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Aethelflaed's avatar

Is there a name for this trope? Kinda like racism, but a little bit different? (details)

Asked by Aethelflaed (13717 points ) November 16th, 2011

So there’s that sort of trope where someone of the privileged group cares so much about the group that’s oppressed/marginalized, that they have to help save the oppressed/marginalized group – even if the oppressed/marginalized group doesn’t want this person’s help, even if they really disagree with this particular course of action, even if they’re actually totally fine with what’s going on. For this person, they can’t just be an ally (for whatever reason, which they assure us is totally noble), but need to be a leader. Some examples are: white person being so pissed off at racism that they have to be the president of a POC activist group, or a man being so feminist he can’t let a woman be president of this feminist group, or an American being all “Don’t worry, Africa, I’m here now to save you”. Or maybe it’s not an American, but Che Guevara. It’s sort of in the mansplaining/whitesplaining/thinsplaining/etc area, but more as a personality than an act. And I figure, this is such a common thing, such a common problem, that someone has to have come up with a name for this trope. Do you know what the name of this trope is?

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19 Answers

whitetigress's avatar

It’s called being noble.

martianspringtime's avatar

I don’t know what the name of this is, but I think we see it in every one of those ~“brilliant white woman saves all of the black children who never would have been anything if it weren’t for her!!!” movies.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@martianspringtime Yeah, it’s a really common trope, both in fiction and in real life. I was referred to Mighty Whitey, which is exactly it, except that sometimes it’s not a race issue, which Mighty Whitey is.

Blackberry's avatar

Lol! The brave white person going to save the ghetto school children.

Haleth's avatar

@Blackberry Ha! I was writing this long windbag of an explanation and you put it in one sentence.

I think White Man’s Burden might be a bit of a better fit than “Mighty Whitey.” The main example on that page is The Blind Side, which is the first thing I thought of when I saw this question. It’s all about this smarmy need to “save” people.

Looking at the page made me think- Rudyard Kipling coined the phrase in 1899 and he was basically talking about Europe colonizing the rest of the world and it being the best thing that ever happened to them. To the rest of world, not to Europe- they’re the ones with this horrible “burden.” Nowadays we’ve got a serious dose of white guilt and hypocrisy mixed in, like in The Blind Side. But more than 100 years later, still basically doing the same thing. ...that’s pretty sad.

I’m still scratching my head about the original question, a name that describes this behavior in any context.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Another example can be missionaries bringing religion to “savages”.

I can’t thing of a word for it either. Somehow “magnanimous” or “misguided” needs to be in there.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Kind of like intellectual imperialism.

gailcalled's avatar

I couldn’t read all the details..too wordy… but what about noblesse oblige.?

Kayak8's avatar

It sounds like paternalism . . . or patronizing . . .

anartist's avatar

isn’t it also a bit of ethnocentrism on the part of the speaker?

Aethelflaed's avatar

@anartist Yeah. Again, I’m looking for a noun, not adjectives (because I can come up with tons of those…).

Aethelflaed's avatar

@gailcalled Well, seeing as how you’re normally such a proponent of newbies conforming to writing standards, perhaps you could try to read my entire details? It isn’t really that long.

gailcalled's avatar

@Aethelflaed It’s not the length that defeated me. I believe that I got the point. And I am still a proponent of writing standards. “If I had had more time, I would have made it shorter.”

Aethelflaed's avatar

@gailcalled Well, other people don’t come on to your questions and say they dislike your style, even though I’m sure some do, and none of your criticism on this question is in any way constructive; it’s just criticism. Maybe you could be a little bit nicer to other people when it comes to writing. And maybe you did get the point, and maybe you didn’t – but when you openly admit to not finishing the details, and then don’t give exactly the answer I’m looking for, I don’t feel totally out of line in thinking maybe there’s a chance you didn’t get it.

gailcalled's avatar

@Aethelflaed: Is “noblesse oblige” close to the nominal expression that you said you were looking for? That was the main thrust of my answer.

I get it. I get it. I get it.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@gailcalled Not really. It’s sort of “red”, and I’m looking for “chili pepper red” so I can differentiate it from “carnelian” and “scarlet” and “Venetian red”.

anartist's avatar

@Aethelflaed both “noblesse oblige” and “ethnocentrism” are nouns so your reply above surprises me.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@anartist Hmm. You are correct. They are still not what I’m looking for, but you got me there. :)

The_Idler's avatar

Hmmm. It certainly sounds like paternalism to me.

“Taking on” the responsibility of ‘care’ for others, including spiritual, social, philosophical “guidance”, with a great deal of condescending huffing&puffing. Almost always associated with a fatherly belittlement of the subjects’ own, personal desires.

Paternalism almost literally means “Daddy knows best” & that’s how the ruling classes treated the plebs for most of our history. It’s also how they treated colonial subjects, when the Empire had progressed past slavery, to the point of recognising other races as ‘people’, but just childlike. This ties in with the idea of the White Man’s Burden.

From an American perspective, due to recent history and present attitudes, it is often…surprising to think about racism without malice. But that is what exists in most of the rest of the developed world. Seriously, the vast majority of racists here (and in China, and in Japan) don’t hate Africans, or think their lives are worth less than theirs, but they certainly think of them like unruly children… who need to be ‘guided’ by Daddy.

That is paternalism, and that is racism, although it is a less shocking form than the images we have of American racism.

Either way, regardless of the distinguishing features of the subjects, whether skin colour or class, the idea itself is paternalism.

It’s probably the most notorious and derided characteristic of the stereotypical British (English) upper classes, but to be honest I think I’d rather have the self-righteous, hobbyistic sympathy of the Barons, than the absolutist disinterest of the Bourbons, or the ‘coercive re-education’ of the gulags…

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