Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Minding Our Motives

Four days ago, I posted this short commentary on the Penn Central Conference (UCC)'s Sacred Conversation on Race blog:

Checking Our White "Savior Complex"

In the scramble to send personnel and resources to Haiti, it is important to critically analyze any and all overtones
of the privileged "saving" the underprivileged, of the white/Western/wealthy/compassionate nation "rescuing" the non-white/non-American/developing/portrayed-as-self-looting nation---whether those overtones are present in the media or in our own thinking.

This self-critique is particularly important in regards to the children of Haiti. A statement was recently published by a coalition of adoptees of color, Statement on Haiti, emphasizing the need to avoid compounding a Haitian child's trauma by removing him/her from all that is familiar and beloved, and encouraging caution against the assumption that Haiti cannot care for (parent) her own children.

There are ways to help. But we risk repeating the severe mistakes of white American/European imperialism when we rush to rescue without minding our motives.

The blog was posted on 1/30/10. On 2/1, Reuters published this article (U.S. Missionaries reject Haiti child-traffic charges), about the 1/29 arrest of an American church group who tried to cross the Haiti-Dominican Republic border with 33 Haitian children, without permission or paperwork, in order to "rescue" these children from their circumstances in Haiti.

Oh my God.

From a born-and-raised-in-and-love-the-church perspective, I want to cry out: "Please stop making it so easy for the world to view Christians with cynicism and scorn! I know that I am not alone in despising your patronizing overtones; I resent your privileged sweet-talk about God's purpose...and I'm a church 'insider'!"

Regardless of any future verdict of guilty or not, this rescue attempt bleeds with the history of white imperialistic Christianity---European missionaries in Africa preaching cultural change to achieve salvation; immigrant Euro/American military and religious personnel (c'mon now, white Americans need to remember that we are all immigrants and stop pretending that this land has been ours forever or that it is ours to "protect" from non-white immigrants!) cooperating in the conquest of Native American Indian territories; American military presence in the South Pacific and the Middle East; etc. etc. etc.

In light of this "incident" in Haiti, in light of the deeply problematic history of whites using Christianity as a reason to "rescue, conquer and civilize" non-whites, manipulating theological language of salvation (equated to whiteness) to justify the violent exorcism and redemption of sins (equated to darkness), I am led to say in the case of these Baptist missionaries (and, frankly, to my fellow whites in all matters of race): INTENTIONS DO NOT MATTER.

I pause briefly to see if I want to reconsider the absoluteness of this statement... No. For too long we whites have been well-meaning but not well-mannered, and although I wish it were not true, white Christians repeatedly and inextricably confuse "Love one another" with a lukewarm directive to maintain fuzzy & kind feelings as the basis for reaching out to support/develop friendships with a non-white brother or sister.

Although my missionary brothers & sisters (whoo, that's challenging to say!) who have been arrested in Haiti profess their well-meaning intentions, they clearly felt---consciously or not---that Haiti's government was incapable of caring for these 33 children, and that the dark & devastated Haitian authorities could be arbitrarily overlooked and bypassed by themselves: white, civilized, organized missionaries who (after all) meant well.


Your intentions do not matter...although they have spoken volumes. Despite one's motives of kindness or sincere belief in God's direction, if one's (your/my/our) actions assume in any way that we know better than a non-white friend, colleague, or stranger---especially in regards to his/her own life and experience and future direction---then we have proven ourselves to be frauds in following Christ's commandment to "Love one another."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well thought out and articulated, as usual. It's just too bad that so often our feelings of superiority overcome our good sense - and our Christian convictions.