Savior versus Ally

I finally had the opportunity to see the movie “Greenbook” and…it was pretty frustrating. Why was it frustrating you ask? Well, there is this quote by Lilla Watson that we like to use when we are facilitating our Anti-Oppression, Mass Incarceration workshop that says, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

White savior tropes* are real and they have been playing on the silver screen for years. Greenbook was just the latest example of it. But they don’t only show up in movies they also show up consistently in non-profit work. That’s why the quote is so significant. If you help because you believe I am less than you, a disempowered mess who needs to be saved because of my inability to save myself…then you are wasting your time. You are wasting your time, because if you believe that, then that will show up in how you help.

In my opinion, help should be empowering. In my opinion, someone coming to help won’t center themselves amplifying their voice and presence all the while de-centering you and marginalizing your voice and your presence. But…if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine…if you are really in it with me as an accomplice (as an ally) and you want to help me to center my empowered voice…then let us work together. Let us grow together. Let us dismantle the systems of oppression…together.

-David Heppard


* trope, /trōp/, noun, a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression. TROPE really refers to an often overused plot device. It can also be described as another variation on the same theme. TV shows, movies, comics, games, anime’, & books are full of tropes & many rabid fan-sites now name & track said tropes with a self-explanatory title for each one.