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Can’t we finally accept that some ‘white saviours’ really want to help?

7 96 4083
03.03.2019

If it’s overdue (and it is) to crash the patronising, self-serving western narrative of the “white saviour” in Africa and elsewhere, then isn’t it also important to ensure that all charitable white-on-black endeavours aren’t automatically dismissed as condescending and offensive?

The latest white saviour row is a rerun of what has become a cyclical, increasingly heated debate, turning on charity and race. Documentary maker and Strictly Come Dancing winner Stacey Dooley appeared in photographs holding a child in Uganda, for a Comic Relief film.

David Lammy responded that the last thing the world needed was another white saviour. Lammy was then accused of turning down an opportunity to work with Comic Relief, which he denies. And so it goes on.

The white saviour debate is complex and valuable, going far beyond, but also including, charity. Just as a gap-year stint in troubled areas shouldn’t be (only) a way for middle-class kids to boost their CVs, starvation and despair shouldn’t be “good PR” for halo-polishing celebrities. No one is arguing with that. However, in 2009, Ricky Gervais’s spoof of such visits (for Comic Relief) got widely slammed as tasteless. As far as I could tell, Gervais was making the point about how crass such appeals could sometimes be and Comic Relief was allowing him to do so. I thought then, as I do now, if even self-awareness ends up criticised, then where is any charity supposed to go from there?

While it’s good to learn that experts and locals are to feature more prominently in on-the-ground charity appeals, in the UK and abroad, could cynicism about the use of celebrities be........

© The Guardian