White Man's Burden


(permanent link) added: 2010-04-05 10:55:46 sponsor: rjung (last reply: 2010-04-06 22:45:04)

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(Trope inspired by discussion in this thread)

This trope is about a plot where an ordinary white person meets an underprivileged minority character, takes pity on the other character's plight, then selflessly volunteers to become a tutor, mentor, or caretaker to make things better for the unfortunate victim.

This is a sister trope to Magical Negro, but is not a direct inversion of it. While a Magic Negro is depicted as a supporting character to the protagonist, the rescuer is the protagonist in a White Man's Burden story. Also, many Magic Negros are depicted with supernatural or otherworldly abilities, but the samaritan in White Man's Burden will always be an ordinary person, the easier for the audience to identify with.

While there is some Truth in Television to this trope, there are also some Unfortunate Implications involved. Given the racial makeup of the characters, the unspoken subtext of these stories is that minorities need a Caucasian hero to save them from destitute and despair. Also, the mentor in a White Man's Burden story is almost always shown struggling to make things better, suggesting that the subject of their rescue should be grateful for their efforts.

Works in this trope are very frequently created as Oscar Bait. Can easily induce Narm, Glurge, and/or an Anvilicious Broken Aesop in the hands of a poor creator.

Contrast with Mighty Whitey, where a white person joins a foreign culture and soon becomes the most proficient member in it.


Examples:

  • The Blind Side has a privileged white housewife who takes pity on a Big Scary Black Man and helps him become a professional football player.
  • Hancock begins with a washed-up (black) superhero who gets a personality and image makeover due to the generosity of a white man he rescued.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird has this, as part of its overall anti-racism message.
  • Dangerous Minds - Michelle Pfeiffer teaches minority students in an inner city school.
  • Renaissance Man - Danny Devito teaches minority deadbeats in the armed forces.
  • Hard Ball - Keanu Reaves teaches baseball to inner-city kids.
  • Parodied in an SNL called "Nice White Lady," imitating all the stories of nice white teacher ladies who help inner-city kids turn their lives around.
  • In Freedom Writers, Erin Gruwell does this for a whole class of minorities.
  • Finding Forrester has the white William Forrester inspire the black Jamal Wallace to write, and along the way Forrester learns about "the true value of friendship" or some other sugary moral.
  • Lampshaded in the Frasier episode "Dr. Mary''. Frasier hires an African-American call-screener who takes over his show by calling herself "Dr. Mary," spouting ghetto-psychology; but he's afraid to say anything because she's black and came from an underprivileged background. Eventually she gets her own show spouting more ghetto-psychology, but finds out about his guilt and tells him, "God bless your guilty white ass!"
  • Schindler's List
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