"Is this one of those movies where the rich, benevolent white family teaches the black kid stuff like how to use a fork?" — Internet commenter about The Blind Side
This trope is about a plot where an ordinary, ethnically-European (white) person meets an underprivileged non-ethnic-Euro character. Taking pity on the other character's plight, they selflessly volunteer themselves as the other's tutor, mentor, or caretaker to make things better.
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. The white character is the one who gets all the Character Development while the minority character's main purpose will be to advance that character development. The focus of this plot will be on the white character's saintliness rather than the minority character's journey. And while many Magic Negros are depicted with supernatural or otherworldly abilities, the Samaritan in a White Man's Burden story will almost always be an ordinary person, to make it easier for the audience to identify with.
White Man's Burden movies are frequently created as Oscar Bait. Can easily induce Narm, Glurge, Tastes Like Diabetes, and/or an AnviliciousBroken Aesop or Warped Aesop in the hands of a poor creator. Save Our Students plots frequently involve this trope.
A common deconstructive variant of this trope involves white people conquering non-white people and eliminating their culture. This comes from the Trope Namer, Rudyard Kipling's poem "White Man's Burden," which is generally read as a justification for Western imperialism. Sometimes the white people have genuinely good intentions but more deconstructive works will portray the white people as having ulterior motives, such as conquest and exploitation.
Compare and contrast with Mighty Whitey, where a white person joins a foreign culture and soon becomes the most proficient member in it. The main difference is that Mighty Whitey characters join the non-white culture, while White Man's Burden characters pull non-whites out of the non-white culture.
This trope has nothing to do with the 1995 film White Mans Burden.
No Real Life Examples, Please!
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" and thinking for oneself.
This is subverted however. Prior to his interaction with Forrester, Jamal was already portrayed as being intelligent and even accepted to a prestigious private school (though on sports scholarship.) Forrester just happened to be the first person to actually challenge and critique Jamal's writing. At the same time, Jamal is able to coax Forrester out of being a recluse, making it more of a mutualistic relationship between the two.
Somewhat inverted in Reign Over Me, where Alan Johnson (played by Don Cheadle) helps his former college roommate (Adam Sandler) cope with the losses he suffered in the September11 terrorist attacks.
Glory, another based-on-a-true-story film about the white officer commanding the first black regiment of the Union Army during the American Civil War.
The Substitute is an action movie take on the "white teacher challenges the inner-city kids." He's actually a mercenary who's investigating the attack on his teacher girlfriend, but along the way he manages to knock some sense into his class and helps take down the black principal's drug ring.
The Principal has Jim Belushi taking on the gangs to clean up an inner-city high school.
Done with a variation in Glory Road — instead of a single underdog minority, it's an all-black starting lineup.
Gran Torino features Clint Eastwood's character as a bigoted racist who slowly gains compassion for the Hmongs moving into his neighborhood, then he starts taking Thao under his wing and eventually saves him from the local gang.
The Help, based on a novel, features Skeeter helping black maids get recognition for their hard work.
Shooter zig-zags this trope: the Big Bad sincerely states that White Man's Burden (in its original sense, see entry about Kipling's poem) was one of his main motivations and then he shows that even the best motivation is not mutually exclusive with blatantly unethical behavior.
Played with in 42; while the movie focuses on Jackie Robinson's efforts, Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey is never far behind, either to support Robinson or to destroy all objections to Robinson's integration into Major League Baseball.
To Kill A Mockingbird has Atticus Finch sticking up for a wrongly accused black man, just as he sticks up for any just cause. Played with, in that Atticus fails, and his client ends up getting shot dead by the police in prison.
This trope only superficially applies in this case anyway; it's not like Atticus is trying to take him in, teach him, or improve his or his family's lives. He's just doing what's right by treating him like any other client (ie not refusing him because of his race) and arguing for the truth in-court. It's one of several times throughout the novel that he endeavors to do the right thing, regardless of how difficult it is or what other people think.
The Trope Namer is the 1899 poem "The White Man's Burden" by Rudyard Kipling, the gist of which is that it's the responsibility of white Western nations to colonize the rest of the world and rule over it until it fully "develops", i.e. assimilates. The poem actually anticipates the colonized cultures' lack of gratitude for this "service", but portrays it as the cost of doing the right thing. He also states that white cultures have become more advanced by luck, rather than racial superiority. Some critics interpret it as a Stealth Parody, but overall it's a highly controversial poem.
Kipling was quite explicitly telling Americans, "It's your turn now, and this is what you're letting yourselves in for. And we too will be watching and criticizing you!"
The Soloist is about a white journalist who finds and befriends a black homeless man, who turns out to be a former musical prodigy before developing schizophrenia.
Robert Sheckley's short story "Human Man's Burden" is a parody of this trope, using robots instead of some non-white ethnicity.
Hermione's house-elf liberation subplot in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is basically this. Played with, and somewhat deconstructed, as it's portrayed in-universe as a bad thing, and she gets called on it by practically everyone. Even an attentive reader can notice the inherent hypocrisy of her cause: launching a house-elf freedom campaign on her own for the benefit of other elves without so much as asking for their help, forcing them into unwanted freedom. She also bases her entire view of house-elves on Dobby, whose views on freedom, payment and clothing are quite different than the average elf. She also completely misses the point about why house-elves are unhappy: their working conditions, not the work itself or lack of pay, as house-elves normally like to be enslaved and freedom is looked down upon.
Dobby himself mentions that when Dumbledore hired him he tried to give Dobby the same pay and benefits as an average human working schlub, and Dobby, insisting that he is unusual but not inelfin, talked him down to wages that are just short of slavery.
Played absolutely straight in Kathryn Hulme's The Nun's Story, where the Belgian missionary nuns see themselves as part of a greater civilizing force in the Congo.
Referenced in the Hoka short stories, where the idea has been revived in the future as "spaceman's burden", the idea that humanity is obliged to Uplift any primitive species they come across and convert them to facsimiles of human culture. The protagonist's experiences with the results of introducing human culture to the eponymous overly-imaginative teddy bears indicates to him that this might not be the best idea (or actually possible) given physiological and fundamental psychological differences.
Parodied in a MADtv sketch called "Nice White Lady", imitating all the stories of nice white teacher ladies who help inner-city kids turn their lives around.
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!"
The premise of Diff'rent Strokes is a wealthy white man taking in two black inner city kids. "Now the world don't move to the beat of just one drum..."
In Harry's Law, a white liberal lawyer, tired of the kind of work that made her rich, decides to set up in a poor, predominantly black neighborhood. She and her white colleagues fix these poor black folks' problems.
In the Doctor Who episode 'Human Nature' the Doctor is turned into a human, and given the memories of 1913 school teacher John Smith. This includes Values Dissonance for the time period, unfortunately enough for his black companion Martha Jones, who is pretending to be his servant. He takes it as his duty to help this poor black lady; when she starts saying that he's not human, but an alien, and they're being attacked, his reaction is to teach her that this is "what we call a story". She slaps him for that.
Like many race-related tropes, this is deconstructed brutally in The Wire. Roland Pryzbelewski, a cop-turned-teacher and Atoner, tries to invoke this trope with a bright but troubled student named Duquan "Dukie", washing his clothes for him and letting him into the school early to use the locker room showers. Eventually, however, Prez is forced to reconcile the fact that, as a teacher in inner-city Baltimore, he can't try to fix every damaged individual in his classes, and by the season finale he regretfully observes Dukie's descent into addiction.
Parodied in an episode of 30 Rock, where after a misunderstanding, Liz comes to believe that Tracy is illiterate. She bends over backwards trying to make things easier for Tracy, and at the end of the show it's revealed that Tracy can read just fine and has been screwing with Liz for his own amusement. When she asks why, he points out that her smug white savior attitude is itself quite racist.
Also parodied in the fictional films that Tracy proclaims to be an expert in starring in.
The Season 3 finale of Game of Thrones has come under fire for this, with the final scene showing White-Haired Pretty Girl Daenerys crowd-surfing over a bunch of black and brown slaves she just liberated as they lovingly chant "Mother!" at her. Whether or not this will be Deconstructed in Season 4 remains to be seen.
Zachary Hale Comstock of Bio Shock Infinite is a believer of this, and takes it well past the point of Unfortunate Implications and into outright rationalization of slavery, detesting Abraham Lincoln for emancipating blacks from what he percieves as their "rightful place". He believes that, as the only animal born free, it is the white man's duty to shepherd and nurture all other races.
Homestuck: the Beforan society, in which the higher-caste trolls were expected to take care of the lower-caste trolls, has hints of this trope. Cronus in particular seems to think he should be rewarded just for stooping to treat the lower castes as equals.
If I'm correct, Kankri even specifically names the term "Blue blood's burden" when talking to Latula,
In Avatar The Last Airbender, this is the Fire Nation's official reason for conquering and colonizing the rest of the world: they want to "share their greatness" with the rest of the world. Certainly, Ozai doesn't care about that and just wants to be the supreme ruler of everything, but that was Firelord Sozin's reason for beginning the war in the first place. Eventually, Zuko realizes 1) that this "sharing" philosophy is a total lie—the Fire Nation is not sharing anything but fear and suffering and 2) how wrong this philosophy is by itself.
Though the comic tie-in The Promise plays it oddly straight: one of the original Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom has now become fully assimilated with citizens of both countries living together peacefully and numerous romantic relationships between them, leading to children who are proud of having both countries in their heritage. But you'll still never see a Fire Nation citizen shining the shoes of someone from the Earth Kingdom, something that is blithely glossed over and never brought up again.
In The Legend Of Korra, this is a major plot point regarding benders and non-benders: benders basically rule the world, and the non-benders feel discriminated against enough to resort to terrorism in order to achieve equality.
Similar to above, in Thunder Cats 2011, the Cats believe that they were the ones who defeated Mumm-Ra and brought order to the land, and now preserve that order through their strength. While they were right about one Cat defeating Mumm-Ra, the rest is just an excuse to oppress the other races of Third Earth, and in the end it ends up getting Thundera destroyed once Mumm-R returns and recruits the lizard race to his side.