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Speaking Out on White Saviours. A Twitter thread by Takondwa Priscilla



What’s been disappointing but unsurprising under this thread to me has been that he’s quick to accept praise but not only dismissive of critique, but has shown a defiant attitude towards it. That saddens me.

Equally disappointing but understandable is a number of Malawians coming to his defense and saying he’s doing good, etc. He probably has good intentions. So many westerners working in this on this continent.

Sadly, many people make surface-level determinations of this sort of western altruism and say things like “at least they’re doing something good”. They get caught up in the moralistic “goodness” without engaging the literature, statistics and histories of their long-term inefficacy.

For various reasons, do-gooders will be endorsed by locals. People will say “as a Malawian, I think you are doing good work”. Rather than engage and complicate their approach from critique, do-gooders will do the comfortable thing and bask in this endorsement.

I went to a primary school that was frequented by mostly white western volunteers. They brought goodwill and gifts and took pictures with us and prayed with us. Their presence did nothing for us, really, but we smiled and waved and sang for them and welcomed them.

Our smiles, our thanks, our welcoming did not change the fact that at the end of the day, they were reproducing a harmful, paternalistic and parasocial pattern between themselves and us.

Volunteerism yields little to no systemic change. It perpetuates notions of western benevolence that aren’t coupled with considerations of the west’s hand in creating the problems people like these are “helping solve”.

For years, folks (who are often underqualified and have nothing to offer but good intentions) have come, opened orphanages, worked with children, dug wells, received pats on the back from locals from for their “goodness” and refused to reckon with the power of imbalance at play.

But the “goodness” of western volunteers does not exist in a vacuum. That “goodness” is a product of their access, which access is granted to them by their belonging to nation state(s) that are inequitably endowed through imperialist violence and exploitation.

Do-gooders want to talk about child marriage and orphans but they do not want to look the violence of their settler colonies and imperialism in the eye.

Do-gooders want to call US racist for pointing out the fact that their whiteness and westerness gives them power, but don’t want to reckon with that power. That power colors their efforts. That power colors their efforts. That power politicizes their “helping”

Do-gooders want us to smile and sing and say “thank you for your selflessness” but they do not want to hear us say “hey, we know what you mean well, but your presence here isn’t leading to any real systemic chance”.

I’m tired of hearing critiques like these dismissed as “wokeness” as if the etymology of that word does not convey an awakening or attentiveness to issues of injustice. “Wokeness” is not the cop-out you think it is.

This is a call to folks like these to at the very least listen to some of the critique you’re receiving. Critique that is coming from some of the most qualified, knowledgeable Malawians where these issues are concerned.

It’s a call for folks to stop being so preoccupied with policing our anger, and to start paying attention to the reasons why we are angry.

There is lots of writing and are lots of wonderful organisations with tons of resources that explain some of these issues with great nuance and rigor. @nowhitesaviors is a good, one-stop shop.

We are not senseless “vermin” on this app picking fights for clicks and likes. Many of us are saying these things because we have lived them and studied them. We want for folks to be rigorous in their understanding of their actions and presence in our country.

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