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White Saviour Complex

Author: Nils Langewald

Date: 15th of February 2022

Picture: An example of a "White Saviour" volunteering in Africa.

White saviour complex

In this article we aim to provide information about the White Saviour Complex and how to avoid harming the people you want to help in the first place.

Within the topic of White Saviourism, also known as the White Saviour Complex (WSC), we understand the intervention of white/western groups in the process of development in African Countries [1].

The accusation of white saviourism isn’t uncommon in our case since we want help where we think help is needed, which is for the most part, in the South of the globe. We know we are white, and we want to help. But how can one help without harming the people you wanted to help in the first place?

The topic of white saviourism has several dimensions; post-colonial, social media, and abuse.

Post-colonial dimension

The problem with western involvement in African countries is that it can deny the autonomy of these states to fight their own issues [2]. It makes it incredibly hard for the people to define their own interests, because experts from western societies dictate certain issues that, from their perspective, must be solved in a certain manner. It supports colonial behavior and harms the local communities. Local initiatives usually know how to better solve problems within their communities.

Social Media

One of the main difficulties with white saviourism is the self-promotion of white saviours via social media.

We have all seen the pictures on social media… A white person showcases their social ambitions and humanness by hugging or touching a child of a different race, on their most recent trip to Africa. Self-promotion through social media is a commonly known phenomenon and for most, their only purpose on social networks, however, is it appropriate to promote yourself off the back of other people (who are more vulnerable)? Self-promotion via social media is a big aspect of the white saviuor complex. It underlines a perspective of white superiority in which white people appear as saints who redeem poor African people from their self-imposed sorrow. It is good to showcase the importance of social work but painting a wrong picture to gain attention is not right. Lastly, one should maintain the people’s dignity when publishing their picture. Ask yourself – would you like to be portrayed in this way?


Child abuse manifests itself as an aspect of the WSC. Under the cover of volunteerism, white people, come to communities in Africa and misuse the trust of the children in these communities and abuse them sexually[3]. Not only is this totally wrong, but it also demonstrates the attitude some people have towards the communities they are claiming to “help”.

How can we help without doing harm to the local communities?

Helping and showing concern about the issues is not, per se, a bad thing but there are a few things that we can look out for, to prevent harm to the communities we wanted to help in the first place. At first, we should not put ourselves in the spotlight for helping other people. It will project a picture of white superiority over the ones needing the help [4]. It is very important to ask ourselves – when posting pictures – will they contribute to “harmful stereotypes”[5] or do they have a different purpose? Do the people consent to being shown that way. We need to have respect for local culture and care about the people’s privacy [6]. We must concentrate on the richness in culture and development in these communities when we talk about them instead of finding ourselves complaining about lack of resources etc. [7]. For example, supporting businesses run by local people instead of foreigners who offer the same product. It is very important to listen to the people’s needs instead of giving them what you think they might need. The local communities know better what they need and what they don’t need. In this case communication is the key. We should ask what we can do instead of assuming that what we are willing to do is good.

When we want to help, we should think about the money we will spend to get there, and if its better invested in local projects or not. For example, a flight from Frankfurt am Main to Bamako will cost approx. 1000€… Isn’t it better to spend the money elsewhere rather than on such a flight? What is more important – having an enriching experience or to help people?

Why do we claim to be mindful of the WSC?

With AWAKE we work with local partners who know precisely what the needs of the communities are whom we want to help. No one in our team does this work to enrich him/herself. They do it to return what our society took from countries the South of the globe. We are trying to keep the costs to ourselves as minimal as possible, so that all the funding finds the people who should benefit from it the most.


[1] Olivia et al., “Our Story.” [2] Bandyopadhyay, “Volunteer Tourism and ‘The White Man’s Burden.’” [3] no white saviors, “The Implicit Trust Given to Whiteness Puts Black Children at Serious Risk.” [4] no white saviors, “How to Be an Advocate Without Perpetuating the White Savior Complex.” [5] no white saviors, “7 Tips on How To Be a Good Human While Traveling to Countries in the Southern Hemisphere.” [6] no white saviors. [7] no white savior

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