Kony 2012 & The White Savior Industrial Complex

 I’m a bit late to the Kony 2012 party and I’m now feeling very uneasy about Invisible Children’s narrow-minded solution to ending child soldiering in Uganda – just arrest Joseph Kony by December!


Much has been written in the past two weeks about Invisible Children’s lack of transparency and video producer Jason Russell’s recent health problems (read Rhyme et Reason’s post on the topic). What I haven’t read about until today is the campaign’s most glaring and problematic aspect – it perfectly illustrates the White Savior Industrial Complex, as brilliantly explained by Teju Cole, a writer for The Atlantic. (Cole wrote the piece defending a series of tweets he wrote after viewing the Kony 2012 video).

The White Savior Industrial Complex centers around white people or people of privilege who enter a country, community or cultural context that is not their own with the sincere and misguided conviction that they are “doing good” for the people they want to “help.” These do-gooders often ignore, gloss over or are ignorant of the complexity of situations or problems they want to solve. They also don’t examine their own locations and privilege (race, sex/gender, nationality, class) and how that impacts their relationships with the communities they want to “help.” (Examples of the White Savior Industrial Complex are also abundant in international women’s rights campaigns. Anyone remember Western feminists’ crusade to “save” Afghan women from the Taliban by advocating for U.S. military intervention?) 

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