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Sunday August 19th 2018

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Resisting the Savior Mentality

By C. S. Satterwhite

Author Jordan Flaherty came to activism when he was a teenager.

“My first protest was when I was 16,” said Flaherty. “It was in support of friends who were expelled from school for organizing against sexual assault.”

Years later, Flaherty is an award-winning journalist featured on numerous news outlets, from CNN to NPR. As a white Southerner who speaks and writes candidly about race, he’s a frequent guest on black media.

Flaherty also has the unique distinction of being the only (known) journalist spied upon by the New York Police Department during its notorious spy programs of recent years, in which the NYPD actually traveled to Flaherty’s hometown of New Orleans to build their files.

While the subjects of his stories vary—from Palestine to the Prison Industrial Complex to attacks on women’s health clinics—as with many topics in America, many of Flaherty’s stories come back to race.

In many ways, Flaherty defines the role of the journalist within activism. He works in a community and writes about the community, trying his best to see the situation as they see it. Yet the New Orleans resident takes issue with how activism is typically defined.

“I don’t want to limit activism to protest,” said Flaherty. “Challenging friends and family on their sexism and/or racism is activism.”

As the holidays roll around, many are wondering how to handle the interesting post-election dinner conversations. Flaherty’s latest book may be exactly what they need to read to embolden their resolve to have the difficult conversations necessary at this time in history.

“No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality” covers a broad range of subjects, most dealing with racism and sexism. From the Black Lives Matter Movement to Teach for America, wherever progressives are, Flaherty offers a way forward, which avoids trampling over already, marginalized communities.

As the title implies, Flaherty’s book is largely concerned with the “savior mentality,” a common belief common among activists.

According to Flaherty, “the savior mentality means thinking we don’t need to hear the voices of those who are closest to the problem and solution.”

“It’s the idea that change comes from individuals, rather than collective action,” said Flaherty.

“For example, we are taught that Lincoln ended slavery, a view of history that ignores millions of people that fought and died to end slavery, whether through political organizing or slave rebellions and other brave actions.”

The savior mentality “keeps us from seeing how change happens,” said Flaherty. “It’s disempowering, and it’s incorrect.”

Although he says this problem is all around us, from the movies we watch to the way we’re taught history in school, Flaherty personally remembers seeing this as an issue after Hurricane Katrina.

Living in New Orleans during the storm was traumatic for the residents of the city. As the devastation became clear, watching the aftermath unfold on TV was, at a different level, traumatic for the nation. Many people with the best of intentions rushed to New Orleans to help without knowing what the city actually needed or wanted, and often without listening to those on the ground who actually understood the city.

This is where the problems began.

“For me,” said Flaherty, “living in New Orleans in the years after Katrina was a real awakening. I saw people coming to our city to ‘help,’ but bringing such a condescending attitude, like colonial explorers. And many of these good volunteers actually drained more resources than they contributed.”

The target audience for Flaherty’s book is not those who are on the fence, but really those who are already in the trenches. Many of the progressive activists, in particular, are the ones Flaherty hopes to reach.

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