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In Response To: The White Savior Industrial Complex

July 7, 2012

This article is written in response to Teju Cole's The White Savior Industrial Complex

 

Mr. Cole provides thought-provoking and important analyses of global engagement. I am grateful for his much-needed challenge to whites/Americans/Westerners who work and volunteer internationally to move beyond simply a sentimental desire to "make a difference." This article will be required reading for the cultural competency section of my global health course and a trigger to spark introspection and dialogue in my talks and consulting work on preparing for global engagement. As he said, Westerners need to first critically examine and put pressure on our own governments to change our harmful and usually hypocritical (double standard) policies. And we have to critically examine our own motivations and assumptions. Self-awareness, humility, understanding of history and how white and American priviledge operate globally, respect for others' capacity and autonomy and a critical analysis of power structures, self-interest and political expediency are all essential characteristics (among others) of a responsible global citizen. Rather than going into international work assuming we have solutions to the world's problems (and creating still more US/Europe-based NGOs), I would like to see more Americans and Westerners consulting and collaborating with colleagues in the countries where we seek to work. We need to support local initiatives led by people who are directly affected by the problems, are best positioned to know what solutions are most appropriate and sustainable and who will be living the reality long after the visitors leave. It also wouldn't hurt us Westerners to focus on some of our own big challenges on our home soil and perhaps seek the advice of colleagues in supposedly less developed countries to help us resolve our problems. For example, I have witnessed and participated in many important advances in sexual and reproductive health and rights in countries that are well below us on the poverty scale that we would do well to emulate here in the U.S.

 

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