The White-Savior Industrial Complex

In early 2012, social media exploded briefly with the video-based campaign called “Kony 2012”, an attempt to involve Americans and others in the effort to capture and prosecute the Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony.

For a sobering reflection on how such “helpers” can be seen from the perspective of those in the Global South, read “The White-Savior Industrial Complex” by Teju Cole, a Nigerian-American author.


Teju Cole writes, “[The American’s] good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated ‘disasters.’ All he sees are hungry mouths, and he … 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.”

Open your journal and capture your responses to this article.

  • What feelings arose for you as you were reading?
  • Have you ever experienced the impulse to jump in and help in a situation without learning the background story? If you gave in to that impulse, what was the result?
  • If you are a person of color, do you find resonance in the description of white folks coming to the rescue? When have you (or your communities) been the recipient(s) of such efforts?
  • What are some ways that we might avoid the pitfalls of sentimentality when trying to act against injustice?


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Heather Vickery is responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with UU congregations, State Action Networks, past UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) program participants, and regional staff in order to expand engagement in UUSC and UUCSJ’s work. As the Coordinator for Congregational Activism, she manages the workshop offerings and group visits to the UUSC/UUCSJ office and assists with communications for the Activism and Justice Education Team. Heather is an active member of the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network and a dedicated dog-mom to her rescue puppy Nova.

Heather may be contacted at and 617-301-4303