The history of Euro and American colonization of the Southern hemisphere has left a continued cultural defect in people of European descent.
In years past it was called “The White Man’s Burden”; the idea that white folk were obliged to export and impose white values and practices on those of the “darker races.”
This “burden” came from two different motives. The first was a racist ideology of superiority which those of the Southern hemisphere were considered subhuman in their very nature by those of the Northern. It was believed that the indigenous peoples of the Southern hemisphere and native to N. America were savages that needed to be tamed and controlled for their sake.
The other motive was just as insidious and just as damaging but has proven more difficult to squash. It is the idea that we must save the indigenous peoples and the peoples of the Southern hemisphere from themselves. As Captain Richard Pratt said of the American Indigenous peoples, “kill the Indian, save the man.” This racist ideology cloaks itself, not in hatred, but a false sense of charity, a false sense of righteousness. It is a condescending and denigrating ideology because it does not see the peoples of the Southern hemisphere and Indigenous peoples as equals. The White Man’s Burden sees those who look different and are lacking basic human needs as a pity project.
We see this regularly from white liberals and conservatives alike to this day. We see it in both major parties in the USA, both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this mentality. They feel pity for the starving African or the homeless immigrant and so they say to themselves “this is not right. I shall save them from this state.” Many create charities without input from the peoples that are to be served or they simply write checks, make random donations of goods or services that are not desired from the recipients, or simply preach a stinted self-righteous moralism blaming those in dire straights for their own situation. The African people are constantly barraged with messages about contraception and abortion as a way to end the suffering of the continent. Funds for food is tied to the willingness to receive contraceptives or the willingness to codify abortion as a right. The public message by such whites is “too many children creates poverty.” The real message is “poor people don’t deserve children. They should be happy we are even helping at all.” This is just one example among many that occurs in our world today. It is the Great White Savior Complex of the modern world. White liberals and conservatives alike see themselves as the epitome of virtuous charity by “saving” brown and black folk from themselves and convincing them of Western practices and values.
What this does is shut out brown and black voices from the conversation. It says that, more than simply lacking resources, they are lacking in culture. If only their culture changes, their beliefs change, their laws change, their identity changes, they will be like the white man; “prosperous”, “civilized”, “enlightened”.
But, true charity is dialogue. Charity is entering into communion with one another. If charity is to be Christian it must not be imposed on the recipient. If charity is to be Christian is must not be given at arms’ length. Charity comes from God who is Charity; God who is Trinity; three persons in perfect communion. The Father pours himself out for the love of the Son. The Son offers himself up for love of the Father. The Holy Spirit communicates the love between them. Charity recognizes that Black and Brown folk, as Sr. Thea Bowman once explained, “come fully functioning.”
Many people will show up to serve at a soup kitchen but never sit down with those who came for a meal and learn their story. They will donate their used clothing to a shelter and think themselves the next incarnation of Mother Theresa but not see Christ in their midst. They will look upon others and say things like “Beggars can’t be choosers. They should just be grateful for what we are giving them out of our generosity. I don’t have to be here helping them.” They hold onto a judgment that those in need of material goods are still somehow the cause for their plight.
As I said, this is not charity. This is do-gooder self-gratifying narcissism. It does not recognize the dignity of the receiver, nor does it enter into dialogue. What do I mean by dialogue?
In this year of Mercy we are reminded of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. For the white person who sees the suffering of others and wants to help they must first recognize what it is that Christ is actually calling on them to do. The white person who sees unemployment, violence, injustice, oppression and poverty in minorities communities, in African nations, or in South America may want to help. They may have financial or material resources to offer to ease the pain of the people. But, that white person is not a perfect person themselves. That white person is seeing those challenges from the outside looking in. That white person does not know or understand the whole story. While white folks may have the means to offer the Corporal Works of Mercy they cannot ignore the fact that they too are in need of Mercy. Most often, those without material wealth have an immeasurable spiritual depth and wealth to offer the white person. Those being served are also called to serve. Those called to offer corporal works of mercy are also called to be open to receiving the spiritual works of mercy from those they seek to help.
Charity is dialogue. No one should give without expecting to receive something in return; and something more than just a good feeling. Charity is dialogue. One should not simply offer whatever they think is needed, but should ask the recipient, “what is it that you need? What do you desire of me? How can we work together?”
If you look out in the world and see the injustices that are daily being highlighted on our computer and tv screens and you want to help then you must first ask those you wish to help what they desire and then listen, actually listen to their answer. Do not presume you know what is needed. Do not think you are there to save anyone. Do not approach charity with anything but humility and an openness to community with the other.
Charity is dialogue. So if you wish to speak, you must also listen.
This entry was posted in Current Events, Politics, Religion and tagged black lives matter, blm, Catholic, catholic social teaching, Charity, Christianity, colonial rule, colonization, racism, social justice, white man's burden.
I had the honor and pleasure to participate in an educational series put out by the Archdiocese of Dubuque. I was asked to speak about Catholic Social Teaching as part of a project the Archdiocese started last year in celebration of its 175 anniversary. The Archdiocese asked Catholics across the Archdiocese to list their Top 10 reasons why they are Catholic. Catholic Social Teaching made the list. Also on the video is my friend Stacia McDermott, a campus minister at Loras College and Dr. Jeanine Idziak, a world-renowned Catholic ethicist. I hope you enjoy the video and maybe you’ll learn something new about the Catholic Church!