Was David Lammy right in ‘outing’ Stacey Dooley as a white saviour?

In the year 2000, the BBC and other British media were filled with stories and images of Prince William, future King of Great Britain, of his 10-week charity visit to Patagonia. Prince William had gone out to ‘help’.  He was pictured cleaning a toilet, doing construction work, and teaching English.


At 18 years old, this young man who had no experience of poverty, and had gone to one of the most elite schools in the world, was applauded internationally for his ‘humility’ and his ‘mucking-in’. He is pictured teaching English, was he even qualified? Other Western volunteers are interviewed, and they talk about how ’normal’ William is. The people these volunteers have gone in to ‘help’ are referred to as ‘locals’.[1]  Everything in this reportage feels like paternalism. The locals just a backdrop to the 18 year old saviour.


More recently, a 2017 fundraising campaign created for Comic Relief and the Disasters Emergency Committee won the Radi-Aid awards; an award that aims to out media that reinforce a culture of viewing recipients of aid as passive victims, and a ‘Western’ person as the saviour.[2]This time is was Ed Sheeran who was highlighted as the white saviour.


To be fair these White Saviour campaigns are happening less and less. Radi-Aid did not give out awards in 2018 as it was getting harder to source such footage. Does that mean that the attitudes underlying such media changing? Or are editors and experts simply getting better at knowing what is politically correct?


What happens when the right editor does not oversee an image or video?


Then perhaps we get videos like this UNHCR one.

We see a white woman, working for UNHCR, talking about the great need of an old man and an old woman, both refugees.  We see their total vulnerability. We see that they have no agency. We assume that it is with only our money that these brutalised people can survive.

This video was published in 2018.

Its hard to see the people behind these videos. They are one-sided caricatures.

I can see why David Lammy is frustrated. Stacy Dooley didn’t mean anything by her pictures. But neither, I am sure, did Ed Sheeran in his videos, and was William really setting out to assert his white supremacy? I am absolutely certain UNHCR had donations in mind when they made this video. Because they want to help.

Regardless if David or Stacey was in the right, the problem is that we are still forced to have these conversations. David’s post generated over 10k responses.

Conversations that show that paternalism, racism, white saviours, mistrust of ‘locals’ are still alive and well in the humanitarian aid world.



[1] See  BBC article http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1064991.stmor the Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1377745/Hard-work-and-high-adventure-for-William-in-Chile.html

[2]The Radi-Aid campaign aims to “challenge the perceptions around issues of poverty and development, to change the way fundraising campaigns communicate, and to break down dominating stereotypeshttps://www.radiaid.comhttps://youtu.be/KOF1vczQDeY

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