Disrupting White Vision: Pedagogical Strategies Against White Supremacy
This paper contributes to a pedagogy of antiracist art education by offering strategies to disrupt white supremacy and the “white savior complex” in the classroom. I begin by discussing students’ commonly held internalizations of white supremacy. I next outline my experience teaching Marlon Riggs’ documentary Ethnic Notions (1986) to introduce a history of racist image production including minstrelsy and racist archetypes like Uncle Tom, Sambo, Mammy, Coon, and the Savage in antebellum, postbellum, and colonial contexts. Next, I use a close reading of two recent examples to illustrate how these anti-black tropes continue to inform contemporary visual culture. The first example is a philanthropic commercial for the “Christian Children’s Fund” that utilizes the most problematic aspects of the white savior in colonialist aesthetics. In the second example, I analyze a comedic skit from Saturday Night Live (SNL) that acts as a critical response to the commercial. A satirical take on the white savior trope, the skit is both an alternative to and subversion of the history of racist and imperialist imagery. With a historically informed knowledge of how imagery is used to uphold white supremacy, we can make direct connections between histories of racialized imagery and the art world and build lessons for an antiracist pedagogy.