White Anti-Racists who hope to be White Saviours believe in White Supremacy.

White people like the white saviour narrative, because they can identify with the white protagonist, who is absolved from white guilt and becomes a white hero for people of colour to worship. When the white protagonist joins the group of people of colour, white people imagine that it is possible for a white person to purge his whiteness, and hence, to free himself from white guilt and responsibility. Paradoxically, not only does the white protagonist rid himself of white guilt, but he also becomes the hero, the saviour, the superior group member because he is white.

Moreover, in the white saviour narrative, all the people of colour collectively bow down or even prostrate before the white protagonist to symbolize the white person’s superiority over all people of colour (such as in Avatar, after Jake Sully tames the Toruk), and to indicate the submission of people of colour to white leadership. The white protagonist is smarter, better, faster, or stronger than people of colour because of his whiteness. The story’s internal logic requires a reason for the white protagonist’s unique superiority, so it is usually his white culture that makes him superior. Superior white culture takes the form of symbolically white technology (telescopes, rifles, Western marksmanship in Dances With Wolves), white skills (American military training in The Last Samurai), or white knowledge (scientific reasoning from the white protagonist in Avatar, who happened to be characterized as being below-average in both science and reasoning).

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Considering intent to evaluate morality is an ancient Western tradition.

Contemporary Western intellectuals embrace secularism as ‘modern’, and they often perceive Eastern and African cultures as ‘traditional’ cultures that are steeped in ancient religious practices.

Many Westerners even describe Japan, an arguably more technologically advanced nation, as an interesting blend of the very old with the very new. A white man told me that he visited Japan to meet the parents of his Japanese wife. He said that Japan’s technology makes Canada look like a developing country. However, he insisted that Japan’s culture is very ancient in addition to being futuristic, because ancient cultural beliefs and practices are still part of contemporary Japanese culture.

I found it odd that Western culture is rarely perceived as ancient, even though so many of our beliefs and practices can be traced back to ancient traditions. It is difficult to look at Western culture directly, when we are so accustomed to looking through Western cultural frameworks.

An example of an ancient Western cultural artifact is the Christian tradition of considering intention when judging the morality of an action. This Christian concept is institutionalized in our legal systems as mens rea. For a very recent example of factoring in intent, Clay Shirky claimed that the filtering out of LGBT books from Amazon.com was only a “perceived injustice” and an “injustice that didn’t actually occur” since the delisting was done unintentionally.*

The overemphasis on intent is so pervasive that the effects of an entity’s actions is now considered less important or even unimportant. Furthermore, a culture that trivializes the importance of effect encourages people in power to prioritize image management over correcting bad behaviour. If intent is more important than action and effect, then showing that you had good intentions absolves you from your bad behaviour and your responsibility to correct your behaviour.


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* For the record, I was unaware of the #amazonfail twitterstorm until I read Shirky’s article, as I had Internet troubles during that time. Although he makes a good point about people’s tendency to rationalize their actions, because I wasn’t involved, I have no emotional investment in maintaining that an injustice did occur.