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Letting Go of White Saviorism by Heather Mack

Photo of Heather Mack

I’m Heather Mack of Heather Mack Consulting. I co-create liberatory, abolitionist approaches to data, evaluation, and research. I’m also recovering from white saviorism.

Still popular among progressives, white saviorism is the racist belief that people of color can’t get themselves out of their “situation,” so they need help. Specifically, white help.

Letting go of white saviorism means accepting that it is part of my deepest conditioning. It will always be on this journey with me; my goal is to keep it from taking the wheel.

Why is white saviorism so seductive? It:

  • Lets me keep all my power!
  • Lets me avoid positioning whiteness as a problem.
  • Makes me feel empowered while living in a society that hoards power.
  • Is relieving to “fix” someone else’s problems when I feel powerless about my own.

How white saviorism distorts reality in the evaluation field:

RealityWhite savior distortion
ScarcityBIPOC are equipped to evaluate. Gatekeeping methods, including cognitive injustice and epistemicide, actively obscure contributions BIPOC offer to enhance the evaluation field.Highly qualified evaluators of color are scarce.
LegacyBIPOC are rarely included in decisions about choosing evaluation goals, which have long been weaponized against them. Until their voices inform fundamental decisions, some BIPOC will surely keep resisting researchers and evaluators.Evaluation harmed BIPOC in the past, because that’s how people were “back then.” BIPOC need my protection from those dehumanizing methods and careless evaluators.
Tools Any process that can be completed properly without surfacing racial justice issues is perpetuating white supremacy.Data collection and analysis methods are used “properly” every day without ever surfacing the current or historical prevalence of racial violence. Research and evaluation methods are benign. As long as I am a good person, the methods I use will create more good than bad.
FundersSettler colonial habits die hard. Today, all types of funding are entangled in that uninterrupted legacy of plunder and power hoarding.As an evaluator, I cooperate in this system.Colonization happened centuries ago. Funders  generously use their money to help the underprivileged.
Logic and CommunicationWhite supremacy culture has and continues to systematically discredit the forms and content of BIPOC epistemology and communication. Then white supremacy culture allows those with power to insist that BIPOC conform. If BIPOCs ever expect to be heard, they need a (white) translator to make their logic clearer, their arguments more palatable, and to make sure they are really using critical thinking skills.

Hot Tips for Recovering White Saviors:

  • Resist the impulse to throw in the towel;
  • Sit with the discomfort of all this messiness and tension
  • Resource yourself:
    • Tend to your nervous system,
    • Process with someone,
      • Find a POC professional who works with white folks on antiracism,
      • Find an antiracist white caucus or create your own.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is exploring White Privilege Week with our AEA colleagues. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AEA members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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