White Liberalism and Black Consciousness in Rosie Motene’s Reclaiming the Soil (2018)


  • Rodwell Makombe




white savior, black feminism, black child, apartheid, race


White liberal gestures of kindness such as interventions to alleviate poverty in black communities are often seen as altruistic initiatives with noble intentions. However, in recent years, these interventions have come under greater scrutiny as scholars question the “white savior mentality” that often frames and propels such initiatives. In fact, contemporary neo-liberal interventions bear resemblance with the colonial civilizing mission because of their preoccupation with fixing problems in “broken” black communities. This article draws on Steve Biko’s notion of black consciousness and some concepts from black feminist thought to explore how Rosie Motene’s autobiography, Reclaiming the Soil: A Black Girl’s Struggle to Find her African Self (henceforth Reclaiming the Soil) interrupts the hegemonic liberal narrative of white saviorism to insert an alternative narrative of black struggle for self-determination. The study has three objectives. Firstly, it investigates how the autobiography narrates Motene’s lived experiences as a black girl adopted by and growing up within a white family. Secondly, it explores how the autobiography narrates liberal white saviorism in the context of apartheid racism and discrimination. Thirdly, it examines how the contradictions of the apartheid system and the white savior narrative awaken feelings of resentment and ultimately black consciousness in the narrator. The study argues that Motene’s autobiography is a “black consciousness” text that highlights the inherent contradictions of being white and liberal in a society that systemically entrenches poverty and suffering for black people to serve white interests.