where trouble was needed

March 22, 2012

Teju Cole: Our Wish Come True

Filed under: Comment — Aravinda @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.

Teju Cole, The White Savior Industrial Complex , Atlantic Monthly, Mar 21 2012.

Quite true, and thoroughly complicated.   Where, there?  When, first?  What, help?  Who, them?   The more closely one works in the field, the more the questions multiply. Over-simplified and inaccurate presentations of poverty and injustice spread more easily than those that call for complex and difficult solutions, as shown by the Kony 2012 video campaign and many before that (such as Live-Aid, that met with a response, “Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records.”) Not everyone offended by such efforts can easily explain to their friends why, and for them an article like Teju Cole’s comes in handy.

In the course of his sharp critique of the growth industry capitalizing on the needs of privileged, politically naive, socially networked people to feel good, Teju Cole passes out some parcels to make the rest of us feel good.

For example, I felt good to see someone articulate the problem with Kristof. So often Saint Nick’s articles have left me uncomfortable. But his own kind-hearted sincerity is so strong that I have been at a loss to confront what disturbed me about him. Cole hit the nail on the head when he talked about how he himself was drawn in by his eloquence, and why that precisely is the problem.

Cole strikes back with Marx and Shakespeare. Of Kristof’s feeding hungry mouths, he says that Kristof “sees no need to reason out the need for the need.”

Thank you Teju Cole! You give us food for political thought, garnished with literary delicacies.

Imagine how delicious it must have felt to pen this line:

The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.

Stern tip of the hat to Marx, and even sterner rebuke to anyone who didn’t see that already.

Just above Teju Cole’s article we find this appeal to “Make a Child’s Wish Come True,” complete with a photo of an earnest child whose wish the gentle reader can fulfill with a click and a donation. Those who found Cole’s article to be a wish come true, may well respond … Aw, why not?

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