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White Privilege & Service Learning

Schools and Religious Organizations often face the pressures of their institutions to create service-learning programs that are impressive and make the school or organization appear to be on the cutting edge of social innovation and charitable giving. Church Mission Trips and school service-learning trips to cash-poor countries and communities tend to reinforce a strong us v. them dynamic between giver and receiver, and feed into a historically colonialist fetishization of poverty. This fetishization of poverty in return restores a sense of superiority, saviorism, and goodness to the 'giver.'

This kind of “service” centers whiteness in several ways:

  1. It takes the focus off of communities resisting oppression and fighting for liberation, and puts it on the giver, the “savior” who is often white and privileged.

  2. It employs white colonialist practices used by white Europeans and later U.S. Americans that were used to “civilize” and colonize communities of color of the global majority

  3. And this kind of service exploits poverty and racial injustice for the personal empowerment of white people who want to feel that they are doing good work.

In doing so, we engage not in partnerships for social justice, but in reinforcing and systemic inequality and, most importantly, profiting from it.

When thinking about community service and mission work, consider the following terms and where they fit into your plan:









What words and terms would you add?

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