NOTE: This post was migrated on 7/26/21 from my substack after getting all of my blog moved to a secure host. If you are confused about why I wrote on substack for awhile, get your primer about my site being hacked and the ensuing chaos HERE.
P.S. If this showed up in your RSS feed reader can you email me (misszootATgmail.com) and let me know? I’m not sure how moving this stuff over and back-dating it effects things like my RSS feed.
This is a photo of the cabinets above my coffee maker. That wicker box has tea in it, and it used to sit on the counter next to the coffee maker. One day Donnie and I discussed how we hate stuff like that on the counter and I said, “But I’m learning in my old age that my space is more about serving the people who use it so I don’t mind anymore.” Donnie, on the other hand, was simply reminded that the box drove him crazy so he immediately got up to fix the situation.
And let me preface: My husband has great ideas to how to modify shared spaces to function better.
The problem is, I use that cabinet the most. I get the colanders out, I put up glasses and mugs, I know how all of that stuff is used. Donnie, on the other hand, does not. So he just started stacking the colanders and moving glasses up that that space on the third shelf. I started laughing and I said, “I love how in a discussion about making spaces functional you are doing the exact thing to make those cabinets no longer functional.”
You see, I’m short. I keep the colanders stacked and spread out like that because I kinda have to get on my tip toes to get them, and often things go flying in this process. If you put anything breakable next to them, it will definitely end up shattered on the floor the first time I grab something off that shelf. He also doesn’t know what cups get used the most, so he was putting some of the family favorites in harder to reach places. I said, “If that tea box really bothers you, give me 5 minutes and I can fix it.”
I went to the cabinet, grabbed all of the sentimental mugs and pint glasses that we don’t want to get rid of, but we don’t like to use, and put them in my china cabinet. I got rid of the mugs that are NOT sentimental AND we don’t like to use them. And bam. Enough room for the tea box. And I agree, the counter looks much better.
I’ve been thinking a lot the last few years about savior complexes. The media likes to specifically call out the “White Savior Complex” – and for good reason. White people like to find out about a problem marginalized people are having and then want to try to fix it from the outside, assuming they know best. But I think most privileged people have this complex in various capacities. Our local organization that serves a specific homeless community called “Tent City” had to request that people go through *them* if they wanted to distribute goods because they know the actual needs of the people and know their schedules an their personalities. It turned out some organizations had just felt called to serve one day and just dropped off a bunch goods that got picked through and then sat unused and getting ruined in the elements outdoors.
Charitable organizations try their best to take advantage of charity in whatever form, but a lot of times they have specific requests that no one pays attention to. Our local food bank will – of course – take donations from canned food drives, but they say specifically on their website that cash is the most helpful because they can provide nearly 5 meals for every one dollar. They also know specifically what the people they serve like and need. And yet, groups are still doing canned food drives because either A) people want to clean out their cabinets or B) people don’t feel as fulfilled handing over cash as they do a box of cans.
I just finished the book Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot and Kendall talks a lot in the book about intersectionality the ways we need to ask the people in the community we want to serve, what they need. We may think we know from the outside, surely they want to live in a nicer neighborhood! Let’s build them a house in the suburbs! But in reality, their neighborhood is what they know and they would just like to never have to worry about being evicted. White feminists especially want to focus on reproductive choice, but do we spend as much time on food insecurity? Because some women choose abortion simply because they can’t afford another mouth to feed. That might look like “choice” for someone who is pro-choice, but in actuality, the choice got taken away before they even stepped into the clinic.
I’m not sure there’s any fixes to the savior complex, and I don’t think it’s always bad. I think it’s human nature to see a problem and be drawn to “fix” it if we think we can. We should just be aware of this instinct and how it can be negative both in our homes and out in the wider community. We should take a beat when we are called to help someone, and make sure we are helping them how they want to be helped. Sometimes from the outside the fix looks easy: Just bring poor people food! But if you asked they may say, “We have SNAP/EBT for food, but we could really use a better pot for cooking.”
Or maybe there’s a problem that affects several communities. This is when intersectional collaboration is so very important. Just because you know what would make your community happy, doesn’t mean that’s the best for the wider community being served. Maybe you think that basketball court is ugly and would prefer a playground because you’ve got small children. But what about the teenagers that have something to do after school because of that court? Maybe everyone is sick of looking at the box of tea on the counter so you just move some of the glasses to the shelf with the colanders. But then your wife cracks her head open trying to get the rice strainer down and you realize you solved one problem for yourself, but created another for someone else.
I don’t think these impulses are ever anything but well-intentioned. I’ve served on four volunteer boards in my adulthood and in every group I would see new people pop in with ALL OF THE FIXES FOR ALL OF THE PROBLEMS, not knowing that some of those fixes had been tried and failed or some caused more problems. If you’ve been in a non-profit you know how much time is wasted with every new round of volunteers as people try to fix things they think aren’t working, without knowing all of the history or the information.
And this is not to say that new ideas from the outside are always bad. Sometimes outside voices in a community or organization can bring fresh ideas and new perspectives that lead to better solutions. I’ve seen groups get stagnant because they never seem to bring in new blood or new perspectives. The problem is when we steamroll the people in that community with those ideas. I just think there would be a lot of time saved if we would be more collaborative with our savior nature. Or even more submissive. I am learning that the best thing I can do for anyone I want to serve…whether it’s in our home or in a wider community…to walk in and say: I WANT TO HELP. WHAT DO YOU NEED? This is not just when I show up at a volunteer meeting, but even when I see my daughter studying. I think she wants me to quiz her, but really she just wants a snack. It feels good to start a brand new charity to serve a need you see in your city, but did you check to so if any of the groups that already tangentially serve that need, or who are already serving the same community, have any ideas? It’s not always as glamorous and it doesn’t necessarily scratch that savior itch…but if your goal is to serve, that’s the best way to do it.