White Savior Industrial Complex

by bewitchingbrielle


Photo from Kevin Jackson’s “White Privilege Explained”

Since at least the British Abolitionist Movement white men have been the main storytellers even if the story is not about them.  Mary Prince’s narrative of enslavement and Nicholas Kristof’s tales of sex slave workers of today both come from the perspective of a white man.  How accurate can the experiences that are individual to people of color, women, or the enslaved be if they are told through the voice of their oppressor?

Through scholarly research, other stories, and videos, it is clear that these stories are watered down to try to have a white audience begin to understand what the enslaved of every kind were and still are going through.

The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave is a verbal story from Mary Prince herself.  However, Thomas Pringle, a white man, was her “editor.”

Mary Prince recalls her enslavement, “I then took courage and said that I could stand the floggings no longer; that I was weary of my life, and therefore I had run away to my mother; but mothers could only weep and mourn over their children, they could not save them from cruel masters- from the whip, the rope, and the cowskin.”


Photo from Eugenia O’Neal’s “Mary Prince- National Hero”

Jessica Allen suggests that Pringle did a bit more than just the normal editing. “Even though he claims in his preface that his alterations to the narrative were insignificant, he also admits to ‘exclud[ing] redundancies and gross grammatical errors.’”

How can Pringle’s alterations be “insignificant” if he excluded “redundancies and grammatical errors?” By whose authority are they redundancies or grammatical errors? Perhaps, that is the way that Prince wished her story be told.  Perhaps, that is just the way that Prince told a story, and by Pringle editing out parts of it, the story lost it’s Prince touch.

Allen goes on to say, “This context suggests Pringle’s supposedly insignificant omissions might be, in fact, quite significant, because they reflect the larger cultural responses.”

“A tension, then, emerges in Pringle’s editorial decisions: although in his preface he attempts to emphasize Prince’s humanity to promote anti-slavery sentiments, his dismissal and removal of her repetition violate her subjectivity by overlooking her authorial decisions” Allen continues, “Thus, he fails to fully acknowledge the humanity that he hopes the pamphlet will affirm.”

Pringle undermines Prince by editing her words.  But, there is no way to find out exactly how much he edited because there is no transcript of Prince’s story and no first draft.

In the same way that Pringle undermined Prince, today we have Nicholas Kristof undermining human trafficking stories.

This white man has almost 15 different stories published in The New York Times about human trafficking.

Having a white man be aware about human trafficking and trying to spread the word would be wonderful.  However, his articles are all very short, they have little to no pictures, and if they do, it is a picture of his own face.

The stories are always about his experience dealing with the people themselves who have experienced human trafficking.  He uses very little quotes from the survivors and does not really give them a voice at all.


Photo of Nicholas Kristof from The New York Times website.

When talking about a survivor Srey Pov, Kristof writes, “She’s a tough interview because she breaks down as she recalls her life in a Cambodian brothel, and pretty soon my eyes are welling up, too.”

That’s very sad that your eyes are welling up too, but this is supposed to be a story about Srey Pov, not Nicholas Kristof.

Kristof also offers a lot of non-solutions.  He states, “I think the most important single step is for prosecutors to focus more on pimps and johns. Closing down the leading Web site used by traffickers would complicate their lives, and after so many years of girls being trafficked on this site, it’s time to hold owners accountable.”

Of course it is important to focus on pimps and johns when talking about human trafficking, but that is a very easy way out.  Kristof can give more than a lame shot at a real solution rather than one that is almost a given.

Here is a short video about the human trafficking of today and a few statistics.

Teju Cole is a Nigerian-American and he had a major call out to the white savior industrial complex that is evident in Pringle and Kristof.

In a series of tweets Cole said,

“From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex. The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening. The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm. This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of white people and Oprah. The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege. … I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an eye on it, for you know it is deadly.”

Cole goes on to say that for white people, it’s more about their own needs and validation of their emotional “healing”than anything else.

Cole explains it as the following photo, the invisible black child, and the prominent white man.


Photo from Teju Cole’s “The White-Savior Industrial Complex”

Cole has actually spoken about Kristof, he said, “He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated ‘disasters.’ All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need.”

Cole is saying that Kristof does not dig deep enough into the problems that he is facing.  This is very similar to his non-solutions.  He is more than willing to help fix the end result, but he does not realize that he can stop the problem from happening altogether.

If we took Kristof and put him in the shoes of a woman of color, we would get Alicia Nunn.  She is just starting her journalism career at the Huffington Post, but in her most recent article, “A Salute To Warrior Women Past and Present” she really makes a splash.

Nunn talks about how survivors are strong, and that they can look up to people to help them make it through. Nunn also gives statistics about trafficking.

She said, “Sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise with 20.9 million adults and children bought and sold into sex slavery, forced labor and bonded labor globally. 98% of sex trafficking victims are women and girls.”


Photo from Rachel Pross’s “How a Human Trafficking Victim Shook This Sheltered American Girl to the Core”

Nunn goes on to say, “Poverty and gender discrimination make women vulnerable to this horrible human rights violation. Sex slavery cannot exist in a world where women are valued as equal to men.”

This is what representation should look like.  A woman of color writing about how survivors can live and giving important information to others.

You always have to question the source of where you are getting your information.  How much of Mary Prince’s story was edited? How much is Kristof editing out of these human trafficking victims stories? Their white savior complex has gone too far.

As Teju Cole said, “The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage.”