White savior syndrome, the belief in the necessity of White people swooping in to save people of color from a terrible plight is pretty terrible. We can all agree on that. But perhaps what’s even worse is the White savior recognizing their limitations and then pronouncing death, doom and destruction over a Black life.
This is what happened when Jossa Johansson went to visit Nairobi, Kenya. Like many European and even American tourists, Johansson went with good intentions. She thought she was there to be benevolent, philanthropic, to help those she assumed were less fortunate than her. And when it was time for her to leave Kenya, she wanted to commemorate the experience on Instagram with a goodbye post, to a young girl she was shown embracing.
It started off so nicely, didn’t it? She was saying the child inspired her. And I thought it was going to be just a minor infraction, like providing affection only to leave and never see this child again, something we could all easily be guilty of. But it only got worse.
“I would never want this [referring to the child’s life] for my worse enemie (sic)”
“One of the most happiest moment (sic) in your life was probably when you met me and my friends…”
“In two years you are going to meet a grown up man that you have never met before, you two are going to have a child, and then if you are lucky he’s gonna stay with you, but he will probably leave you alone with your child in your small home made of mud and trees.”
“You will probably sell your body to someone else to earn money for your child.”
It’s clear that her heartfelt letter to this dear child was written out of pity and superiority rather than compassion and any real desire to help in any way. She was so taken with and inspired by this child, still, she wouldn’t wish her circumstances or environment on her worst enemy. I’ve never been to Kenya but I’ve seen poverty, in various places, including the United States so I can understand what she means. Some levels of poverty are unfathomable and inexcusable. Still, regardless of this child’s environment, she’s still an inspiration, she’s still willing, from the looks of this picture, to give and receive love. But given this woman’s interpretation of her time in Kenya, I don’t know if we can trust her opinion.
Speaking as some type of psychic or authority on the projected life outcomes for girls in Nairobi, she makes predictions over the girl’s future. That she’ll meet and have children with a grown man she doesn’t know. That he’ll leave her. And that her home will be made of mud and trees.
That last sentence alone lets me know she’s on some bullshit. This picture of Jossa hugging this child is small. But even still, we can see that there are structures, maybe even apartments, directly behind them, that are built of cement and glass. I guess she ignored them, preferring to rely on stereotypes of African dwellings made of mud and trees.
Then she said this child would have to sell her body in order to earn money to support her child. I don’t want to sound faux-deep, but it seemed that Jossa was trying to curse this little girl.
It was clear that this picture was one of many social media posts meant to garner attention and praise from her followers. And even in her attempt to be celebrated, she couldn’t even play the part of White savior properly. She didn’t speak about the ways she planned to help. She announced that the two would likely never meet again and dipped, telling the girl to be hopeful after proclaiming that her life would be full of despair.
After all of the backlash, which included people reporting the photo, calling her a White savior and asking the government to end “slum tourism,” Johansson edited her caption, attempting to add clarity to her original words.
She admits applying the story of one person to this little girl, with no real reasoning for this happening. But more than that, she wants to let us know that she is not racist. And still, despite her post, is more of a hero than the rest of us. Classic White savior.