemies,” engaged in genuine “insurrection.” I have seen and heard enough. I have no other interest in it, except crushing it totally.

  7. Is it really just white saviors though? For sure, there are whole bunch of privileged white SJWs who enjoy the chance to smash things up with little consequence, but there are plenty of black people who are using the present situation to their advantage. You mentioned Peggy McIntosh, who wrote about the invisible knapsack of white privilege. Well,
    blacks have a knapsack too. Consider the case of Marilyn Booker.


    She was first hired by Morgan Stanley as a diversity director. That job probably entailed a very nice salary and not that much work. Being black and a woman certainly helped her get the job. A white man could not get it. After 25 years of employment, she was fired. Now, right after Floyd video, she is suing the company, saying she was fired for pushing for greater diversity (by diversity, she means employment of a one specific race). My bet is that she will get a nice out-of-court settlement. Victimhood has amazing fringe benefits.

  8. What do you think will? I’ve been struggling over this question for too long and have given up. All my friends except one are very far left “woke” types and I’ve not a clue how to get them to accept a less extreme world view. I would never ask or expect them to become conservatives but it would be nice to be surrounded by less extreme rhetoric 24/7. I wouldn’t have to get it all out on Quillette if I had friends who could handle talking about politics without descending into “you’re apologizing for fascism” nonsense.

  9. Hi everyone, first post, thought it was a good one to do. As a member of America’s sentient hat this article helps show that despite our two countries differences, we are encountering the same rhetoric regarding structural racism and white supremacism and how it really hasn’t been helpful to those who could really benefit from having a better go of it with a smarter form of dialogue.
    The ever-present situation in the US has allowed a lot of us Canadians to spend far too much time castigating Trump and focusing on y’all while avoiding the more useful reflection that our woke PM is a right goofy dink, and left or right we’re all kind of sunk with this eradication of public discourse.
    We have had numerous examples in the last month happening in Canada of events that involve cops and natives, while also regarding the one-year anniversary of the MMIW inquiry that still hasn’t disproved the RCMP’s report that native women’s main culprit for injury and death are, you guessed it, Frank Stallone! (70 per cent, Frank? Jeepers!)
    No, of course it’s native men- domestic and misogyny- and indicative of the cycle of abuse that can occur in those realms.
    Collectively we are all sad about female native’s almost destined path to tragedy but we also are quite aware of the rampant corruption of many tribal chiefs and councils (pointed out earlier by @Fantasmo it is truly rampant when you look at Federal spending vs the result on the reserve). Possibly the whole political spectrum of Canada could come together to protest the Indian Act.
    Honestly, I have a very strong reaction to the charge we are a genocidal country. There are plenty of incidences of race-based violence and there are even more horrible situations where a person inflicts violence on another person because they are shitty no matter what who they are.
    Anyway, this is like a first-time at a comedy open night, get this out of the way I’m sure I’ll get better and I’m looking forward to joining the QC’s fray.

  10. Your mother is so woke she sold you as a slave to teach you about white privilege

    Your mother is so woke she conceived you from male tears

    Your mother is so woke you now call her dad

    I could keep going. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

  11. We need to have a discussion about racism—including a discussion about what that word means.

    Dealing with these people is like dealing with the terrible-twos… the more you pay them any attention, the more they crave and demand it. After 50 years of “discussion” on topics like race relations (or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict), I’m done. These people are simply not worth another minute of yours or my time. They do nothing constructive and bring nothing to the table. Go out and do something constructive with your life in your own locale. It’s all that matters in the end.

  12. The irony of it is that Europeans get stuck with the blame because they happened to be the most powerful cultures in the world when all of that stuff ended…

    Ended because… Europeans decided it was bad… :thinking:

  13. White men:

    • Ended slavery

    • Gave the vote to women

    • Invented whisky

    Not bad.

  14. Yo mama so woke…

    -Privilege checks her
    -She has her own adverbs
    -She cancelled Helen Keller twice. Once for not seeing race, once for White Silence
    -She made a credible allegation of sexual assault against her detachable shower head
    -She likes the upbeat, positive message of Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones (but doesn’t listen to it because rock music is cultural appropriation).
    -M * A * S * H didn’t end. She cancelled it.

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