How Can I Travel To Africa Without Being A White Savior?

White People Asking Questions is a series where White people submit questions and they are posed anonymously to the public for a 24-hour period and are answered anonymously.

Oftentimes White people have questions about themselves, People Of Color (POCs), or awkward situations, but are afraid to ask them due to public backlash. On the other hand, POCs get asked these questions every day and are burdened with the emotional labor of constantly explaining the same concept to people that will never relate because it is not their experience.

But just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean you don’t want to learn and do something about it. Amirite? As Angela Davis said, “You have to be intentionally and actively anti-racist.” 

Therefore, this series is having the conversation on how White People can be ACTIVE in dismantling racist systems and not passively watching. What is unique, though, is this series is set up to be answered primarily BY White People FOR White People teach each other about their privileges. POCs are always welcome to participate in dialogue, but this also creates a space for POCs to watch White People do the work in educating each other. Many times our communities are so disconnected that we don’t know the conversations happening amongst other communities. This is also meant as a resource for POCs to direct White People to for difficult concepts.

How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch wants to acknowledge and thank everyone who took on the emotional labor of sending in these responses. We include all responses that are directly relevant to answering the question. We don’t filter or edit, but we do correct spelling and grammatical errors. Highlighted in red at the bottom is the takeaway of the discussion.

[Kiona: This series is to promote a safe learning environment so that no one can attack your anonymous responses. And not all people who ask have been White…Anyone can respond. I just ask that you identify yourself as White or not so we can see perspective…]

Question:

I am a white female. Yes I grew up in Eastern Europe in a very unprivileged place and my upbringing was unprivileged (for a white person) but my skin colour and nationality now holds so much privilege. I went on a school trip at 15 to Kenya and what we and I did then makes me embarrassed now. I love Africa and I plan to return but I want to know, how as a woman of white colour I can do my best to be not another white saviour, to visit and experience THEIR amazing culture and to be respectful. I want to be a part of THEIR continent, a part of THEIR culture and not bring any of my stupid western stupidity. I hope this makes sense. Thank you.

[Kiona: I’ve gotten a few WPA on this same subject. Basically, how can I travel to Africa or “help” in Africa without being a White Savior.]

African/African Diaspora Response:

African POC here. Firstly, maybe don’t visit as a volunteer. Secondly, if your heart is set on volunteering, get in touch with African built initiatives, not just initiatives that have African faces on them that are pretending to be African. My advice: if a foreigner is in any position of power, best to stay away. Do some research about the culture and country before you visit, preferably written or recorded by local authors. Aside from that, enjoy and appreciate whichever country you decide to visit!

POC Responses:

The best thing to do imo is to see what local leaders are already doing, and support them with money. in many cases, supporting community leaders with money is more helpful because THEY know their community best and THEY know their needs inside and out.

POC currently living in Africa: As a general rule, avoid volunteer programs. If you have less experience, look up internships or fellowships. If you’re a professional, find organizations in your field and reach out to ask how you can support – they may need capacity building. Short-term trips rarely make a lasting impact, so I wouldn’t recommend a 2 week medical mission or that sort of thing. Ask yourself if the way you’re engaging is TRULY sustainable. Are locals leading the initiative? Are you taking a job away from locals? How can you leverage your privilege, connections, and relative wealth to support and uplift others? Also, immerse yourself in learning. There are tons of books, blogs, etc about int’l development that document failed projects, lessons learned, best practices…Do your research and learn from others. Be willing to put your ego aside and do not seek to centre yourself.

White Responses:

White soman here. In most cases, the best way you can visit is as a tourist. Do your research on countries where tourism dollars can go a long way. For example, countries where travelers have been scared away by terrorist attacks or where tourist infrastructure is still developing. Stay in locally owned accommodations and use local tour guides/activities/restaurants. Nothing wrong with doing a safari if that’s your thing, but take the time to visit culturally and/or historically significant sites, as well. Ahead of time, read books by authors from the country(ies) you plan to visit, read up on history/news from the area, and try to learn at least a few words in the local language.

White woman here. I’d say first things first, follow the NoWhiteSaviours IG account that raises a sh*tton of awareness about these issues in Africa (and specifically Uganda if I’m correct) + only take part in actions led by locals, with organisations run by locals, and actually LISTEN to what they say and ask. If it’s only to travel, once again I’d say local is the key: choose to stay in locally run accommodation premises, have a local guide, etc.

White person here. I also identify as a recovering white savior and I live in east Africa. Come to Africa as a tourist and support local economy. See the beauty of the country you visit. Support African-owned businesses over expat-owned. @nowhitesaviors is a great resource before traveling to Africa as a white person. Also @twodustytravelers has great highlights about voluntourism.

[Kiona: @twodustytravelers actually wrote an entire post about this for my website: How Not To Volunteer Like A Basic Nurse also check these highlights on @twodustytravelers: Voluntourism, Med. Missions, Ethical Travel]

White here. I’ve been living/working in two different African countries now for a couple years. From an organizational perspective, often what is needed most isn’t the most glamorous. Like, we needed some back end stuff on the website, and we had Aunt volunteers whining that they didn’t like it. They end up moving on to something less (not at all) helpful for the organization, but only for their egos. You may think you’re helping, but managing volunteers takes time and money, and the shorter the time, the less return on investment the organization gets. So sometimes it’s just better to give money. But don’t stop from visiting! There are so many great tourist things to do! And spending your dollars or euros makes a difference. Hire a local guide. And there are locally owned chains in some places. Though I wouldn’t expect to be a part of the culture on a tourist trip, necessarily.

White person here. This person mentioned they grew up in an area that was underprivileged – I’d ask them to reflect on why they want to focus on Kenya or Africa instead of volunteering where she grew up or places in her home country where she has a better grasp on the culture and community needs. Since I’ve been following you, I’ve been taking the advice of this platform and always looking to spend money on local guides and local establishments to ensure that my money goes back into the local economy and not back to anyone trying to take advantage.

(I’m white) To add on to everyone else’s excellent points about choosing local organizations if you’re set on volunteering, don’t volunteer in orphanages!! It’s very damaging to children’s development to get attached to caretakers who then leave after a few weeks.

White woman here, living and working in rural Rwanda. I think there are two really important areas to focus your energy: where you put your money/time and how you represent your experiences on social media. Not all tour companies/cooperatives/agencies are created the same. Make sure that they’re locally run and that as much of their resources as possible are going back into he local community. Read up on the places your visiting and the groups you’re traveling with, make sure they put the needs of the local people first. Your money and time can have a big impact, but if it’s being cycled back to an outside group then that input is wasted. As for media representation, one of the big things I always tell people is to remember that most viewers from your home will assume the positive images are an exception and the negative images are the rule for the country your visiting – this is especially true for countries on the African continent when their portrayed to white audiences. Basically, we’re used to seeing one image of “Africa,” poverty, need and hardship. You have a great opportunity to tell a different story. To challenge your white family and friends to think differently. Give them a new narrative. Try your hardest to do this, but make sure that in the process you stay respectful to the people around you. Ask permission before taking photos, don’t take pictures of kids unless you have explicit permission from their parents (and they need to understand what you mean if the language barrier prevents this and there’s no one to help you explain, don’t take the photo). Think about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Try as hard as you can to acknowledge the complexity of the culture your in and avoid stereotypes. And as often as possible, pass the microphone.

[Kiona: I think this is the best answer regarding travel.]

Takeaway:

Basically when traveling, you can “help” Africa by supporting African owned and run businesses and organizations. With your dollars. 

And be aware of the power you hold in your portrayal of the country you’re traveling to and the story you tell to other people.

To submit a question, go to How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch and submit a question in DM or email kiona@hownottotravellikeabasicbitch.com.

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