May 11, 2021 – All forms of racism and discrimination are abhorrent, but the white liberal form is extremely sinister and self-serving. It may in fact be the most destructive because it’s designed and disguised as altruism and “compassion.” The mindset and pathology behind liberal white saviorism is a deeply supremacist and racist one. Such people see themselves as morally and intellectually superior to others, and see POC as inferior, weak and infantile.
I want to be clear this is not ALL liberals, or leftists. It is never helpful to group all people into a narrow definition and broad-brush large swathes of people. What we are discussing is a narrow segment which nevertheless brings undue influence to bear on the larger group of liberals based on the social credit that comes from its so-called activism.
So, let’s delve into the pathology behind white liberal saviorism and escapism to see if we can uncover some of the ideas that motivate its more extreme and pathological manifestations.
One of the major themes I see repeatedly in this kind of liberal pathology is the drive and need for control. Like helicopter moms, they see minorities as children who are helpless, feeble, backward victims of “society” in need of their help. When a minority expresses individual freedom of thought by disagreeing with them, they are met with extreme hostility. They are called derisive names like “race traitor” or “Uncle Tom” and accused of being “inauthentic.”
The ugly truth of it is, the liberal interest in minorities is purely selfish and ultimately self-serving. They use them as tokens to display their pious virtue and moral superiority over others. They use them as a cudgel to smash others into line and halve any fair criticism of them or their motives.
They are driven by arrogance, narcissism and egotism and a sense of grandiosity and self-righteousness. They lack real empathy for others and in many ways they seek to cover up this lack with pseudo and false compassion in often over-exaggerated displays.
They have a tendency to fetishize minorities and the real struggles of those they see as inferior or marginalized. Part of this is driven by sexual voyeurism. They are affluent and live privileged lives yet they seek to live vicariously through the oppression of others. Moved by sado-masochistic desires, they long to claim oppressed and victim status due to psycho-sexual disregulation. As they face no oppression of their own and lack a coherent identity, they take on the mantle of the victimized and often at the expense of the real victims through their trivialism and commoditization of the real world experiences of others.
Like “voluntourism” (volunteering in third world countries as a form of tourism and self-aggrandization), the fetishization of minorities and BIPOC are often to gain sympathy (unwarranted), attention (undeserved) and by their attraction to the so-called “exotic.” Wealthy and affluent white men, often liberals, travel to other countries to have sex with POC women they fetishize as “exotic” and almost animalistic.
Unlike the affluent conservative white male who might satisfy this lust by going on a hunting safari and killing wild animals in Africa, the affluent liberal white male satisfies this lust, simulating a hunter’s conquest without actually having to kill anything. They get the same high from it though.
They get a sexual high from “taming” and “civilizing” the exotic or creature-like minority (in their sick minds). They project an image: “look at how powerful and great I am, I captured and tamed this dangerous beast and housebroke her.”
In liberal escapist and savior fantasy these people aren’t real. They don’t have their own minds, thoughts, desires, dreams and complexity. They serve only to develop the character of the white liberal. They are two-dimensional. It’s both insulting and infuriating to the colorless rational mind.
A great example of this pathology is the family vlogger Myka Stauffer and her “re-homed” adopted son Huxley. Myka is an affluent, liberal white woman. She suffers from severe narcissism, lack of self-awareness and self-aggrandizement.
It was clear she had fetishized Huxley, a Chinese boy who she was told was disabled and suffering from a brain tumor. In one of her videos before the family traveled to China to pick him up, she gushed about how she imagined her “little boy” will be: meek, shy, needy, clingy and dependent on her. This is what she imagined and sought out, specifically a child that was disabled and special needs.
When she got him home however and she learned he was not meek and shy but quite aggressive at times and not clingy to her. Moreover, the boy developed a bond with her husband. I think she became enraged. He wasn’t acting like the pet she wanted. He displayed resiliency and independence that offended her and shattered her white savior/creature-tamer fantasy.
These kinds of people have a desire to be the center of attention. They want to be like the “horse whisperer” that everyone sees as special, but they long to be the “POC whisperer,” the special person who figured out how to civilize and tame the stereotyped “aggressive POC.” She longed to be the one who could tame Huxley and quell his autistic tantrums. Huxley was not seen as a unique human being with his own special needs. She didn’t want to have to pay for the classes he would need and the therapy he would require. She didn’t want to have to change her uppity lifestyle as a famous influencer to learn the correct way to handle autism and special needs fits (typically due to overstimulation) which she cruelly referred to as “meltdowns.” She treated him differently than her natural born children and he was often punished and mocked on camera for “throwing a fit and having a meltdown” while she jeered in his face “why can’t you be more like your siblings?”
Huxley couldn’t be more like his adoptive siblings because he suffers from a number of serious medical issues and compacted trauma. He needed someone who would love him for who he was, and would devote and dedicate their lives to caring for him. He never should have been viewed as a prop for her influencer videos. As quickly as she decided to adopt him (on a selfish whim) she chose to “re-home” him, which is essentially retraumatizing him. It is heartbreaking enough that she did this, but then shortly after “giving him up” she and her family vacationed in Bali where she was seen wearing a $6k watch. She never saw Huxley as a human being, he was an accessory whose role was to boost her reputation as an incredible “mommy” and morally superior person.
There is a disturbing connection in my mind to Munchausen syndrome by proxy, or as it is now known Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another. FDIA or MSbP is a condition where a parent or caregiver creates the appearance of a health problem in another person. This can include injuring the person, or lying about illnesses and tampering with test results. The parent/caregiver doesn’t appear to gain anything from this and the victim could die. One thing that has been considered is the gaining of attention and sympathy from others and the ability to manipulate physicians and medical staff.
I see this as very similar in motivation to that which motivates the liberal white savior. It can be a horrible form of abuse and medical neglect. Also unique to this form of abuse is the role that health care providers play by actively, albeit unintentionally, enabling the abuse. One of the warning signs is “a parent who seems to have an insatiable need for adulation or who makes self-serving efforts for public acknowledgment of their abilities.” For example, an FDIA perpetrator is driven by a desire to vicariously experience the “sick role,” the white liberal savior is driven by a desire to vicariously experience “oppression” and the victim role. I see FDIA as a pathological manifestation similar to that of the white savior complex.
Teju Cole calls this phenomenon “The White Savior Industrial Complex” and goes into more detail in an article for the Atlantic he wrote in 2012. Writing about the viral Kony 2012 video, he made some really good points about neoliberalism in general and the mindset behind it:
Here are some of the ‘middle-class educated Africans’ Kristof, whether he is familiar with all of them and their work or not, chose to take issue with: Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire, who covered the Lord’s Resistance Army in 2005 and made an eloquent video response to Kony 2012; Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani, one of the world’s leading specialists on Uganda and the author of a thorough riposte to the political wrong-headedness of Invisible Children; and Ethiopian-American novelist Dinaw Mengestu, who sought out Joseph Kony, met his lieutenants, and recently wrote a brilliant essay about how Kony 2012 gets the issues wrong. They have a different take on what Kristof calls a ‘humanitarian disaster,’ and this may be because they see the larger disasters behind it: militarization of poorer countries, short-sighted agricultural policies, resource extraction, the propping up of corrupt governments, and the astonishing complexity of long-running violent conflicts over a wide and varied terrain.
I want to tread carefully here: I do not accuse Kristof of racism nor do I believe he is in any way racist. I have no doubt that he has a good heart. Listening to him on the radio, I began to think we could iron the whole thing out over a couple of beers. But that, precisely, is what worries me. That is what made me compare American sentimentality to a ‘wounded hippo.’ His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated ‘disasters.’ All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need.
One song we hear too often is the one in which Africa serves as a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism. From the colonial project to Out of Africa to The Constant Gardener and Kony 2012, Africa has provided a space onto which white egos can conveniently be projected. It is a liberated space in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied. Many have done it under the banner of ‘making a difference.’ To state this obvious and well-attested truth does not make me a racist or a Mau Mau. It does give me away as an ‘educated middle-class African,’ and I plead guilty as charged. (It is also worth noting that there are other educated middle-class Africans who see this matter differently from me. That is what people, educated and otherwise, do: they assess information and sometimes disagree with each other.)
In any case, Kristof and I are in profound agreement about one thing: there is much happening in many parts of the African continent that is not as it ought to be. I have been fortunate in life, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen or experienced African poverty first-hand. I grew up in a land of military coups and economically devastating, IMF-imposed ‘structural adjustment’ programs. The genuine hurt of Africa is no fiction. – Teju Cole, The Atlantic
What Cole is getting at is that white liberals often don’t see that they vote for the very policies that create the so-called “humanitarian crisis” they then wish to “save” people from. Often their idea of “making a difference” makes things worse. Toms Shoes is a great example, white liberal hipsters buy the shoes and they are told a pair of Toms will go to a poor African child. What they don’t tell you is that this often makes these very “poor Africans” dependent on White hipsters and local shoe businesses cannot compete so the local economy is effected and left worse off. They support politicians like Barack Obama who with Hillary Clinton destroyed Libya and created a place that now sells black people for as little as $400 each at open air slave markets. Cole compares the liberal white savior to the white colonial hero of the past who used POC for their own egotistical pursuits.
Zach Goldberg of Tablet Magazine wrote an article called America’s White Saviors that delves into the issues surrounding these people and how they often are harming the very people they claim they are helping:
For the woke and their allies, these rapid changes are heralded as signs of progress, leading at times to harsh criticism of anyone who would stand in their way. This ideological stridency and triumphalist attitude can be powerful weapons against political opponents but are alienating—perhaps deliberately so—to moderates and conservatives. But, in a sense, no one is put in a more strained and problematic position by the politics of white liberals than the white liberals themselves. The woke elite act like white saviors who must lead the rest of the country, including the racial minorities whose interests they claim to represent, to a vision of justice the less enlightened groups would not choose for themselves.
Consider, for instance, that black and Asian Democratsand liberals are significantly more supportive of restrictive immigration policies and lesspositive toward racial/ethnic diversity than their white counterparts. Black and Hispanic Democrats and liberals are more sympathetic toward Israel than the Palestinians (likely due in part to the fact that they tend to be more religious). They are also more likely to part ways when it comes to contemporary social and gender-identity issues, including viewsof the #MeToo movement. In all, though they do converge on some issues, the attitudes and policy preferences of the woke white left are unrepresentative of the ‘marginalized communities’ with whom they are supposed to be allies. And as woke liberals play a leading role in party politics, the Democrats, who are increasingly defined by their embrace of diversity and progressive stances on issues of racial justice, appear to do so, at least partly at the direction of a small white elite.
To understand the motivations behind the ‘great awokening’ we must first review some of the basics of political psychology. Social scientists use a model called ‘The Big Five personality traits’ or ‘five-factor model’ to describe how the relative prevalence of key character traits—extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism—shapes an individual’s political orientation. A large body of work in this field consistently finds that liberals score significantly higher than conservatives on the personality trait ‘agreeableness’ and more specifically on its sub-dimension of ‘compassion.’ In social science studies like these, agreeableness represents the tendency to be altruistic, tender-minded, cooperative, trusting, forgiving, warm, helpful, and sympathetic. The trait is closely linked with empathy and compassion toward the suffering of others. However, the relative lack of agreeableness in conservatives doesn’t meant they don’t care about the suffering of others. Rather, it suggests that liberals have a broader scope of empathy. Compared to conservatives who prioritize the well-being of the in-group—family, local community, or nation—liberals show relatively greater concern for the plight of out-groups, if not the world as a whole.
Closely related to agreeableness are the moral foundations of ‘harm/care’ (e.g., ‘whether or not someone suffered emotionally’) and ‘fairness’ (e.g., ‘whether or not some people were treated differently than others’). Moral Foundations Theory argues that ideological differences derive from the weight people ascribe to a core group of moral considerations: harm/care, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression. A substantial line of research reveals that, out of these moral considerations, liberals generally attach the most importance to the foundations of harm/care and fairness. While conservatives also tend to rate these foundations as important, their moral compass is broader and includes a greater concern for violations of purity (e.g., ‘whether or not someone was able to control his or her desires’), loyalty (e.g., ‘whether or not someone did something to betray his or her group’), and authority (e.g., ‘whether or not someone respected the traditions of society’). As with empathy, the liberal concern for harm/care and fairness relates to a larger set of targets (e.g., animals, the needy in other countries) than it does for conservatives, who are generally more concerned with threats to the in-group. The liberal conception of ‘harm’ is also far broader, which lowers the threshold at which their moral alarms are triggered.
As the graph above shows, white liberals—especially the self-identified ‘very liberal’—are significantly more likely to report intense or extremely frequent feelings of tenderheartedness, protectiveness, and sensitivity when considering the circumstances of racial and ethnic out-group members. A related graph below displays the average differences in feelings of warmth (measured along a 0-100 scale) toward whites vs. nonwhites (i.e., Asians, Hispanics, and blacks) across different subgroups. – Zach Goldberg, Tablet Magazine
The white liberal savior, as this article indicates views racial and ethnic minorities as infantile beings that they need to “protect” and care for regardless of whether that help is wanted or not. They don’t even consider the wishes of the people they think they are championing, dehumanizing them and seeing them as accessories and encouraging others to do so as well.
Yashowardhon Tiwari describes how the left has a superiority complex that is driven by egotism and the notion that they have reached the pinnacle of critical thinking and nuance and know what is best for society:
The hegemony of the Left in the academia is a contemporary, lived experience of how superiority complex articulates itself, coupled with huge remnants of colonial culture. The Left ecosystem has a deep-seated intellectual superiority complex, stemming in part from its faith in the perfect workability of the solutions that it provides to societal problems. Add to this the emotionally-stirring nature of the societal malaises themselves, which gives the Left its confidence in the self-righteousness of its position, and one gets a potentially heady mixture. The elitist origins and its continuing hold over the Left’s discourses and politics surely contribute to the psychological complex. Such a complex also results in a lack of reflection on its positions and eventually a failure in producing results on the ground. Filled with abstract idealism to be practical enough, this explains the Left’s abysmal performance where democratic processes are involved.
The feeling of entitlement of being placed at privileged positions, a holier than thou attitude, and the compulsory imposition of one’s ideological worldviews are characteristic traits of the Left, and all of these are a direct consequence of the complex that the cancerous ideologies prevalent within the Left’s fold create. One only needs to recall a petty incident such as the JNU administration demanding the ‘historian’ Romila Thapar’s CV for some regular administrative purposes and the massive uproar from the academia following it. The cooked-up fiasco around a regular procedural issue reeks of entitlement and displays an extremely egoistic attitude. Even the recent scamming of Nidhi Razdan (Allegedly, she got an appointment letter from Harvard University as an Associate Professor of Journalism, though later it turned out that she had been conned. It has also been claimed that the university doesn’t offer such a course, though it needs to be verified.) speaks volumes about the level of entitlement the superegos of people with leftist inclinations carry along. The appointment letter seemed to be such an obvious offer to the journalist that she did not feel the need to do any background check. Despite not having sufficient academic credentials to deserve the position, she didn’t care to reassess the credibility of such an appointment.
Although the journalist has made a mockery of herself which the social media has enjoyed through and through, it’s time to seriously rethink about the root cause of such a frame of mind. The rot in the academia due to extensive infiltration of the Left has been a worrying trend for decades now. One has only to do a brief survey of the academic institutions in the West and one instantly realizes that cancel culture, shunning of free speech, regulation of free thought, the unlimited expansion of the scope of hate speech, are part and parcel of the Left’s enterprise. Universities in the West are plagued with it. A culture of discussion, debates and the free exchange of ideas which is the hallmark of a university is actually anathema for the Left. Left’s hegemony has left the universities as a marketplace of ideas in a battered condition, and the dissenters have been reduced to cripples without any institutional support. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the quality of research has been hit hard. The superiority complex has served as a major driving force behind this sorry state of affairs. The threat that our society faces from such ideological worldviews is imminent which makes it all the more essential for us to scrutinize them. The Left has for long deployed the power of language and narrative to manufacture discourses which play a vigorous, emotionally-rousing role in legitimizing the use of faulty methodologies and analytical frameworks, and also push its flag bearers towards adopting and justifying the use of barbarous means for the sake of achieving supposed utopian ends. – Yashowardhon Tiwari
Tiwari believes this attitude has contributed to the rot of American institutions and caused liberals to have a very simplistic, black and white world view. He describes the Left as having taken over the institutions of power, maintaining a hegemonic hold on society and cultural institutions they pretend to be railing against and which they call “systemically racist.” They don’t see nor recognize their own privilege and that they are the ones in power. You cannot claim to be fighting the system when you are the system. Because of the truth of this, these sanctimonious white liberal elites are driven to vicariously inhabit the oppression of minorities and co-opt their experiences.
Musa al-Gharbi, Sociology fellow at Columbia University has written about the paradox of the shameless white liberal:
Moreover, it is liberals who go out of their way to embed themselves in communities of color — especially young and highly-educated professionals or artists. Granted, rents tend to be cheaper in these areas. However, many are also drawn to such neighborhoods, quite explicitly, because they are ‘historic,’ ‘cultured’ and ‘diverse.’ In so doing, they put themselves in situations where they more frequently come into contact with minorities. If misunderstandings or conflicts arise (as they inevitably will in multi-cultural and gentrifying urban neighborhoods), many reflexively look to local authorities to resolve these disputes on their behalf. Like Ms. Cooper, this is often done in confidence that the police will align themselves with the white person making the call. In practice, then, they are attempting to use police to punish people of color who are insufficiently deferent to their own demands or preferences. However, it is extremely difficult for most white liberals to understand their actions in this way due to a phenomenon social scientists call ‘moral credentialing.’
Research in the cognitive and behavioral sciences suggests that when whites explicitly denounce racism or affirm their commitment to racial equality, they often — paradoxically — grow more likely to act in ways that favor other whites; simultaneously, they grow more confident that their actions were not racially-motivated.
A similar effect holds when they observe others from their ‘in-group’ making gestures towards antiracism: it convinces them not only that their peers are egalitarians but that their own actions and interactions are non-biased as well. Conversely, blaming or criticizing ‘others’ for a particular moral failing reduces one’s own sense of guilt for that same moral failing.
Put another way, it is not merely the case that liberals and leftists are capable of being dangerously entitled around people of color, they are probably more likely to engage in these sorts of behaviors than non-leftists. Precisely because they view themselves as ‘allies’ to members of historically marginalized and disadvantaged groups, they often feel justified in taking liberties they would deny to other whites — confident that their actions are not racist, that they are merely giving an appropriate response to the situation at hand.
However, these exercises in ritual purification do precious little to help people from historically marginalized or disadvantaged groups. They don’t even meaningfully raise awareness, as they circulate primarily among those who are already the most ‘aware.’ More than anything else, these campaigns are a form of catharsis for white elites. With each op-ed and retweet, they reassure themselves that they are ‘different’ from those other whites, the ones who are ignorant, unenlightened, fearful of diversity. They are the good whites and they would never resort to such tactics were they to somehow find themselves in a dustup with a black person.- Musa al-Gharbi
AlGharbi describes perfectly the entitlement, sense of superiority and the drive to inflict and enact punishment of others they deem “ignorant” and not as “enlightened” as they are, as part of the pathology animating the smug white liberal “savior.”
Matthew Blackwell writes in Quillet “The Psychology of Progressive Hostility” that progressives and liberals are often coddled in school and have their biases confirmed while anything that causes them to be uncomfortable is repressed or silenced, thus creating fanatics:
Outbursts of emotional hostility from progressive activists – now described as Social Justice Warriors or SJWs – have come to be known as getting ‘triggered.’ This term originally applied to sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but activists have adopted it to describe the anxiety and discomfort they experience when they are exposed to views with which they disagree. ‘Fuck free speech!’ one group of social justice advocates recently toldVice Media, as if this justified the growing belief among university students that conservatives should be prevented from speaking on college campuses. It’s no secret that, with the rise of the triggered progressive, university professors are increasingly intimidated by their own students. An illustrative example of this alarming trend was provided by the hordes of screaming students who surrounded the distinguished Yale sociologist Nicholas Christakis and demanded his head (which they duly received). Christakis had made the mistake of defending an email his wife had written gently criticizing Yale’s attempts to regulate students’ Halloween costumes. ‘Who the fuck hired you?!’ screamed one irate student in response. ‘You should step down!’
This sort of my-way-or-the-highway mentality is now spreading well beyond the urban university and into even remote communities. In the small Outback Australian town of Alice Springs where I once lived, agitators have attacked and attempted to silence the local aboriginal town councillor Jacinta Price for her principled efforts to improve the lives of her people. When Price tried to sound the alarm about skyrocketing sexually transmitted diseases, or the adult rape of children in aboriginal communities, she was shouted down as a ‘traitor’ and a ‘coconut’ (a term of disparagement used to describe a person deemed to be black on the outside and white on the inside). These criticisms do not come from the majority of aboriginal people in Alice Springs, but from a minority of furiously offended activists who, in their own little circles, plot to have Price undemocratically removed from the town council. Censorship is now the instrument of choice, and a reactionary authoritarianism increasingly defines what the liberal Muslim activist Maajid Nawaz has termed the ‘Regressive Left.’ – Matthew Blackwell
Of course the white liberal elite attacked the aboriginal woman for daring to speak up about her own experiences of rape and sexual violence within the aboriginal community. They denied her experience, and the experience of other aboriginal women simply because it conflicted with their view of the noble aboriginal. Again, they see POC as pets and tokens not as real people. They claim to be “allies” of indigenous people, until an indigenous women has the audacity to think and speak for herself, taking away their place of authority and power as “representatives” for these groups.
Emmett Resin of Vox sees this as a smugness that has grown like a cancer in the mind of white liberal elites:
There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what’s good for them.
In 2016, the smug style has found expression in media and in policy, in the attitudes of liberals both visible and private, providing a foundational set of assumptions above which a great number of liberals comport their understanding of the world.
It has led an American ideology hitherto responsible for a great share of the good accomplished over the past century of our political life to a posture of reaction and disrespect: a condescending, defensive sneer toward any person or movement outside of its consensus, dressed up as a monopoly on reason.
The smug style is a psychological reaction to a profound shift in American political demography.
The consequence was a shift in liberalism’s intellectual center of gravity. A movement once fleshed out in union halls and little magazines shifted into universities and major press, from the center of the country to its cities and elite enclaves. Minority voters remained, but bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision-making, they were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the new Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional.
In November of last year, during the week when it became temporarily fashionable for American governors to declare that Syrian refugees would not be welcome in their state, Hamilton Nolan wrote an essay for Gawker called ‘Dumb Hicks Are America’s Greatest Threat.’
If there has ever been a tirade so dedicated to the smug style, to the proposition that it is neither malice, nor capital, nor ideological difference, but rather the backward stupidity of poor people that has ruined the state of American policy, then it is hidden beyond our view, in some uncool place, far from the front page of Gawker. – Emmett Risen, Vox
This smugness and superiority complex is driven by the white liberals’ lack of empathy for others. It is driven by their massive arrogance inasmuch as this is how they think about everyone, including the minorities they pretend to champion and protect. It is all to flatter their own vanity. It’s superficial and inauthentic, a cloak they wear so no one looks deeper into their own psychology and pathology.
Many liberals, because of their false and distorted view of society and the “other” namely people who disagree with their worldview, engage in fantasy and escapism so they don’t have to think about how they and their ideology contribute to society’s ills.
Shaun Armstead, a black feminist writer critiques the white liberal escapist show Bridgerton and how it dehumanizes POC in order to satiate the feelings of the white liberal. “Blackness, Dehumanized: A Black Feminist Analysis of Bridgerton“:
Since its release on Christmas Day, Bridgerton has attracted international attention for its racial cosmopolitan reenactment of early nineteenth-century Britain. In its first four weeks, 63 million households viewed the joint Shonda Rhimes-Netflix venture, making the series one of the top five most-streamed in the streaming service’s history. A multicultural reimagining of Julia Quinn’s novel, the show pivots on the romantic journey between Daphne Bridgerton, a white woman, and Simon Bassett, a Black man the Duke of Hastings. Initially a farce to manipulate the disparaging writings of the anonymous gossip writer, Lady Whistledown, their courtship culminates in a loving marriage and the birth of a son. Bridgerton likely owes this popularity to its diverse cast. It comes to life through Black, white, and Southeast Asian actors’ portrayals of Regency-era British aristocrats. Except a brief mention of racialization prior to King George III’s marriage to a Black woman, Charlotte, Bridgerton is untethered from a historical past riddled with imperialism, slavery, and the circulation of racist ideologies. Thus, the series traffics in historical fantasy seeking to emulate the liberal politics of our present. However, instead of breaking down historical racial and gender formations that continue to dehumanize Black women and men today, Bridgerton reinforces them.
Even as affluent, titled members of the ton, the Black female characters function to define and accentuate white womanhood. Take, for example, Marina, the cousin residing with her relatives, the Featheringtons, as she and her cousins seek prospective suitors. Yet Marina’s pregnancy, confirmed soon after her arrival, disrupts these plans. Pregnant out of wedlock, Marina’s knowledge about sex reanimates the familiar, hypersexualized Jezebel trope. Her insight starkly contrasts the ignorance of the other unmarried debutantes, who wonder how Marina became pregnant. This illicit knowledge places Marina outside the category of woman. And she is punished for it. Exhausting all alternatives, including deceit and a failed attempt to terminate her pregnancy, Marina is compelled to enter a loveless marriage of convenience. Significantly, her storyline is the only representation of Black women’s courting experiences throughout the first season. She is also a character of Shondaland’s creation; Marina is not in Quinn’s book. That her storyline breathes life into the myth of hypersexual Black womanhood is unsettling.
Yet Jezebel is not alone, for Mammy follows her. While Bridgerton reimagines Julia Quinn’s romance novel through a liberal anti-racist lens, the Netflix series preserves and complicates the classic romance narrative arc of women enabling their lovers’ emotional developing. In fact, Daphne is the principal force behind healing Simon’s childhood trauma to make him emotionally available to her. However, she does not do this alone. Adjoa Andoh’s Lady Danbury serves as unofficial maternal figure in this venture, too, encouraging Simon to accept and reciprocate Daphne’s feelings. Aside from her close relationship to Simon, whom she reared, and his late mother, Lady Danbury is a mystery, possessing no desires or past beyond her connection to Simon. She exists to facilitate the loving, healing relationship between Daphne and Simon. It is important to note that this is not the function Quinn’s Lady Danbury plays. In the book, Simon’s nurse assumes the motherly role. Showrunners exercised creative license in limiting the Black Lady Danbury to a mothering vehicle. – Shaun Armstead
Ms. Armstead believes that this show, while pandering to white liberals and so-called anti-racism advocates, actually perpetuates racial stereotypes like the black “mammy” and provides zero backstory to its black characters. These characters are not meant to serve any other purpose than to make white liberals feel good about themselves while they vicariously get to experience their savior and creature-tamer fantasies. It dehumanizes blacks and doesn’t give them a fair representation except showing how great the white liberal characters are, tolerant and enlightened. Completely untethered from the real world and human nature in general, this is part of their utopian dreams. Black people are used as a tool for the white liberal to experience a catharsis and emotional high.
Teddy Ruge, an African activist talks about this in an article called Voluntourism: What’s Wrong with the White Savior Complex that describes some of the same issues I have outlined about the pathology underlining it:
Social change advocate Teddy Ruge joined Pulse host, Jessie Wingard from Kampala, Uganda, to talk about ‘White Savior Complex,’ the effects it’s having on locals and how Africans should demand global equality.
DW: Teddy, let’s talk about the video featuring the white female missionaries working in Uganda, do foreign aid workers or volunteers demean or simplify African life with videos such as this?
Teddy Rouge: We shouldn’t simplify it and say that all of them actually do. But, I think there is a narrative out there about the continent, where we are constantly infantilized, where missionaries, aid workers and volunteers think that they have an absolute right to do what it is that they are doing because their defense is ‘we are doing good and whatever it is that we are doing in volunteering shouldn’t be questioned.’
It’s not just aid workers and volunteers copping flack. You’ve been critical of ‘celebrity stunts’ – like US actor Ashton Kutcher’s pledge to donate 10,000 bed nets if he got 1 million Twitter followers or Florida businessman Jason Sadler’s campaign to donate a million used t-shirts to African orphanages, and the list goes on – why is that?
Again, it’s the same narrative – it’s the infantalization of a continent with 54 countries and a billion people and in thinking that we are a continent that cannot help itself. So, it’s everyone’s responsibility – and by everyone, I mean every white savior out there who feels like they buy into this narrative that Africa is completely helpless, that it cannot help itself.
It is important for us as Africans, those of us who are, at the very least, visible and are able to communicate our disgust to defend against those narratives. It is important for us kick back against that.
Yes, we are a young continent, but we’re not a stupid continent and it worries me that if we continue to let these kind of narratives go, that half the continent that is under 15, that is 500 million children, will grow up thinking that their troubles, their issues on the continent and their future can only be saved by an outsider, a benevolent outsider, a benevolent white person that comes in, be it a missionary or volunteer, teacher or western government responsible for fixing our problems when it is actually quite the opposite.
We are responsible for fixing our future, for creating systems and institutions responsible for our social issues, our infrastructure, our medical issues, our health sector – whatever it is, we are sovereign nations – 54 of them on this continent and I think it’s time we began to take responsibility and a lot of that begins with slapping the hand that feeds us – the one that constantly thinks that we are infants. – Teddy Ruge
Ruge wants white liberal saviors to understand their feel good stunts often do more harm than good and that they don’t even seem aware of the condescension they have for POC. They fly in, pose for pictures, throw some money and then leave. This is not helpful, and there is often a profit motive behind some of these “missions” and NGOs. There is an entire industry of white liberal men joining NGOs to be able to rape young black children. It has become almost an epidemic like the Oxfam scandal. White liberal saviors are either unknowingly contributing or purposely assisting in this horrible abuse.
So much more could be said about the pathology of the white liberal savior, we could do an entire series on it. They are often sociopathic, arrogant and narcissistic people who feed off of attention and adulation. They like to sanctimoniously display their virtue while ridiculing and attacking others whom they deem not as good or smart as they are. They see people who are on the other end of the political spectrum as “dumb ignorant hicks” who simply don’t know what is in their own best interests and are manipulated by evil conservative talk radio. They view POC as inferior and infantile, and use them for their own ego driven agenda. They are superficial and lack empathy or real compassion for others and this comes out in their vitriolic rage and hatred for people with whom they disagree. They are profoundly supremacist and racist in their worldview, and view of themselves. They hold themselves in high regard and lack humility and a real understanding of their own shortcomings and faults. All of these factors combine to create a superiority complex and a profoundly toxic personality in general.
Here are a few other sources that you might find helpful: