Helping and Being Supportive of Others Without Acting Like a Savior
Conscious matters for our own evolution and for a revolution that liberates. No one likes being treated as if they are completely handicapped and always helpless, even when they find themselves in dire need. Among activist circles, nothing makes me cringe more than coming across white people whose sense of superiority leads them to treat other adults like children. In fact, I get irritated by white savior types for many reasons. One is because, were it not for systemic racism that oppresses blacks and other people of color, most people would not have a need to seek major help except in emergency situations. The other reason is because I recognize white people would be hypocrites to even suggest they have it all together as individuals or collectively. To be beneficiaries of unearned privileges and collude in any way with patriarchal white supremacy, are reasons enough that some people cannot claim to be beyond reproach. No one is perfect, so there’s that, too.
On the other hand, we’ve all inherited this system and none of us are responsible for the problems our ancestors created, whether within family dynamics that get passed across generations, or due to larger societal issues that existed before we were born. This does not mean we can escape having to deal with the fallout. When we know about things involving the dehumanization and abuse of people on individual or group levels, we cannot pretend otherwise, if we are conscious of right and wrong. Being aware means we cannot rely on denial. When we have empathy, it becomes more difficult to avoid wanting to help correct problems that impose suffering into the lives of ourselves and others. While we are not responsible for historical traumas we may still experience, we do have a role in helping to heal. This is applicable on individual and collective levels with regards to how systemic inequality and injustices harm people from diverse populations, in different ways.
Some whites asked how they can be supportive of progress for Black America and offer practical help in any given situation without coming across as White Saviors. It is a fair question. I think we can communicate our motives in many ways, often subtle and non-verbal. I have made donations and helped many people in small and big ways during my lifetime as someone over 50. I’ve learned that most people do not want to feel they are someone’s project or pitied. Respect and dignity matters in how we assist and overall deal with others. I have even returned donations when people made me feel uncomfortable as a result of their offering.
Some people think they can “own” another when they help them. Bad approach. There is nothing wrong with reciprocation when possible, but sometimes the person we assist may not be in a position to help us right away or ever. Getting a “thank you” should be enough, without further strings attached to imply someone “owes” us because we helped them. I support a “power with” versus “power over” approach when it comes to receiving and giving help. We do not have to diminish people for being in need. We can see people in their wholeness even if they are struggling during a given period. Life may put any of us in a position of needing assistance from someone in a different way than how we supported others.
Also, we should keep in mind that help comes in many forms. Some people have more money and resources to share. Others have levels of expertise and experience, compassion and empathy, that can help lift our spirits and motivate us. Some are good listeners who make us feel heard, encouraged, appreciated and valued. How does one put a price tag on the time, efforts and various non-tangible gifts others share with us? We can avoid doing harm when helping others when we keep our shared humanity central, in recognition of our interdependence and ability to provide mutual benefit whether in the role of recipient or giver in many situations. Helping does not have to hurt. Being conscious of certain dynamics requires learning to give without doing major harm. We can do so without extreme sacrifices that would result in major regrets from feeling taken advantage of, and support others without acting like a savior.