What We Can All Learn From Stacey Dooley’s ‘White Savior Row’ & Her Refusal to Do Better
I wish we could say that we expected more from Stacey Dooley, Comic Relief and the BBC but the truth is, we are not surprised at all in their total lack of accountability or the absence of any real commitment to do better. We have become painfully accustomed to having the ‘good intentions’ of foreigners used to justify pretty much any harmful, exploitative or even illegal behavior.
This conversation isn’t new for Comic Relief. The charity had already committed to ditching this tired white savior narrative when their campaign with Ed Sheeran ran. We have tried to engage Ms. Dooley, the British news network as well as Comic Relief. Rather than listening, they have doubled down, cut footage, lied and avoided any ownership of their mistakes. This is dangerous. We are no longer tolerating this notion that we, here on the Continent, must be grateful for the mere presence of white people, regardless of how they conduct themselves.
For anyone who is still in the dark. Let us flip the script for a moment, shall we? This seems to be the only way some of you can grasp that we should be afforded basic humanity, dignity and respect:
Imagine a famous news anchor or journalist here in Uganda travels to one of your predominately white British communities to report on the plight of the disengaged, high strung parent who gives their children iPhones and tablets instead of actually parenting their children. This celebrity is being used to bring awareness, they mean well. They get caught up in the moment, pick up and hold a child they do not know, against the child’s will, snap a photo and caption it “Obsessssssssed (insert broken heart emoji)”.
When confronted about the ethics of the post, the Ugandan journalist lies and says that she knew the child, that the family asked to take the photo with her and that the child and her family were benefiting from the work of the charity. After multiple sources visited the family and confirmed all of this to be false, the journalist claims that she ‘would do the same’ if given the chance.
This is probably impossible for you to imagine, right? That’s because it is as bizarre and inappropriate as it sounds. This wouldn’t be permitted in the first place, let alone defended so broadly after the fact. So why did this happen and what can we learn from the way Ms. Dooley, Comic Relief and BBC have responded? This is certainly not the first, nor will it be the last time we see a non-melinated outsider come into our community and use a Black child as props for their Instagram #selfie.
Our interest is in helping those who want to do good, do better. We may not be regarded as the nicest or most gentle in the game, but being honest and direct with you about the harm you are unintentionally causing is the kindest thing we could do for everyone involved. We figured that if the Strictly Come Dancing star isn’t willing to learn from this that there might be some well-intentioned westerners out there who can take away some important lessons of what not to do when engaging in formerly colonized countries.
Five Things We Can Learn From Stacey Dooley’s ‘White Savior Row’:
- Understand Power & Privilege Dynamics: If you are white and/or a foreign national coming to do some good on the Continent, chances are you are entering into spaces where you hold a great deal of power and privilege that can be wielded for good or used to manipulate, coerce, take advantage of or exploit the very people you claim to want to help. You need to be aware of the power dynamics that exist within the work that you are doing. When we talk about consent, we need to be able to think more critically on how power impacts one’s agency and ability to advocate for themselves.
- If You Wouldn’t Do it at Home: This should not be such a hard concept to grasp but it certainly seems to be. If you would not conduct yourself in such a way at home, in your own community, you should not do it here. Africa is not your playground or a space for you to ‘find yourself’ and learn to ‘appreciate all that you have’ at the expense of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
- Always Interrogate Your Motivations: Before you post that #selfie with those Black children in that slum or village, before signing up for that 10 day service or mission trip, really ask yourself ‘why’? Take time to explore your motivations. If you were not allowed to post a single photo to social media of the good work you are doing, would you still do it? If you are doing it for the right reasons, you shouldn’t be looking for praise or recognition for your good deeds.
- Good Intentions Aren’t Good Enough: You can mean well, do some good along the way and still cause harm. Yes we know most often it is unintentional. We know that you want to do good but this is not an excuse or justification for your problematic behavior. Demanding that we recognize the good you’ve done while avoiding accountability and refusing to listen to anything other than praise is gaslighting and it’s abusive.
- Admit When You’re Wrong & Do Better: We do not demand or expect perfection. We are simply asking that you be willing to lean in, get educated and that you begin to think more critically about how you engage in our communities. With a lifetime of colonized education and propaganda, you have to decide how committed you actually are to the population or cause you claim to care so much about. Do you care enough to take ownership of past mistakes and make real changes to your behavior?