In case you may not already know, Uganda has had significant media attention the past few months. Mainly due to a certain notorious video entitled “Kony 2012.” The video, produced by Invisible Children, chronicled Invisible Children’s efforts to bring Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has terrorized Uganda and now other parts of Central Africa for 20 years, to justice. While the video was successful in the sense that Joseph Kony became a name everybody would recognize, it has drawn phenomenal amounts of criticism.
In particular, several critics have accused Invisible Children and other advocacy groups of being guilty of the “White Savior Industrial Complex.” This complex is the idea that white men (particularly American 20-something’s) are hoping to ride in on a white horse to places like Africa and gain some kind of emotional satisfaction from the experience so that they may continue to live their privileged lives guilt-free. While this article is highly critical, and may even be overly-critical, it is important to consider these kinds of conceptions when trying to deal with global issues, particularly those like poverty and conflict.
When dealing with people in the developing world, we must take into account their dignity and right to self-respect. If we see ourselves as saviors of these people that cannot help themselves, we are guilty of both Hubris and social prejudice.
These issues, particularly the issue of race and economic inequality, are things I’ve been thinking about lately. It is especially difficult not to consider in our current society, where it seems like issues of race, inequality, sexism, and other kinds of prejudice are put under a microscope. I know that personally, race was never an issue for me until I got to North America. Growing up, I had friends from Palestine, Tanzania, Nigeria, and many other nations, and never once thought that was strange. Lately though, I seem to have read a lot of critics who draw a lot of attention to people like myself, where I am considered one of those white, middle-class, college-educated 20-somethings who are looking to be a savior in order to have some powerful emotional experience that validates my privileged life.
These kinds of critics, despite my wish to tune them out, are successful in that they force me to ask myself very difficult questions. What is it exactly that I’m doing? What do I hope to accomplish by going to a developing country? Why am I drawn to the idea of doing something good? What is goodness? How can I know my actions are the result of goodness, rather than some selfish, emotional desire? How can I really know whether my actions are just? Am I doing the right thing?
These questions, unfortunately, are difficult for me to answer. Partly due to my incredibly convenient ability to only be able to answer questions slowly, and partly because I simply have not had an experience in a developing nation yet. Which is why, on this trip, I hope to explore several issues:
1. Social inequality and social justice
2. Violence, and why the area of the world we are traveling to has had so much violence, as well as how people recover from said violence.
3. Race, and whether there is anything to be said of the fact that I am indeed a white American traveling to an African nation, and whether that matters.
Earlier today, we were given small statues that an artist made for us. These statues are meant to be placed somewhere in the world and we are to grab a snapshot of it in its newfound home. When it came my turn to pick two, I found it funny that I picked up two statues that were almost completely identical, except that one was white and one was black. When I put the two statues together, I laughed at what they looked like. It looked like the black statue was looking questioningly at the white statue, who had a vacant, dumb-founded expression. I couldn’t help but think of the above article, and all of the issues surrounding the kind of trip I’m about to make.
So, over the course of the trip, I plan to go a little bit outside my comfort zone and try to make something artistic. I plan to put these two statues next to each other in different places, particularly places that I think are related to the issues I described above. When I get back, I plan to find some way to put that into a media form, in hopes of being able to at least discuss these issues from an artistic perspective.
tl;dr: Me being a white, middle-class, college-educated twenty-something seems to matter. During this trip I’m going to find out if this is true. Enjoy!