When sharing content on social media, you are the editor of your own real-time biography, while at the same time positioning yourself in the story you convey. Some volunteers use this opportunity to narrate a story making them look like superheroes for a day. But are they really? And does it promote dignity?
Documenting your life on social media while travelling is all about storytelling. While most people are quite conscious about safeguarding people’s dignity when posting on social media from their home country, this is often ignored once the foot is set in another country – particularly true for Western travellers winding up in developing countries.
The erosion of dignity can happen in a variety of ways. Sometimes the erosion of dignity is obvious, however, most of the time the erosion of dignity happens in more subtle ways. Often the erosion of dignity is closely linked to what is referred to as “the white savior complex” – a term tied up in colonial history where Europeans descended to 'civilize' the African continent. In a postcolonial context, the white savior complex is still highly discernible on social media, often in the form of portraying oneself as the hero of the day, while handing out crayons or candy to children in the countryside of an unnamed African country. However, even if the number of likes on Instagram tells you otherwise, you are not the hero in the story. This is in many instances perceived as both patronizing and offensive by the people you write into your story as those being saved.
You have a responsibility and the power to make sure what you write and post does not negatively reflect on the people you are interacting with. Always keep in mind that people are not tourist attractions, and it is vital that we stop treating them as such. Words such as ‘hopeless’, ‘desperate’, ‘impoverished’ and other poverty buzzword should be avoided if you want to escape the white savior complex.
If you want a heroic, inspiring post while at the same time promoting dignity and avoid being a white savior, this is achievable: Do some research and highlight instead what individuals living in the places you are visiting are doing to improve the conditions in their own community. They are the true heroes in their story.