White Saviorism Is Not Activism.
tuesday June 16th 2020
In the midst of increasing tensions, last week, a group of White celebrities teamed up with the NAACP to highlight racial inequality, by putting together a video entitled “#ITakeResponsibility”. Needless to say, it has been met with mixed reactions across the board - and rightly so.
Intentions with this video may have been very much rooted in the right place, but the question needs to be asked, what does a video like this actually achieve?
Firstly, let’s start by addressing how this performative activism has become so indoctrinated into our society.
From films like 12 Years a Slave and The Help, to Stacey Dooley documentaries and Comic Relief charity videos, right through to the girl you went to uni with, taking photos of herself with African children she helped whilst on her gap year. The white saviour gallantly saving the world narrative is a common theme that has been perpetuated throughout history.
Take Britain’s involvement in Slavery. When and if the history of Slavery is taught in the UK, the abolishment of it usually goes along with the echos of the name, William Wilberforce. William Wilberforce, a White Politician hailing from Yorkshire headed up the parliamentary campaign to end Slavery. And whilst Wilberforce and others such as Granville Sharp, did fight tirelessly for what was morally right at the time, we rarely hear about those like Samuel Sharpe. Sharpe, regarded as a national hero in Jamaica, organised one of the nation’s largest uprisings against Slavery, only to be hung for pursuing emancipation in 1832. The Slavery Abolition Act then passed in 1833.
It happens time and time again that we are made to believe that White people are the only people who have the answers and can incite change. And whilst it is so very important that White people do step up and fight this fight too, it would be more beneficial for them to uplift Black voices so they can tell their stories. Instead of trying to appear so righteous all the time.
So, when it comes to the actors in this video, reading off lines, sharing woeful tales of how they were so implicit before, and telling us how they feel so bad, now that they’ve woken from their comfortable, white silenced, slumber, forgive us for cynical towards their promises of taking responsibility.
When George Floyd was brutally murdered by a Police Officer, we really did not need Aaron Paul doing his best Golden Globe worthy performance, staring into the camera and telling us how awful these officers were. We needed these actors to address their part in this systemic problem and start by making moves on the sets they work on and the boardrooms they sit in.
Black Actress, Viola Davis once told Porter Magazine, “If Caucasian women are getting 50 percent of what men are getting paid, we’re not even getting a quarter of what white women are getting paid.” So instead of filming a selfie video on your phone we need Black Actors to be paid equally to their White counterparts, and we need White actors to be vocal about it.
In addition to salaries, we need Black filmmakers to be invested in. Especially when they are making movies that aren’t just considered trauma porn - think Slavery and Police Brutality. We do not need any more films that perpetuate the derogatory stereotypes of Mammys or Uncle Toms or have White people saving Black people from their woes. Don’t get us wrong, films like The Hate U Give play an important role in the story of what’s going on in our world and do help raise awareness to the issues whilst opening up White people’s social conscience. But for every Selma, we need a Black Panther. We need more Girl’s Trip and Hidden Figures, films that represent Black Excellence unapologetically and show so much more of their story than the traumatic parts of it.
So really what we need from White Actors is not a video that makes the rounds on social media, so they can tick off some activism box and rest peacefully that they are on the right side of history. Instead, we need them to step down sometimes and give their space in the room to a Black voice, so we can move this narrative along.
We’ve waited long enough.