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White Man's Burden

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"'Stonewall' Jackson assures his Black cook that the South will free him, and the cook looks cautiously optimistic. If World War II were handled this way, there'd be hell to pay."

This trope is about a plot where an ordinary white character meets an underprivileged character of color. 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 Magical 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, Sweetness Aversion, and/or Anvilicious in the hands of a poor creator. Save Our Students plots frequently involve this trope. It can also involve White Guilt, especially if the person is helping out of a desire to not be Mistaken for Racist. In general, there tends to be a barely-hidden subtext of Condescending Compassion.

The origins of this trope go back to the days when white people set about conquering non-white people and eliminating their culture under the pretext of helping them. This comes from the Trope Namer, Rudyard Kipling's poem "White Man's Burden," which is generally read as a justification for Western imperialism, but was intended by Kipling to remind America to leave the Philippines (which it had just won from Spain) a better place than it found it, with no expectation of profiting from it and without any fantasies or pretenses that they are doing it for freedom. Rather Kipling insists you must take your duty with monk-like commitment and better the lives of people who will hate you and continue to hate you because they simply cannot know better. Sometimes the white people have genuinely good intentions, but more deconstructive works will portray them as having ulterior motives, such as conquest and exploitation. And even when they don't have ulterior motives, they are often ethnocentric, thinking more about what would make white people happy (as if the natives are white, or could potentially be) rather than what constitutes happiness in the native culture (not to mention rarely asking whether the people being "helped" want it).

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 culture of color, while White Man's Burden characters pull a person of color out of their native culture. Also contrast with Angry White Man, who resents non-Europeans - and often subconsciously believes himself to be inferior to them - rather than pitying them. Then there's Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence, which is when the people themselves are a burden to the white man.

See Good Samaritan for this trope minus the unfortunate racial implications.

In Real Life, this trope is called the civilizing mission, which had its origins in the Middle Ages, making it Older Than Steam.

This trope has (mostly) not much to do with the 1995 film White Man's Burden.


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  • A 2015 Coca-Cola ad was widely accused of this, in it a group of white teen hipsters are seen traveling to a remote indigenous Mexican village in order to "Bring them Christmas joy", where they start giving out Coke bottles to the sad-looking natives and then they build them a Christmas tree made of coke bottles in the middle of the town. Because of the outrage from several groups that advocate for the rights of indigenous people in Mexico the ad was immediately pulled and Coca-Cola issued an apology for it.

    Comic Books 
  • The New 52 reintroduction of Wally West has came under fire for this, due to Wally getting a Race Lift to make him half-Black, but also being given a highly angst-filled life and making him a troubled delinquent who Barry Allen tries to reach out to and help as a favour to Iris. Wally is almost completely unrecognizable- his previous, more upbeat personality and positive relationship with Barry and the Flash are gone, which led to accusations of racism.

    Fan Works 
  • The Final Sword: Though the race of Rebora and her goddess are not stated, imagery and elements associated with them clearly evoke Western European fantasy-inspired. The former is charged with ultimately deciding the outcome of the protection of Japanese history. Not only that, the fic also implies the lives of the canon swords themselves were never truly happy before she appeared.
  • In Vainglorious this was how the Asgardians justified their wars of conquest during Hela's time.
    It is our responsibility to guide our lesser kins to eternal glory, so they may know of our shared heritage and of our destiny.

  • Even though the story behind Dallas Buyers Club is mostly true, it is a hand-picked anecdote about an implicitly straight man (whose real-life counterpart was bisexual) helping to get HIV medication for a host of gay and trans individuals. It ignored the many similar stories of LGBT people around the United States at the same time doing the same hard work for their communities.
  • Wonderfully mocked in Big Trouble in Little China: Jack Burton is very Wrong Genre Savvy and keeps trying to act like a badass, but while he has one or two moments of badassery through the film, he spends most of it being its biggest Butt-Monkey and needing to catch up on current events. Pointed out by Kurt Russell and John Carpenter themselves in the commentary:
    Carpenter: He thinks he's the action hero when he is really the comedy sidekick.
  • 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. It's Based on a True Story of pro football player Michael Oher, who helped get the project off the ground but ended up objecting to the end product, especially its portrayal of the family "teaching" him to play football when by his declaration, he was always great at football.
  • Defied in The Butler. Richard Nixon, loitering around the kitchens, inquires about the salaries of the Black staff and promises that under his Presidency, such wage disparities will be corrected. Of course, an egalitarian White House is not in the cards, at least not under Nixon's watch: the Southern Baptists sealed his election victory.
  • Downplay and justified in City of Joy (1992) when a well to-do Texas surgeon played by Patrick Swayze helps Calcutta slum dwellers. Rickshaw driver Hazari helps Swayze first, and then it is almost accidental when the Swayze character's lost wealth helps Hazari.
  • Dangerous Minds: Michelle Pfeiffer teaches minority students in an inner city school. Based on a True Story, though the real-life version included a significant number of white students.
  • In Renaissance Man, Danny DeVito teaches a class of mostly minority deadbeats in the armed forces.
  • Hard Ball has Keanu Reeves teaching baseball to inner-city kids.
  • In Freedom Writers, Erin Gruwell does this for a whole class of minorities and a Token White. Justified, as she's teaching at an Inner City School that is explicitly stated to have an integration program in place.
  • The Ryan Gosling film Half Nelson is a deconstruction of this self-congratulatory genre. The hip white teacher (Gosling) turns out to be a drug addict and massive hypocrite, which only serves to alienate his Black protege and push her into the arms of the neighborhood drug dealer (Anthony Mackie).
  • 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 September 11 terrorist attacks.
  • Tears of the Sun, where a squad of white American SEALS (with the exception of one Token Black) save a bunch of Nigerian refugees from evil Nigerian militants.
  • The Birth of a Nation plays this to some extent really horribly, with Austin Stoneman's mulatto protégé Silas. The writer of the original The Klansman novel, Thomas Dixon, believed that mixed-race people inherited the worst stereotypical personality traits of both races, so Austin Stoneman's treatment of Silas as an equal human being only fueled Silas' dark side.
  • Lean on Me could be considered a race-lifted version of this trope. Based on a true story, it features Morgan Freeman as Joe Louis "Crazy Joe" Clark, a tough inner-city principal who took unconventional measures such as expelling over 300 students suspected or known to be drug dealers and chain-locking the doors to the school during school hours to keep his mostly minority student body from being negatively influenced.
  • 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 James Belushi taking on the gangs to clean up an inner-city high school.
  • The Fantastic Beasts series expands on the example of Grindelwald from Harry Potter mentioned in the Literature section. He's a seer who knows that World War II is coming. At the end of the second film, he shows the atomic bomb being dropped to his followers and tells them that Muggles are going to ruin the world with their stupidity and violence. However, it's not clear (yet) whether he's truly a Well-Intentioned Extremist or just using the war as an excuse to grab power. Dumbledore, who was his "friend" at one point, tells Harry he'd heard he did eventually come to regret what he'd done but also he isn't sure how genuine he was in his beliefs before he was defeated.
  • Done with a variation in Glory Road — instead of a single underdog minority, it's an all-Black starting lineup.
  • The Help, based on a novel, features Skeeter helping Black maids get recognition for their hard work. In the novel, Skeeter's narration even explicitly says, "Being white, I feel it's my duty to help them." One of the housekeepers depicted in the film sued the author for stealing her life story.
  • The Soloist is this trope, with Robert Downey Jr. as a white journalist trying to help mentally ill, homeless Black musical genius Ayers (Jamie Foxx). Despite having an Oscar Bait feel to it, the film handles the trope pretty well, especially because of its Bittersweet Ending.
  • 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.
  • 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. They feel that they are required to teach the natives how to give birth and how to wash their babies, and naturally, the heathen savages have to be converted.
  • The first two films directed by Damien Chazelle, Whiplash and La La Land are about white male protagonists trying to save the "integrity" of jazz music, a predominantly Black genre of music.
  • White Man's Burden: This film is about an alternate America with a Stereotype Flip where whites and Blacks switch places in the social-economic ladder. It doesn't feature this trope (or rather, its inversion) particularly much since the well-off Black deuteragonist Thaddeus regards lower class whites such as protagonist Louis with contempt and racial prejudice, but his wife does support a charity to help poor white youths from the inner cities.
  • The Lives of a Bengal Lancer: Col. Stone's XO explains that Stone is the way he is because attention to duty above all else is the only way "a handful of men" can rule over 300 million natives in British India. This being a film made in Hollywood in the 1930s, the justice of Britain's rule over India isn't even questioned.
  • Black Panther (2018) inverts this trope as Black Man's Burden being the main motivation of N'Jobu and his son Erik, as they became disillusioned to see the oppression of African-descended people outside of Wakanda and come to believe that the world under control of Wakanda would have been better off for everyone. The irony of the title and its origins are not lost on the characters In-Universe, as T'Challa points out that Killmonger is no different in using that justification from the colonists he hates so much.
  • Up the Down Staircase has an idealistic new teacher named Sylvia Barrett teaching at an inner-city New York school in the 1960s. Her class is multiracial, with both white and minority students.
  • Knives Out makes a point of immigrant maid Marta being pure as the driven snow, in comparison to the white, greedy Thrombey clan... but for some reason she needs another white person to reassure her of this, and rises to the position of power she deserves only because a kind white person gives her all his money.

  • 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 admits that colonized cultures will exhibit righteous anger 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.
  • A Confederacy of Dunces: How Ignatius feels about the Black factory workers at Levy Pants. Of course, being Ignatius, he expresses his concern in the most condescending manner possible when he starts his "Crusade for Moorish Dignity". Also, Myrna takes a condescending attitude toward the supposed beneficiaries of her progressive activism and is baffled by their resulting resentment.
  • The Soloist is about a white journalist who finds and befriends a Black homeless man, who turns out to be a former musical prodigy who developed schizophrenia.
  • Robert Sheckley's short story "Human Man's Burden" is a parody of this trope, using robots instead of some non-white ethnicity.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In Goblet of Fire, Hermione discovers that the cooking and cleaning at Hogwarts is done by house-elves, who work for free and don't even wear proper clothes. She starts a campaign to free them from servitude. It feels a lot like this, especially given that nobody seems to agree with her — not even the house-elves themselves, who nearly universally find Happiness in Slavery. She extrapolates the whole group from Dobby, a total outlier of a house-elf who did demand to be paid for his work (and even bargained Dumbledore's offer of a fair wage down because he's still a house-elf), and whom the other elves don't respect in the slightest. Hermione is undeterred and goes as far as to try and trick the house-elves into release from service by leaving clothes lying around for them.
    • Hermione's grandstanding is a particularly awkward variant of something the human wizards do across the board to non-human but intelligent magical creatures. The Goblins are relegated to banking work even after having rebelled several times against their status as second-class citizens. The Centaurs and Merfolk have been forced into reservations. And it's uncertain from the narrative whether Trolls even count as sentient. Yet Hermione, for all her progressive grandstanding, seems only to care about house-elves; she never acknowledges these other non-humans. While it makes sense for her to address the house-elves first, given that as a Hogwarts student she directly benefits from their work, even she doesn't equate these other groups' plights to that of the house-elves, bolstering the idea that she's engaging in this trope.
    • Gellert Grindelwald had a very patronizing attitude toward Muggles, whom he wanted to conquer and rule "for the greater good," much like how European imperialists claimed to be conquering non-white societies for the non-white people's own good. Grindelwald managed to get Dumbledore on his side for a while, but Dumbledore eventually realized that Grindelwald was full of bull and stopped him. Even Dumbledore isn't sure whether Grindelwald actually believed his own rhetoric or was just using it as a pretext.
  • 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.
  • The Tortall Universe series Trickster's Duet has the white Aly masterminding a revolution of Asian people. Some go so far as to say she serves no real point to the story and is stealing what should by all rights be the story of her friend Dove. In-universe, the luarin (white) royals and nobles have this view about the native raka as a partial justification for subjugating them, even though the raka had a well-established culture, architecture, and royal line previous to the invasion.
  • In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, during a funeral for Arnold's grandmother, a wealthy white collector of Indian art makes an appearance to return a powwow dance outfit he claims belonged to her. Though his manner of speech is polite, his tone is very condescending, calling the man who previously offered him the outfit a "thief" and referring to Arnold's mother as "dearest daughter". It is made quite obvious that he expects the Indians to be grateful to him for returning the outfit, but they instead turn him down politely.
  • Subverted in Sarny. Ex-slaves Sarny and her friend Lucy get taken in by a rich, white woman after The American Civil War. However it turns out Miss Laura is multiracial and very white passing. She hides her hair under a scarf.
  • A rather twisted version is seen in the Lankhmar Ghouls from Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser; a race with naturally translucent flesh that causes them to look like skeletons, they consider this to be the physical proof of their belief that they are the paragons of civilization and enlightenment. Consequently, it's their sacred duty to uplift other sapient beings... by eating them, so their "muddy" flesh will be transmuted into superior crystal-clear flesh.
  • Mercilessly taken down in Heart of Darkness:
    • The protagonist initially holds a somewhat rosy view of colonialism in places like the Congo. When he gets there, he finds that the "civilized" colonials are simply power-hungry mass murderers, enslaving and slaughtering the natives in an effort to rip as much wealth as they can out of Africa.
    • This reaches its logical conclusion with Kurtz, an extremely intelligent and talented European who simply dropped all pretense of civilization and is more or less carrying out a genocide against the natives. Incidentally, while they're usually presented very stereotypically, many of the "savages" are more sensible and civilized than the white men.
    • Also noteworthy is the protagonist's aunt, who casts him as "something like a lower sort of apostle" and his work as a humanitarian effort, "weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways". Marlow recognizes the results of a Propaganda Machine meant to disguise the Company's fundamentally base motives as something good and noble.
      "There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman, living right in the rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet... till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured to hint that the Company was run for profit."
  • The Lost Continent is a Fantastic Racism example. Newcomer Clearsight warns the islanders that there's a hurricane coming, and they nigh-instantly believe her and evacuate their whole village solely on her word. All of the dragons greeting her fall in love with her and invite her to live in their houses, because apparently none of them had lives before Clearsue came around. In the future, the continent reveres her as a goddess, and the MacGuffin she wrote guides the (indigenous) heroes through their travails. note 
  • Regarding the Sinks has Senator Sue Ergass' "Beans Lift America's Spirits Tremendously!" (or BLAST!) drive, which essentially amounts to "let's send the poor, backwards people of China a proper source of protein so that they'll stop eating an Endangered Species". It's a scam — the species in question doesn't exist, the beans are going to a sweatshop for cows to eat, and Ergass is pretty much banking on America's susceptibility to this trope to keep her Evil Plan running.
  • Thoroughly and scathingly defied by Lady Trent, who has been painted as such by popular Scirling culture after her adventure in Mouleen. She finds it insulting to herself and the Moulish as she simply wanted to do her research with minimal fuss and for the most part cooperated with them only for that (and looking back on it is even embarrassed by her selfishness and apathy to their problems), while the Moulish were completely responsible for negotiating the preservation of their culture and sovereignty with Isabella only acting as a messenger, but of course Scirling culture won't have that and frames her as a heroic champion single-handedly saving the oppressed Moulish.
  • Gate is in large part an Author Tract sympathetic to the Japanese far right, a faction prone among other things to glorifying Imperial Japan and ignoring or outright denying its atrocities in East Asia. In the story, the Empire, a morally bankrupt Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Rome, opens an otherworldly gate to Earth and attacks Japan, only to get utterly curb-stomped. The JSDF then goes through the gate and proceeds to lay waste to the technologically inferior nation's army. Along the way, many citizens of the Empire begin to look up to the benevolent Japanese soldiers who are occupying their nation and making it better with their mere presence. The series typically goes out of its way to portray the Japanese as far more tolerant, moral, and understanding than just about every other country on Earth, resulting in most people from the Empire wishing their culture was more like Japan's.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On 3rd Rock from the Sun, when Dick discovered white guilt, he tried to be this to Nina. When Nina asked him if he was going to be the enlightened white man showing her the way, he missed the sarcasm and replied "You know me so well!"
  • Parodied in 30 Rock: Tracy frequently acts irresponsibly and causes a lot of damage, but he accuses anyone who tries to rein him in of racism. Liz tries, but she's so paranoid of being accused of this trope (and generally naive about race relations) that she ends up coming off as very condescending and kinda racist in a different way. In one episode, thanks to a misunderstanding (he's just too lazy to read his cue cards), she comes to believe that he's illiterate and is accused of acting like a "white savior" trying to teach him how to read, including by Tracy himself — once he's done humoring her and getting all sorts of accommodations for his supposed "illiteracy". It's not until Liz starts treating Tracy like a friend and colleague does she actually make some headway in making him more mature.
  • The pilot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. features a team of (mostly) white government types trying to help a working class Angry Black Man, because he was screwed over by his white manager. Later episodes are better about avoiding this.
  • Community: Played for Laughs when the Dean and Pierce (both white) work to create a school mascot that has no racist or cultural implications at all. The "Greendale Human Being" ends up as a horrifyingly featureless person of indeterminate gender in a white bodysuit with an accidental Slasher Smile crudely drawn on.
    Dean: Well, we've solved racism!
  • 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..."
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Unquiet Dead" has a subverted temporal socio-economic version. Rose takes pity on Gwyneth, a psychic maid from 1869, and tries to stop the Doctor from "using" her to let the Gelth, a race of Energy Beings, through a Negative Space Wedgie. Gwyneth doesn't appreciate it and calls out Rose for assuming that she's stupid and can't understand what they're talking about just because she didn't get an education.
    • In "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood", 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.
  • 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 Season 3 finale of Game of Thrones has come under fire for this, with the final scene showing Daenerys crowd-surfing over a bunch of Black and brown slaves she just liberated as they lovingly chant "Mother!" at her. Considering that she's currently on a conquering spree across Essos and has just taken their city, these former slaves may just realise that free or not, this benevolent conqueror with the large army and dragons at her command is still going to be their "master" at the end of the day. This is also something of a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, as the scene was filmed in Morocco and white extras (as were seen in the book's equivalent scene) simply weren't available. Note that in the books the slaves are by no means uniformly brown, but Daenarys is still a foreigner — indeed, it goes much worse because she didn't consider the pitfalls of this trope.
  • 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.
  • Parodied by Seth Meyers on Late Night in the aptly titled "White Savior" movie trailer which spoofs movies like Green Book and Hidden Figures, starring Amber Ruffin as a Black woman who made history and Myers as a man who was white when she did.
  • Parodied in a MADtv (1995) sketch called "Nice White Lady," imitating all the stories of nice white teacher ladies who help inner-city kids turn their lives around.
  • Maude:
    • The series starts out with Maude Findlay hiring Florida Evans and insisting that she and Florida are equals, with Maude saying that Florida shouldn't be a traditional maid, but she should feel free to use the front door. Florida tells Maude that the reason she uses the back door is that it's a more convenient way to bring in the groceries.
    • In "Maude's Guest", Maude plays host to Francie Potter, a teenage Aftican-American from the ghetto. Francie starts acting bratty when she perceives Maude's hospitality as a patronizing effort to compensate for her "liberal guilt complex", which gets Maude so furious, she gives a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Francie.
    • After Mrs. Naugatuck has married Bert, Maude has an awkward encounter with Victoria Butterfield, who prefers the music of Andy Williams to Harry Belafonte. After a mix-up when Maude accidentally suspects Victoria of snatching her purse which is cleared up when the department store tells Maude she accidentally left her purse behind, Maude accuses Victoria of having no pride in her West Indies heritage. Victoria gets indignant, and Maude is so shamefully overwhelmed by this, she finds that Victoria has all the necessary qualifications to be the Findlays' next maid and hires her on the spot.
  • Suzanne's adoptive parents in Orange Is the New Black try hard to integrate her into their white cultural norms. It's possibly because of this insistence on ignoring her Blackness that she grew up with deep-seated psychological issues and ultimately wound up in jail.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look: Parodied in a sketch about an episode of a fictitious show called Speedo. The episode is supposed to revolve around a rich white lawyer (the eponymous Speedo) who tries to help a young Black kid accused of a murder he didn't commit, but becomes a Broken Aesop when the actor playing Speedo dies and the character is recast as another Black guy... without changing any of the lines that acknowledge the supposed race barrier between them.
  • Like many race-related tropes, this is deconstructed in The Wire. Roland Przybylewski, 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.
  • Allegorically, this happens in Defiance with Joshua Nolan being essentially Walt towards aliens from the casual racism to the Dark and Troubled Past to the series finale where he goes on a one-way trip to find a new home for the Omec, a race of aliens that are Black actors in purple makeup.
  • Parodied in the Saturday Night Live sketch Mr.H, where a white teacher finds his student Marcus in a bad neighbourhood, selling drugs. The student tries to invoke the trope repeatedly, but Mr.H is persistently realistic about Marcus' situation. Eventually, it turns out he's there to buy mushrooms for a party.
  • This is deconstructed in Gentefied with the poor, queer, Latina Ana's relationship with the white, wealthy developer Tim. Although Tim financially supports Ana's art and gives her exposure, he is shown to not care about what the residents want or see as culturally appropriate (as evidenced by his treatment of the shopkeeper who is affected by Ana's first mural), this is treated as part of the neighborhood's Villainous Gentrification, and Yessika claims that Tim only sees Ana as a token that he'll soon tire of once he finds his next 'project'. At Ana's art show, she is dispirited by how Tim constantly emphasizes her lack of privilege to his rich art friends (one of whom bought the building Mama Fina's is in), implying Yessika was right.
  • In the 5th season of Sisters, Teddy takes it upon herself to buy Christmas presents for a poor family. The mother refuses her gesture and blasts her for trying to play this trope out. In the final season, Charlie is accused of this by her Black male colleague when she decides to become a foster mother to an inner-city youth. She angrily denies this, but he truthfully points out that no matter how well she means, she can never truly understand his experiences.
  • In the "Baptism By Fire" episode of Promised Land (1996), the Caucasian Greenes pitch in to help African-American friends of theirs whose church was torched by racists. The episode ends up being primarily focused on them as the bigots target them as well.
  • Many episodes of Quantum Leap involve the main character (who is a white genius) leaping into a situation of a person of color facing racism and/or other racially-motivated troubles and plots he has to help them through. Sometimes he's done a Body Swap into a person of color and has to navigate a person or community of color's problems while passing himself off as one of them, other times he's leaped into another white person who has to do some white savior stuff for them.

  • The Charity Motivation Song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid has often been accused of this. Lyrics include "You ain't gotta feel guilt just selfless / Give a little help to the helpless / Do they know it's Christmastime at all?" (from the 2004 version of the song). Then there's the staggering Unfortunate Implications of the line, "Tonight, thank God it's them instead of you." (Bono, who sung that line, has said that even at the time he disliked it and only did it very reluctantly. Probably why in the 2014 remake of the song, the line Bono sang was changed to "Tonight, we're reaching out and touching you.")

    Newspaper Comics 
  • One early Doonesbury strip both discusses and averts this trope. Rufus — a black boy that the titular character has been hired to tutor — accuses him of only agreeing to the job to "relieve [his] guilt feelings". Doonesbury bluntly tells him that no, his motive is getting paid.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Space 1889 most white people believe in this (though Kipling's poem hasn't been published yet in 1889).
  • The Aliens of Bleak World have this view of themselves, seeing humanity as a disenfranchised race they must experiment on for the greater good.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Tau see it as their duty to advance the Greater Good (all species working together for the, well, greater good of all), even if it means using mind control and sterilization camps to do it. It comes off as less controversial than most examples, as the other species (Vespid and Kroot) are known to keep their own customs (and the Kroot are known to do mercenary work for other species), the Tau genuinely provide better lives for their own, and of course, the fact that almost everyone else in the setting is either an Absolute Xenophobe, Always Chaotic Evil, or a Horde of Alien Locusts.

  • Essentially deconstructed and spoofed in The Book of Mormon, where two white Mormon missionaries are sent to spread the Mormon faith to predominantly Black Uganda in Africa, whose people are portrayed as poor, destitute, AIDS-ridden, and full of Sir Swears-a-Lots.
  • Parodied in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder: Lady Hyacinth D'Ysquith utilizes her vast wealth towards starting charitable projects to aid the colonized subjects of India, Egypt, and Sub-Saharan Africa. She refers to the recipients of her charity with adjectives like "pitiful", "wretched", and "frightful", and her ulterior motive for the philanthropy is to show up her rival Daisy Greville (a real-life philanthropist active during the Edwardian era).
  • In the Mrs. Hawking play series: Thoroughly deconstructed in part IV: Gilded Cages, where young Victoria Stanton's attempt to ally with the struggles of her maid Malaika Shah have disastrous results.

    Video Games 
  • Zachary Hale Comstock of BioShock 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. He also has a very narrow definition of "white" which doesn't include, for instance, the Irish.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: There's a bit of a Fantasy Counterpart Culture aspect to this with Morrigan, a human (Medieval European-equivalent) who takes it upon herself to revive the forgotten ancient magics and lore of the settings Enslaved Elves (Jew/Roma/Afro-Native American counterpart), who lost their lore due to humans conquering and enslaving them in the first place. While her intentions are good, the game makes it clear that she considers herself to be the only one who can revive ancient elven lore, since she doesn't believe any modern elves are capable of helping themselves. She meets several ancient elves who have managed to survive to the modern day, who seem annoyed at best by her attitude. Solas, in particular, is one of the old elven gods and taking a much more direct approach to reviving his people's power than Morrigan ever could.
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening plays with this on a few occasions.
    • This is more or less what Walhart wants to do on a global scale. Since his Valmese Empire is the strongest and most advanced nation on the land, he wants to make everyone a part of it so that they can share in its prosperity... by conquering the shit out of them. By the time he's introduced to the plot, he's already conquered one land (full of Fantasy Counterpart Culture French and Japanese) and is moving on to the one the heroes are from (which consist mostly of Fantasy Counterpart Culture European, Arabic, and Black people).
    • While it's race-inverted, this was the original goal of Gangrel. Because everyone on his continent was getting worried about Walhart above, Gangrel got the bright idea to match him strength-for-strength by forging his own empire to protect the land in the event of Walhart invading. However, while he started out with noble intentions, he couldn't keep his ambition in check, became a slave to it and ended up as exactly the same kind of tyrant Walhart was. In his supports, he tries to seek atonement but ultimately believes that he's crossed so many lines that he just can't go back.

  • 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, with Kankri actually mentioning "blue blood's burden" by name. Cronus, in particular, seems to think he should be rewarded just for stooping to treat the lower castes as equals.

    Web Original 
  • FreedomToons: "Muslim Representation" plays with this. The Echo Chamber is trying to celebrate the fact that a TV crime drama has introduced a trans-gay Muslim character. However, Muslim guest speaker Muhammad doesn't see the character as proper representation, but as a mouthpiece for white SJW writers to promote their political ideology.
  • The Cracked parody, A Trailer for Every Academy Award Winning Movie Ever has Wealthy, Successful Protagonist trying to teach a Latino student to believe in himself, being a lawyer for an African-American man, and fighting with the "Native American metaphor" against the "US military metaphor".
  • After the controversy about the lack of non-white nominees at the 2016 Academy Awards, Super Deluxe made a parody trailer for an "Oscar contender" version of Straight Outta Compton that changed the film into a White Savior narrative with Jerry Heller as the protagonist.
  • CollegeHumor released a sketch in 2010 Dangerous Wands, which was a parody of the "idealist young white female teacher goes to teach in Black inner city school" cliche set in the Harry Potter universe.
  • Reconstructed in the timeline Tzedek Tzedek Tirdoof, where Israel is transported back to the 6th millennium BCE (though concepts like "white" don't really apply here). It's inevitable that contact with uptimers will change the Neolithic peoples surrounding them, even without colonization by governments and private citizens with guns. The Israeli government, to its credit, offers citizenship and education to any downtimers in territory it annexes. It also sets up an entire Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, which mainly sends aid in the form of modern farming techniques, and most importantly, modern medicine and vaccines. That said, they're not above using this foreign aid as leverage to force indigenous societies to end practices that they find morally reprehensible, like slavery and killing gay people.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Fire Nation's official reason for conquering and colonizing the rest of the world is to "share their greatness" with the rest of the world. Certainly, Fire Lords Azulon and Ozai don't care about that and they just want to be the supreme rulers of everything, but that was Fire Lord 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, something that Sozin also realized at the very end of his life, too late to change things.
  • Central Park: Averted with Birdie and Paige in Season 3ís "Lunar Palaver". Both of them are upset about the racism Cole experienced from an Obnoxious Entitled Housewife who saw him as a threat simply because he accidentally bumped into her while holding a toy sword. At the same time, they both understand that as white people, they should take a backseat to the African-American Owen when it comes to explaining and dealing with the whole situation.
    Birdie: [To the audience] Usually, I would jump in here to explain what just happened and maybe give some context, but this time, I think I'm gonna let Owen handle it.
  • South Park lampoons the Dangerous Minds example (alongside a more recent example with a Hispanic man as the teacher) in "Eek, A Penis!" by, instead of actually teaching those students math, Cartman teaches them how to successfully cheat on the tests. He also passes as Hispanic himself ("Cartmenez"), mainly by doing an atrocious accent.
    Cartmenez: How can I reach these keeedz?!
  • Steven Universe: While the Crystal Gems originally had a condescending view of humans in spite of their oath to protect Earth out of loyalty to Rose Quartz, they have significantly mellowed out toward them due to all the years they've spent on Earth. Pearl in particular was the most poorly adjusted to life on Earth out of the bunch, being the most outright prejudiced toward mankind and the one who desired the most to get out of our planet, not to mention it was implied she became something of a Tragic Bigot due to Rose falling in love with Greg and later giving birth to Steven at the cost of her own life.
  • Subverted in Sofia the First's backdoor pilot for Elena of Avalor. Sofia and her family, white foreigners (Sofia seems to be biracial; her mother is Ambiguously Brown by way of coming from their world's equivalent of Spain), free Elena from the amulet and support her in leading a revolution to free her kingdom, the Latin-based Avalor, from another white foreigner, Shuriki. What makes this a subversion of the trope is that Elena takes the reins once she's freed and Sofia and her family follow her lead despite her telling them to flee to protect themselves.
  • In ThunderCats (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-Ra returns and recruits the lizard race to his side.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): White Savior


Hidden Figures- Bathrooms Desegregated

At NASA, everyone pees the same color, thanks to Kevin Costner. (Even though in real life, the Black employees just integrated the bathrooms themselves.)

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / WhiteMansBurden

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