White Saviors at the Academy Awards



Andrés Tapia has an interesting blog post summarizing critical views of the Academy Awards that resonate with some reviews we have done here of prize-winning movies like Avatar and The Blind Side.
He begins:

For different reasons I was entertained, challenged, and/or inspired by Avatar, District 9, Precious, and The Blind Side, four of this year’s ten Oscar nominees. Smart script writing, convincing performances, off-the-chain special effects, first-class editing. And I simply loved the first two sci-fi flicks. . . . but it’s time we name the elephant in the room: what is it with this spate of Hollywood movies that require a member of the majority culture to save us poor people of color from ourselves or others every single time?

He adds:

So in Avatar, it takes one white male who goes rogue to save an entire civilization of classically depicted noble savages from the destructive forces of Western civilization (by the way, not unlike in Disney’s Pocahontas. …. there’s a point when one simply gets tired of always seeing stories of our being saved by white messiahs. It is not good for the majority culture who may be subliminally encouraged to keep taking on this white person’s burden and it’s not good for our communities of color where we are vulnerable to abrogating responsibility to be effective advocates for ourselves without having to have our redemption depend on the kindness of well meaning — and bigger than life — strangers.

It was an informative night Sunday, what with the white savior and other stereotyped movies doing well. Hollywood’s supposed “liberals” seem to be constitutionally incapable of doing a movie that is critical of mainstream white-racist institutions and realities.

Comments

  1. marandaNJ

    Tapia Said:”..and it’s not good for our communities of color where we are vulnerable to abrogating responsibility to be effective advocates for ourselves without having to have our redemption depend on the kindness of well meaning …”
    This phrase has a great deal of meaning for me in particular. Am I paraphrasing this correctly? African Americans are vulnerable to handing over the responsibility of being effective advocates for themselves? Is he saying that Afican Americans Often Hand Over the Responsibility of Their Own Salvation to Others?
    Well, I’ve said this before and I didn’t mean it to be unkind. I’ve said that in the remaining pockets of poor black communities after the CRM, blacks in these communities have an ‘I give up’ approach to life. They don’t push education enough so their kids stay in school. They are unhappy with unskilled jobs, but won’t take the steps necessary to get an education to break the povery cycle for an entire family. They claim they hate crime, yet gangs of competing drug selling young men have turned their neigborhoods into mini war zones.
    This being the case, wouldn’t someone like the above writer come to the conclusion that blacks are ‘vulnerable’ to ‘abrogating’ responsibility for their own passage into middle class America? I don’t know Why Tapia said this. But, if you examine it for its essential meaning, it boils down to the fact that a pretty large sub-section of African Americans just Won’t take the steps to close the gap between themselves and Their Own Successful Middle Class African American brothers and sisters who Have broken the poverty cycle by resisting crime and educating themselves. It weren’t easy, but somebody had to take that first step.
    Thus, if you have a subsection of the population who is too discouraged/depressed to advocate for themselves, who else will do it Except White Saviors? What is supposed to happen to these people? This is a catch-22 that states: ‘leave us alone, we don’t need white saviors. But if you do leave us alone, we’re not going anywhere either. We’re staying at the poverty level and Welfare. Funds from White and Black middle class tax dollars will suffice. We are indeed ‘vulnerable’ to ‘abrogating’ responsibility to someone or something [the state] else.’
    Why are they vulnerable? This is a point that needs to be cleared up? It’s an evasive way of saying they Won’t take responsibility. It’s not even the point of the post. I think Hollywood plays up the white savior meme too. But if there were more blacks in Real Life to take up this meme…well this is what really counts anyway, not what Hollywood does.

  2. distance88

    Hollywood’s supposed “liberals” seem to be constitutionally incapable of doing a movie that is critical of mainstream white-racist institutions and realities.

    Yeah, I’m definitely not going to hold my breath waiting for this movie to come out, Joe. In the meantime though, I’d settle for more films written and directed by PoC that focus on character development, and not stereotype development. The time for new and added perspectives (namely: non-white, non-male) in entertainment media is way past due.

  3. Will

    Maranda said, “Well, I’ve said this before and I didn’t mean it to be unkind. I’ve said that in the remaining pockets of poor black communities after the CRM, blacks in these communities have an ‘I give up’ approach to life. They don’t push education enough so their kids stay in school. They are unhappy with unskilled jobs, but won’t take the steps necessary to get an education to break the povery cycle for an entire family. They claim they hate crime, yet gangs of competing drug selling young men have turned their neigborhoods into mini war zones.”

    Maranda, just reading this paragraph shows that you have negative images of blacks already embedded your mind. You have this image that blacks simply chose not to push for education, employment or riding themselves of crime because there is simply something wrong with them. You may have also hinted that you will hold on to this image no matter what arguments of facts, truths and reality are given.

    First off, why do you assume that blacks after the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) developed an “I give up.” attitude to life. Even if some have given up, why do you think that’s so? In fact blacks have continued to struggled even after the CRM. Perfect exmamples include, but are not limited to, the Black Panthers, Stop the Violence, and the Million Man March. We are still pushing for justice and equality even in the new millennium because we KNOW we are still marginalized, demonized, and devalued in a society that considers itseld “post-racial”.

    As far as those who have given up, you can not assume that they gave up without even trying. Sme of them know that the odds are stacked heavily against them, and an education can not garantee the “American Dream”. Even if you are educated and working, you are still a target for discrimination, racism, prejudice and outright hatred. They know that America could care less about their well-being unless it somehow benefits the privileged. Yet, society expects them to simply rise above it.

    Speaking as a black man, I will tell you upfront that for my race and gender it’s hard. We are demonized and devalued simply for what we are: black males. Even though many of us do not fit society’s image of what a black male is, we are the ones ignored while those who have fallen are given attention and designation of what a black male is.

    Throughout your response, you presented this image that blacks simply wont help themselves because they just won’t. Deny it or not, you have this assumtion that black people won’t help themselves when the TRUTH is we are helping ourselves. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Many of us are taking responsibility and are doing what we can to repair our communities while whites REFUSE to take an iota of responsibility to even admit that their system of white supremacy is responsible for many of the issues facing blacks to this very day.

    Now, as far as the persistent, “white savior” movies, the reason I personally won’t support them is not just the fact that’s it been done over and over, but because most whites don’t feel like they need to help anyone of color because they feel they created their own ills. Although, not all whites are uncaring. I commend those that do care are are doing something about it, but still white are NOT THE ONLY ONES WHO CARE. There are people within their communities that care and are working to do something about it. It’s just that when that happens, the white-controlled news media won’t cover it, but will run faster than the Flash if a crime is committed there. This society’s media is obsessed with the white savior complex, and is chicken towards the realities of race in this day and age. This soceity is afraid of losing their unearned privileges.

    Maranda, your views on black people are extremely misguided and fits right along the white-racial frame about us. I’ve seen it and heard it many times. The truth is you don’t understand black people; you only understand the usual images of black people from the white-racist mindset. Unless you actually sit down and talk to black people, or do some unbiased research, you will continue to live in the dark.

  4. Will

    One more thing I forgot to mention; once you realize the depths of the hell my people went through in this country at the hands of whites that continues to this very day; then we can start talking.

  5. marandaNJ

    I do realize the depths of your hell Will, if reading about it helps. I read Black Like Me, a biography of Sojourner Truth, a history of the Underground Railroad, Slavery by Another Name about post Civil War involuntary servitude [peonage], three books about Brown vs Board of Education,several books by Alex Haley, and a book from the early 1900’s with passages written by ex-slaves about their experiences [just to name a few]. I also took a course in African American History in college. You are assuming things about me that aren’t accurate as well as perhaps I am assuming things about the poor black communities that perhaps aren’t entirely accurate.
    Every time I make a suggestion how blacks who haven’t risen to a comfortable middle class status may be able to do so, I am attacked as ‘white racial framer’, ‘that’s your problem’, ‘white supremacist’ etc. This is not realistic or scientific thinking. There is a plethora of suggestions that whites Should Do on this blog. And I agree with those suggestions. Voicing some suggestions that African Americans can do should not be viewed as unsympathetic to the cruelty that blacks have endured. Or the racism that blacks still are subjected to.

  6. Will

    Maranda, reading those books is good, and it should give you an idea about the black experience, but from the look of the books you mentioned, they were about the black experience in the past. While it’s a good thing you’ve read them, you should also read about the black experience of today. As well as some books that interconnect the past with the present. Plus, you should read books about how some things in the past haven’t changed much in the new millennium. This is STILL a white supremacist world ecomically, socially, legally, and psychologically.

    The reason why you’re attacked, I think, is because what you’re saying is along the lines of whites thinking that we’re on an “equal playing field.” You think that if there are blacks who have “made it”, then there’s no reason why poor blacks who haven’t made it shouldn’t make it. The truth is that there are blacks who are trying to make it to the middle-class status, but there are barriers keeping them from it. There are blacks who want to get there, but circumstances prevent them from it, and almost all of them point to the systematic and institutionalized racism that persist in this country.

    The reason I commented on your comment is that you make it seem as though blacks are not doing anything to fix the problems in the community, problems not created by themselves. The truth is there are numerous people in those communities who are black that are trying to change things. Yet, if we go along the lines of the subject matter of this blog, no one from the white community sees it, think it’s a big deal when it comes to news, or think it’s racist itself. Instead, the public is treated with the same helping of “white savior” cake over and over again poisoning their minds into thinking that only white people can save people of color. Thus, strengthening their egos and making them even more clueless.

    You can’t simply assume that those who haven’t achieved middle-class status, chose to remain lower-class. There are factors that have contributed to their stationary position. Working hard will not guarantee and way out, nor will education solidify a chance to make it out of the ghetto.

    It takes more than reading about the past to understand the people of today.

  7. marandaNJ

    Will, you said:This is STILL a white supremacist world ecomically, socially, legally, and psychologically.
    I know this Will. I see it every day actually. All you have to do is look. My whole argument is that I wish African Americans would Not get discouraged enough to stop trying.
    You also said:”You think that if there are blacks who have “made it”, then there’s no reason why poor blacks who haven’t made it shouldn’t make it.” Guilty as charged. You’re right. And I have a very hard time with this particular concept. But, I’ll keep working on it. Every comment I write basically centers around this Exact Concept and I do get pounded on the head for it. lol.
    Anyway, thanks for your courteous and lengthy reply. Even though you disagreed with me, you were very much a gentlemen! You sound like a kind, compassionate, very level-headed person Will. God Bless!

  8. Will

    Another thing that needs to be address is even though there are blacks in the middle to upper classes, they too still face a world where society still sees and treats them as less-than human. Even though they may have succeeded, they are still struggling. You may not see it, you may not even want to see it, but it’s there. I for one am struggling internally as well as externally. The legacy of slavery, white supremacy, white domination, and white privilege is ALIVE AND WELL.

    Maranda, as long as you continue to chastise blacks for not simply rising against the system of white supremacy that you benefit from in many forms, you will be attacked by those who know more about the reality than you do. It’s not being mean; it’s the truth. We’ve heard what you’re saying over and over again by other whites and some blacks.

    The sad part is that I don’t think you even want to understand the realities that blacks face every waking minute. Reading books is good, but that’s only part of the understanding. You have to be more open to understand blacks even if it means hearing and seeing our pain and suffering.

  9. marandaNJ

    Will, you speak from the heart. So I will try very hard to drop all my defenses and speak back to you.
    When I think about what it must be like to be black, it scares me because it’s so horrible. I don’t want black people to have to live in this cauldron of cruelty. It Does Hurt Me. If you have any compassion at all, it’s pretty hard not to be shaken to the core when you consider how miserable it must be to be black in a white dominated society where whites decide what’s acceptable, and what’s to be taken seriously, and what’s to be ignored, and when to take action, and when to sit still, and just about everything else I can think of.
    I go daily to a library where I live that is frequented by many black as well as white patrons. As I wait at the front entrance, I ‘people watch’. The other day, a black lady came in with 4 elementary aged children.
    Now according to my little tenets [which I’m always harping on here] it always makes me feel good when I see Anybody bringing a bunch of kids to the library. Which equals center of learning, key to educating yourself, key to middle class success etc.
    Yet I also noticed how self-conscious this lady seemed. The children were not as well dressed as the white patrons. They didn’t know where to find the sections of books they wanted. They all looked a little confused. Whereas, the white kids [who seemed more sure of themselves] were maneuvering around the children’s section like airline pilots.
    Yes, Will, I notice these things. I wanted to tell that lady,’Hey you’re at the library! You’re making the effort it takes to move your kids forward. That’s very cool! You want me to help you find something?’ I’m not a librarian so I didn’t approach her, plus I was afraid She’d Take it Like I was being condescending. But, I just wanted so much to take that confused, nervous look from her face so she’d feel better.
    Whites can be very smug. They know all the angles. They know all the ropes. You see it even in the faces of white children.
    I don’t know how else to explain what I’m feeling. And I’m afraid I’m not doing a very good job of it. But I think, anyway, I do feel some of the pain. And I want African Americans to just kick the ball out of the park [especially in the education department] and not Be So Afraid. Anyway, hope this makes sense.

  10. Will

    It’s good that the woman took her kids to the library to help them get more exposed to reading. The thing is, Maranda, you wanted to tell that woman who is black that she was making “moving her kids forward.” Now, that statement sounds suspicious because it makes me and other people wonder if you still have negative prejudices against blacks. The reason being is because you went to her and not the other white women with their children, if the white children were accompanied by them, and say the same thing. I don’t know for sure.

    Again, educating yourself may help you in the long run of become middle-class citizens, but it doesn’t guarantee that it will take you there, nor will being a middle-class citizen ensure you a life without racism or a life without the damaging effects of racism. That’s not to say don’t try and make it, but it is a reality we must face. Some will make it; some won’t. For blacks, in this country, no matter how hard we try to achieve the same statuses and privileges as whites in a white society, we can never obtain them for one simple reason: I’m black and you’re white. Yet, we still carry on hoping that one day, we will truly “make it.”

  11. marandaNJ

    No white person can truly understand what it’s like to be black, Will. Surely you must know that. Any white person who claims otherwise is not being honest nor realistic. If you equate feeling compassion for African Americans with ‘negative prejudices against blacks’ then this I am guilty of. I felt sorry for that lady because she looked confused and her and her children were dressed poorly. However, if you noticed, I did not help her because I thought she might consider it condescending. You considered it condescending yourself. So rest assured, I did Not Approach her. She struggled to find her way around that library alone. I’m not going to offer help if it is construed as an insult.
    And once again, I can only guess what it’s like to be black in a white dominated environment. And no, I wouldn’t want to experience it.

  12. John D. Foster

    @Miranda, what evidence do you have that poor Blacks have given up? That’s a mighty large assumption you’re making, and antidotal evidence isn’t enough. If that subject interests you, perhaps McLeod’s “Ain’t no makin’ it” would wet your whistle…as for your comment “No white person can truly understand what it’s like to be black, Will. Surely you must know that,” although I agree with you to a point, that doesn’t mean whites should just throw up their hands and not try to understand…it’s called EMPATHY. Whites shouldn’t shy away from such an undeniably challenging task, though I think that’s a big part of the problem: in large part since whites have little “on the line” for themselves, they give up the moment it gets “hard” for them. We must understand that Blacks have no choice but to “stick with it,” because your own life and those of your loved ones are on the line.

  13. Will

    Maranda, I never said that you shouldn’t try to help the woman get around the library. I only questioned why you thought that particular woman deserved praise for doing something you think everyone should do. The reason why is because, again, you made negative assumptions about how some blacks have given up. If you have helped that woman find her way around, that would’ve been nice.

    Like John said, whites shouldn’t shy away from a challenging task, but the truth is they do. All in all, they are the ones that matter in this world. Their feelings, well-being, privileges, power, and overall lives are more important than confronting the curse of racism. Whites, overall, do not want to lose that while blacks and other POC have to deal with the false premise of a post-racial society even though the truth clearly shows we’re anything but.

  14. Kristen

    Will, maranda, and John – this discussion is fascinating. I think John brings in a great point about empathy being a powerful way to connect with other people’s experiences. maranda, from your exchange with Will, it looks like you’re an observant and sympathetic person when it comes to black Americans. Empathy, of course, is one step further than sympathy, but you do have a point that maybe 100% empathy with people of color is not possible for white people. (Truly, this could be debated on and on.) It’s still worth considering, though maranda, that you can indeed connect more deeply with the experiences and perspectives of people of color. Will is right – if you like reading about race, definitely pick up a book on contemporary instead of historical dynamics. Living with Racism is a great one. Yo’ Mama’s Dysfunktional is another.

    I do think, though, that white people who are curious and caring about race can really get caught up in sympathy/empathy and neglect to interrogate themselves and whiteness. In some ways it’s easier to notice how others are mistreated than it is to acknowledge that you are privileged – in the former case you feel sorry for others, and in the latter case you have to cross-examine yourself, your family, your culture, your media, your government, your school system, etc.

    • Will

      Kristen’s right, it seems whites are more likely to notice the mistreatment of others than to recognize their own privileges. A perfect example includes white people adopting children of color. We hear about it all the time. What we DON’T hear is the historic and systematic destruction of POC for the sake of white supremacy.

      As a POC I have to deal with this reality everyday. I live in a small, racist town, and I know for a fact my words on this issue will fall on deaf ears. I’m but one in a miniscule part of a white/European soceity.

      I’m told in some way, shape or form that I’m a part of a group that’s hostile, hypersexualized, violence for no reason, irresponsible, lazy or stupid. Maybe I’m not told directly, but it’s all around me in subtle for noticable forms. At the same time I’m told that whites are “regular” people and are capable of integrity, honesty, morality, and powerful.

      I’m told some one way, shape of form that my life or the lives of my people matter less than those of whites, or are just worthless altogether…that we’ll either end up in prison or dead.

      This is the life I will carry with me until my last days come, and I know there are millions who share the same reality.

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