Issue: White savior complex can jeopardize true progress of missionaries


Editorial Board

Mission trips are largely a dutiful endeavor. They provide aid for developing nations suffering from poverty and environmental devastation, spread faith and can even be an enlightening experience for the person going. However, missions need to be done in good faith of the country or community you are serving, not your own personal gain.

Missionaries all too often fall suspect to a white savior complex or the notion that white people must save or help non-white people because they are unable to do so themselves. White saviorism strips non-white people of their autonomy and unnecessarily inserts a white perspective into a person-of-colors narrative, subsequently erasing their own experiences.

If you’re in a position to take a mission trip, how can you better assist the community while avoiding this degrading, privileged and wholly unhelpful action?

Avoid going on mission trips for personal gain. If you get in that van with your church group heading to Haiti or Guatemala and you are preparing yourself to be forever changed by the starving orphans, you probably shouldn’t go on that trip. If your goal is to take a few cool pictures with said orphans who have no idea what a phone is, nor can give proper consent to having their picture taken, to depict yourself as some saint on your Instagram feed, you probably shouldn’t go.

This warped view of missionaries and their intended purpose leaves these no doubt suffering people as a vessel for your own faith, and their troubles become less pertinent.

The people you’re going to build houses, hospitals and schools for may also not be ready or willing to adopt your faith. Remember that they do not need Jesus to be good people or deserve help. Certainly you can preach, pray and worship your God while you are there, but if your aid is conditional on the grounds that the people of that community become Christians, you probably shouldn’t go.

Oftentimes, mission groups will come to these third world countries equipped with aid and resources to help. However, these resources are largely finite and will eventually run out. This leaves people to continually ask for more help, becoming dependent on your church group for their necessities. When bringing resources and other supplies, think about their long term effects and collaborate with leaders already in the communities on what is truly needed. Be their right hand man, not their front man.

Although mission trips present themselves as good deeds, all too often can they become self-serving and ineffective; stripping desolate communities of their autonomy and independence.

While the heart may be in the right place, the white savior complex is alive and well. It is important to know what that looks like when contemplating participation in a mission trip. Are you unknowingly exerting your privilege? Do you really understand the purpose of why you are there and how you are helping the people and the area? Are you giving them a religious ultimatum as a way to help them? These are all very important questions to ask yourself and others to stay clear of this complex.

The Collegian Editorial Board meets weekly and agrees on the issue of the editorial. The editorial represents the opinion of The Collegian.