Recently I reblogged a trailer for the movie The Help. The Help is a a movie based off the true story of a women who wrote an expose about the African-American maids in Jackson, Mississippi. From the looks of the trailer it seems like this movie is going to be another “white savior” movie along the same lines of The Blind Side, Freedom Writers, and many of the sports movies about African-American teams that have come out recently.
I cannot and would never attempt to analyze these movies from a POC’s perspective, but I can discuss how they make me feel as a white person, and it isn’t pretty. I say it isn’t pretty because these movies make me feel good, really good, for being white.
These movies reaffirm long-held privileged feelings about myself and my race. They present racism as something held by “bad” white people. Racism becomes almost a tangible object that only belongs to the antagonist of the story. “White savior” movies make the white watcher relate to the white “hero” protagonist of the story. We watch and believe that if we were in the protagonist’s situation we would be acting the same way. We would be helping the “poor” “unfortunate” POC up from their plight.
Not to mention, these stories are almost always presented as the stories of the white protagonist. Instead of hearing about the African-American basketball team who worked hard and made it all the way to the championships, we hear about the white coach who lead the African-American team to the championship. Instead of hearing about the students of color who were able to turn their life around with the help of white teacher, we hear about a white teacher who changed the lives of the students of color. The emphasis is almost always placed on the white protagonist, even when the story does not belong to the white protagonist as much as it belongs to the people of color in the story.
These movies almost always present racism in a that is very elementary. I use the word elementary on purpose because not only is the racism presented very simple but it reminds me very clearly of the concept of racism that is taught to elementary students. When I was very little I was taught that racism was not letting someone use a drinking fountain or eat at a restaurant because they were black. Because I was taught of racism only in this way, I thought of racism as something in the past. To me, because of my privilege as a white person and what I was taught as a child, racism no longer existed. These movies reaffirm racism as something in the past, that no longer affects POC. It once again tells white people that there is only one “type” of racism, and since we currently don’t act like “that” anymore we can’t be racist.
White Savior movies do not help to bring about a dialogue about race or race issues. They only help to reaffirm privileged beliefs held by white people about the state of race and racism in the present day.
This quote captivated my emotions more eloquently than I could ever phrase.