In 2012, the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole wrote a controversial piece entitled “The White Savior Industrial Complex” (https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/). Cole expressed outrage about what he considers the “feel good” mentality of philanthropists, solutionists, and “project mangers” in the developed world: “This world exists simply to satisfy the needs – including, importantly, the sentimental needs – of white people and Oprah.” He argued that “(t)he White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.”
In this salon, we will debate Cole’s point of view. The reason we will debate it in a policy school at a major university is that some of what we train for can be considered part of what Cole describes as the White Savior Industrial Complex. For students who intend to go on to a career in global public affairs, it is important to think about where they want to situate their efforts. Is the critique valid? Are there specific criteria we can deploy to avoid the Complex? Should we instead work at a different level of action and policy? Should we be involved in dismantling or reforming the Complex?
These questions are essential not only to students, but to the kind of training that we offer in major universities, where Cole argues that “(f)rom Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex.”
All perspectives on this question will be welcome, and you are encouraged to bring your experiences to this salon and think about them in relation to the challenge posed by Teju Cole.
The debate will be moderated by Professors Michael Storper and Darin Christensen.
Please RSVP: https://gpasalon051117.eventbrite.com