The Dangers of Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is the greatest enemy of humanitarian aid and, unfortunately, it is also one of the easiest to become a victim of. Ethnocentrism stems from our personal experiences, our views and our opinions, essentially all of the things that have shaped us as we have grown. Although no one can fault a person for being initially biased based on what they have personally experienced, one can fault someone for not attempting to first understand and look at a situation from another perspective before they take action. Although I am sure Jason Russell and the rest of the Invisible Children team’s intentions were pure, their execution was marred by arrogance.

Russell oversimplifies the issue of child soldiers in Africa, not maliciously, but because of an inability to put his own ego aside or, as Teju Cole puts it, “think constellationally.” Cole believes that Russell’s good heart is not enough to allow him to, “See the patterns of power behind the isolated ‘disasters’.” (Cole)

Russell’s attempt to make a large impact, unfortunately also pushed his efforts past the point of valiant and into the realm of being dangerous. As Cole says in his article, it is important never to forget the principle, “first, do no harm.” The KONY movement oversimplified the facts in order to create an emotional impact on its audience, and its hope was that this emotion would turn into action. However this oversimplification also led to a mass movement of relatively uninformed activists demanding a change in a conflict they didn’t really understand. Watching one youtube video does not make one an expert, and simply being white and privileged doesn’t mean that one knows better than the victims themselves how best to be helped.

Russell makes some glaring mistakes as a result of ignorance, and as a result unintentionally misled millions of people to support military action by an army that they knew nothing about.  An aid worker from a group known as “Change from Within, says that, “Invisible Children assumes that the Ugandan Army, a group also under investigation by the ICC for atrocities committed against civilians, is a group we should support.” (Utt)

The KONY movement is a perfect example of the White Savior complex, something that Cole says, “Is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” (Cole)

The feelings that sometimes can form into this complex are not necessarily out of racism or any sort of holier-than-thou attitude, but rather from a sense of guilt about ones own privilege and quality of life, while others are left to suffer. When these feelings become dangerous however is when we assume the attitude that we alone know the right course of action, and that we alone must push forward and that we alone must create positive change as we see it.

This self-centeredness can be extremely detrimental to aid efforts, as shown by MSF’s insistence at doing things their own way, even going so far as to refuse “to use the aid resources of other relief organizations (food from the UN World Food Program in Niger, for example.) (Abu-Sada) If MSF were truly concerned about the welfare of the people they want to assist, then they should put their needs above MSF’s desire for self-reliance.

Russell has promoted military action by the Ugandan Army against Kony to bring him before the International Criminal Court, but the Ugandan Army themselves are currently under investigation by the ICC for alleged crimes against humanity.

Russell has promoted military action by the Ugandan Army against Kony to bring him before the International Criminal Court, but the Ugandan Army themselves are currently under investigation by the ICC for alleged crimes against humanity.

 

If nothing else these instances prove that we must do a better job of examining our intentions, and researching all of the facts before we take action.

 

Works Cited:

Utt, Jamie. March 8, 2012. June 13, 2013. http://changefromwithin.org/2012/03/08/kony-2012-and-the-white-savior-complex/

 

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. March 2012. June 13, 2013.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/

 

Abu-Sada, Caroline. “In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid.” Doctors Without Borders. 2012. Print.

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