A letter by a Canadian Native American woman to Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues, echoes many of the issues Haitians face with the White Savior Industrial Complex ("WSIC") and its army of 3,000 NGOs, 12,000 UN troops, innumerable speakers for Haiti, appropriators of Haiti's ancestral religion, culture and music and other so-called "allies" who silence Haitians for a profit while assuming our voice:
Your organization took a photo of Ashley Callingbull, and used it to promote V-Day Canada and One Billion Rising, without her consent. You then wrote the word “vanishing” on the photo, and implied that Indigenous women are disappearing, and inherently suggested that we are in some type of dire need of your saving. You then said that Indigenous women were V-Day Canada’s “spotlight”. V-Day completely ignored the fact that February 14th is an iconic day for Indigenous women in Canada, and marches, vigils, and rallies had already been happening for decades to honor the missing and murdered Indigenous women.[...]Read the full letter here: An Open Letter to Eve Ensler - Life Returned ht.ly/kIGXq
When women in Canada brought up these exact issues, V-Day responded to them by deleting the comment threads that were on Facebook. For a person and organization who works to end violence against women, this is certainly the opposite of that. Although I’m specifically addressing V-Day, this is not an isolated incident. This is something that Indigenous women constantly face. This erasure of identity and white, colonial, feminism is in fact, a form of violence against us. The exploitation and cultural appropriation creates and excuses the violence done to us.
When I told you that your white, colonial, feminism is hurting us, you started crying. Eve, you are not the victim here. [...] This is not being a good ally. [...]
At the end of our conversation you offered me the opportunity to join V-Day. Offered me money. Offered me to become a spokesperson for Native American women. These are things I am not interested in. I do not want to be part of the white savior industrial complex, and I never want to duplicate saviorism and colonialism within my own organization, Save Wiyabi Project, and I’m surely not interested in selling my soul and integrity for a bit of cash and perceived prestige.
Kudos to the author, Lauren Chief Elk, for refusing to be bought off. Indeed, it is often because of money and potential "prestige" carried by WSIC "brands" that we relinquish our voices and agency to the WSIC, only to regret it when the damage is irreversible.
We owe the concept of the White Savior Industrial Complex to Teju Cole. [The White-Savior Industrial Complex - Teju Cole - The Atlantic http://ht.ly/kOELo ] In his own words:
The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening. ... The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.
More about the ways in which Haitians are hurt by the army of non-Haitian "experts" who speak for us every day in the corporate media here. [Colonialism of the Mind – Part I | NEWS JUNKIE POST http://ht.ly/kMuJA.] In author Dady Chery's words:
Western journalists increasingly assume the voices of subjugated countries’ natives while muzzling them by denying them access to the press. In the United States, the more visible venues of the alternative press, such as online news sites Truthout, Common Dreams, and Huffington Post are essentially closed to native writers. This colonialism of the mind is rampant when it comes to Haiti ... Westerners, whatever their political leaning, do reserve their right to rule the world, and the right to pontificate to the ignorant natives is very much a part of it.
- Stop posting, quoting or amplifying the appropriators of your voice EXCEPT WHEN THEIR ARTICLES CONTAIN INFORMATION OF CONSTRUCTIVE VALUE TO HAITIANS. In that case, cut and paste ONLY the useful information without otherwise promoting your sabotager. After all, they are insiders to the current system, and as such may have information that you will never be privy to. But beyond that information, do not further amplify their inevitable references to "poorest country in the you know what" or gratuitous use of the word V-O-O-D-O-O in the titles of their books or other tragic depictions of Haiti that leave out their own participation to its plight and ultimately demean YOU.
- Stop seeking their approval and attention. They will not help promote your voice in any meaningful way or beyond the strictures of tokenism. Instead carry your own voice on your own behalf via the innumerable free communications tools available to you online or in the Haitian or Afro-descendant groups, associations or organizations you belong to. If you are Haitian and you need guidance or training in online communication tools, let me know.
- Do not honor, reward or give awards to these covert profiteers in any way.
- Avoid spending too much time or energy in forums, conferences or platforms that seek to explain to members of the WSIC how they muzzle you. That is a waste of time and energy and they know the answer better than you while most Haitians do not. Instead spend that energy in explaining to HAITIANS how and why they should not promote their silencers and pointing them to Haitian authored content and cultural production.
- Read the Haitian papers and Haitian blogs regularly and repost the content. Do so with a critical eye because inevitably some of our own content is heavily influenced by the WSI/NGO complex. After all, WSIC dollars are in constant and heavy rotation in Haiti and their ideas are common currency in the global mainstream and therefore among well-meaning Haitians.
UPDATE 4:49PM: Just received this bit of feedback on this post from the author of the Open Letter, Lauren Chief Elk, @ChiefElk, via Twitter: "Raising a fist in the air for you and Haiti. Your additions to the open letter were very important & needed. Thank you. We've been applying how this saviorism & exploitation is in direct correlation to violence against us & a gleaning example is the Indian Child Welfare Act. The cheerleaders against it see us as pathetic & tragic, & think our babies should be able to be adopted into "better homes" off reservations. I thought about the missionaries who kidnapped Haitian babies post-earthquake in the name of "saving" them. *puke*."
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