"Barbie Savior" Instagram Account Brilliantly Skewers White Savior Complex
Move over, "hipster" Barbie, the internet has found another white archetype to mock: the well-meaning social-justice warrior who volunteers in Africa.
You all know this person: They leave home for a semester or missionary trip abroad only to pop up in Facebook photos a few weeks later sporting cornrows and a dashiki surrounded by smiling black children they've only just met. There's nothing wrong with volunteering in Africa, of course; the problem arises when the trip serves primarily as a vehicle for this individual's personal growth rather than a boon to the people they're ostensibly helping.
The @barbiesavior Instagram account nails this tension brilliantly. Though it launched only six weeks ago, it has already amassed a treasure chest of photos and garnered more than 11,900 followers.
By mocking obligatory selfies with orphans and the archetype's overenthusiastic embrace of traditional garb and #CulturalExperiences, the account aims to skewer self-congratulatory white saviorhood.
The account bio pretty much says it all: "Jesus. Adventures. Africa. Two worlds. One love. Babies. Beauty. Not qualified. Called. 20 years young. It's not about me... but it kind of is."
According to the Huffington Post, the account's creators, who wished to remain anonymous, are self-described former "white saviors" themselves who spent time volunteering in East Africa.
"We were never as 'savioresque' as Barbie Savior, but we did things back in our white savior days that we regret," the creators emailed Huffington Post. "It really just started as a joke between us, a way to get some of these things off of our chest. Its hard to pinpoint the irony at times in real life... the wildly self-centered person veiled as the self-sacrificing saint."
The white savior is an archetype as old as colonialism itself. The attitudes fueling the photo-op-heavy volunteerism that Barbie Savior skewers can be traced to the era captured in Rudyard Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden," a manifesto for white Americans and Europeans who saw themselves as not just masters, but as saviors of the childlike black and brown peoples whose homelands they colonized in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.
"The attitude that Africa needs to be saved from itself, by Westerners, can be traced back to colonialism and slavery," the creators told Huffington Post. "It's such a simplified way to view an entire continent."
Barbie Savior isn't the first Instagram account to use the iconic doll for parodic purposes, either. In 2015, @socalitybarbie parodied the stereotypically overposed aesthetic of white hipster photography, using a mix of pristine still lifes and immaculately lit selfies.
Someone on the internet had to start doing God's work. Why shouldn't it be Barbie?