I’m sorry what I meant to say was…Fuck you Mr. Sean Penn, sir!
Crap, I really thought I was going to come up with a more subtle way to say that. I really do apologize for the foul language. While we are all adults here (or we should be), I am trying to be a better Christian and refrain from using
profanity *as much* profanity. Perhaps I’ve been listening to Lemonade a little too much this past month.
Or perhaps Sean Penn is a pompous Hollywood “A-lister” (I still have yet to see concrete criteria for their listing system so I’m skeptical of its validity) with a SEVERE case of White Savior Complex or WSC.
What is WSC you ask? It’s a condition with millions of sufferers, and unfortunately too many people are unaware that they are afflicted with this ailment. People living with this condition can be seen traveling to “Africa” or “some other poor country” (Because really all African countries are the same so it’s one giant conglomerate of poverty), taking pictures of hungry, crying babies (They usually wait right as a fly lands on the child’s lip or eyelid and that has to be a skill), crying about how they are so grateful for their experience in *insert country* because it showed them how truly blessed they are and how truly miserable these people are. They have no technical or concrete skills to offer and can be seen trying to “build a house or school” with a) no basic understanding of construction and b) not even an inkling of resource and setting appropriate materials. Some women suffering from WSC will often
attempt to get their hair braided, a traditional Black hair style. Symptoms may also include “adopting a child for just 35 cents a day”.
South African comedian bae’s spoof aside, where exactly is this going and why Sean Penn? You’re right, I have some personal reasons for specifically talking about Mr. Penn but this could also apply to people from the Christ Savior Blond Jesus Church in Missouri, no sha…Who are we kidding? ALL OF THE SHADE
So why Sean Penn? Well, last year, an article was published on ProPublica titled “How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti and Built Six Homes” (That’s a whole other…hum…fuckery, that I can’t even begin to dissect). Mr. Penn was “provoked” by the criticism in the former piece and decided to write an editorial that was published in the Huffington Post, “Our Cross to Bear“. Let’s see what Mr. Penn had to say shall we.
First of all, can we talk about the title of his “op-ed”? I gotta hand it to you sir. That right there is talent. In less than a sentence, you manage to be a self-righteous, pompous ass (I think I said that earlier but it’s still true so go with it). Not only do you call Haiti a cross, sooo a burden, but by using the cross analogy, you liken yourself to Jesus AND somehow Haiti/international work is YOUR/your fellow (presumably white) brethren’s responsibility.
You can all go home folks…well actually millions of Haitians living in Haiti, y’all gots to go ‘cuz dear ol’ Sean got this. So scram!
Then, he strings together some words that I’m sure he felt were poetic about “aid work” being a constant exploration of self. What exactly does that even mean? Help the poor, discover yourself. Sooo…basically, come experience live-action poverty porn and explore yourself. Come (it would have been too much to spell it the other way 😉 ) on down! Do you think they considered that as a slogan but thought: “Nah, a little too on the nose. We have to seduce them with a little bit more subtlety”?
He follows up with: “Haiti is, in so many ways, like anywhere else in the world. Where it is poorer, it is more resilient, and perhaps, more imaginative. Where it is corrupt, its anti-corruption is heroic. Where it is bitter, it is a judgment only to be cast upon itself. And where it is hopeful, it is deserving of care, brotherhood, sisterhood, compassion and respect. Like other places, it is ultimately rewarded and denied.”
First of all, thanks Sir. Arthur Doyle. “Haiti is, in so many ways, like anywhere else in the world.” WOW! Bravo! You’ve opened our eyes to the fact that Haiti, as a country on this planet, is similar to other countries because get this…(come in a little closer) it is a land mass, with a history, people and culture.
Oh, and the follow-up with the flaws is a stroke of genius. “It’s like everywhere else but they po’ (not poor cuz they can’t afford the last 2 letters) AF, they corrupt and they some bitter MOFOs. But like y’all can’t say they bitter, even though I just did.” And the backhanded way in which this analysis is done, is just….
I know you fancy yourself a wannabe journalist sir, and based on what I’m seeing, once you’re done with this “aid work” and “self-exploration”, it will be a natural transition. And if haters try to deter you by telling you that: “your writing is sub par”, or “you’re an ass hat”, you pay them no mind. Because you’re a rich white man and rich white men CAN DO ANYTHING THEY ARE NOT QUALIFIED TO DO!
But let’s be honest, you didn’t really need me to tell you that, now did you? Because, when you write beautiful prose such as the next paragraph, the world is your oyster.
“Yet still, life and aid remain an exploration. Like in all aspects of life, transparency itself becomes a balance of perception and survival. Identity and agenda. Strategy and will. Yet whenever those things are reliant on dollars and cents, media embrace or oversight, the checks and balances are in the hands of such a varied assortment of personal, institutional, and societal narrow-mindedness, that we rely more than with our own hearts and minds on what has become, on what is, the perception most trending. How can we defy that? How can we rise up? First, with self-reflection and gratitude.”
Y’all tell me what that meant? Now, English is not my first language, so it is absolutely possible that my lack of understanding of Dr. Penn (he ain’t a doctor but really there’s nothing stopping him so give the man the respect he hasn’t earned)’s beautifully penned words are less a reflection of his talent, and more an indictment of my own shortcomings. And if that’s the case, educate me people! I’ve given y’all so many free lessons (here, here, and here to name a few). I need you to return the favor.
Finally, the gentleman ends with these words: “What my eyes have seen make me grateful to the American Red Cross. By its detractors, I will certainly be accused of things I will not speculate upon here. By its beneficiaries, I stand in solidarity. My hope in writing this is that those who choose to invest outside their own homes, whether of their hearts, their minds, their bodies, or their wallets, that this may serve more importantly than the targeting of its writer, or a defense of any other person or organization, rather as a simple encouragement to look very deeply into what remains more of a question than an answer.”
Translation: “I’ve probably done some shady stuff but I’m just gon’ say that haters gon’ hate. And instead of encouraging a healthy dialogue on the nature of international aid work, its financing and the inherent paternalism, I’m just gonna say “I got your back homie. They ain’t got the answers.” And to you, my fellow white saviors, don’t let them scare you. Join us! We got Clintons, we got griot (you’ll learn what that is), we got galas with Oprah, we got #beachlife. And don’t worry about people tryna poke and prod to keep us accountable. We can keep writing circular sentences, throw my “Oscar-winning” name behind it and call it a day. You owe it yourself to explore yourself!”
Pheeeeww! That was a LOT! And I know that I focused on Sean Penn and this is personal because it’s Haiti, but if you look beyond the “not so thinly veiled” insults and dripping sarcasm, here’s what I’m essentially saying:
International aid work is complicated. Most people get involved in international work with the best intentions. Unfortunately, those same people are never expected to fully unpack their knapsack of privilege. So they travel to a country and essentially tell the locals: “Who’s your daddy?” And we’re saying: “It damn sure ain’t you bih.”
After the earthquake in 2010, Haitian doctors went to volunteer despite having lost loved ones. They were treated as less than…less than smart, less than capable, less than everything. And that’s only what I experienced/saw first-hand. From the surgeon who kept talking about how “these Haitian nurses were quite dumb and [he] was flabbergasted at their lack of skills” to the pediatrician who saw my Tufts shirt, informed me that it was her alma mater and assumed it was donated to me by some well-meaning Samaritan. Because I couldn’t have possibly gone to such a prestigious school?! Quite frankly, I wished someone had given me that shirt because then I wouldn’t have something in common with her.
So next time your WSC flares up, remember this: You are a guest in our country. No matter what you’re doing, how much you think you’re helping (or are actually helping), you are here because we allow you to be here. Do not forget that. Because you may run into a smart mouth like myself, who will tell you about yourself or write a scathing blog post about you.
P.S: Saying “OMG, seeing those poor kids in Africa made me realize how fortunate I am”, makes me want to slap you across your face. It doesn’t show that you care nor does it highlight any work that you did. What it shows is your incredible privilege and your inability to recognize that inequity exists within the borders of all countries. I sat next to a woman from Iowa on the plane back to the States who told me that it made her stop and think when she saw this woman who didn’t have access to healthcare. “She would have at least had a chance in the States.”
Riiiiiiiiiiight?! Because there’s universal healthcare coverage, everyone (especially Black people) have access to the same services and it’s affordable. Give me a break!
P.P.S: Winning an Oscar, is just that. Winning an Oscar. It means that people have decided that you’re good at ACTING. Not international diplomacy, not surgery, not writing, not singing. ACTING! So stay in your lane. And if you’re going to switch lanes, don’t say you’re an Oscar winner as if that holds any weight in your new lane. You don’t see me trying to get the lead role in MacBeth by saying: “But I’m a Master of Epidemiology.”
Disclaimer: I’m technically in international work and I wrestle with that shit EVERY. SINGLE. DAY! But I’ve been writing this for months now and after that lady from Iowa, the 5 groups from “Church of White Jesus United”, I had had enough!