Pius Adesanmi, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature
The Pennsylvania State University

"Always, white people are lead volunteers".

There have been cautionary interventions in the last couple of weeks
insisting on the need for appropriate contextualization of sweeping,
declarative statements. The postings by Professors Zeleza and Adesina
underscore the value of nuancing and contextualizing. This not the time
to go into the politics and motives of white internationalist
volunteerism. Suffice it to say that what one may call volunteerisms of
colour - if I may twist that comical expression, "people of colour" -
have never been lacking in international sites of trauma. The trick has
always been about who owns and monopolises the means of representing
such interventions, disseminating globally consumable images of same. A
handful of white British soldiers landing in Sierra Leone or Liberia
(under the command of one or two American overseers)will attract
cacophonic media attention at the expense of thousands of ECOMOG
soldiers - the real ones facing fire and doing the job - volunteered by
countries like Nigeria, Tchad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali. CNN, with
its taste for the hyperbolic and the dramatic, may even show us the
trajectory of the British soldiers taking their morning shower in
London, coffee, and all that before boarding the plane for Freetown or
Monrovia! Ditto for Darfur where EuroAmerican NGOs attract far greater
attention than any African volunteerist initiative. White people aren't
always lead volunteers. White media always represent white people as
lead volunteers because the idea of the black, brown, or yellow
volunteer doesn't quite jell: it will never sell papers or attract more
viewers around here. Those have their pre-assigned roles as hungry
victims in the politics of representation. Representation of
volunteerism, we must insist, is still completely imbricated in the idea
of the great white hope descending from military helicopters to save the
wretched of the earth. And the West is psychologically dependent on such
imagistic reaffirmations of its post-Enlightenment self-fashioning.