From a very young age, little girls in America are programmed to believe in world peace, as I was. We were rewarded by people much bigger and more important than us for expressing such selfless aspirations so early on.
As we grew older, we learned about "charity," the place where our mothers took collections of our old clothes and toys for other little girls. We were rewarded for saying goodbye to our old favorites without throwing a fit.
Not long after that, we learned about "volunteering." We serve breakfast to the homeless. We help kids with their homework at an after-school program. We might even save up money to go volunteer in places like Uganda or Guatemala.
We enter college still with our aspirations from childhood: world peace. We explain to our families, friends, and professors our plans to enter the non-profit sector. Again we are praised for dedicating ourselves to a future of unpaid internships and lower wages for the sake of those less fortunate.
If this resonates with you, know that my experience has been similar.
We are told that we must do these things for the sake of others, and not self-glorification. I have no doubt that most of you have good, honorable intentions. After all, all of your life you have done exactly what you are told it takes to be a good person, and you have constantly received positive reinforcement for it. But there is one thing I have come to hold more truly than anything else: good intentions do not matter.
Doing good matters.
There are millions of people in America that engage in this work (62.6 million volunteers). In fact, there are even more volunteers than there are people under the poverty line. So how come people are still poor? A lot of people have good intentions. Not a lot of people are doing good.
You have probably heard the quote, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
Undoubtedly you and other volunteers have taught many and fed many more, and yet they remain hungry. This is because both giving man fish and teaching man to fish are irrelevant if a wall stands between man and the sea. Are you really doing any good if he must wonder what good this new knowledge would be? These walls must fall for him to become free.
So if your intentions are true, then the logical next step to follow is to heed the call of those whom you've worked so hard to help. Stop listening to people who have never suffered tell you that you're doing a good job. Stop trying to save the world. Stop, and listen.
Because if you want world peace, you want justice for all, and if you want justice for all, start listening to those with their backs against the wall.
In America today, we hear this call loud and clear. "Black Lives Matter."
Data and history supporting their stories is not hidden.
Get rid of the notion of "accidents."
The 2010 U.S. census showed that 38.2% of black children lived in poverty compared to 12.4% white children. This is not an accident.
Despite black Americans only making up around 13% of the U.S. population, food insecurity, unemployment, and poverty are all significantly higher among blacks than among whites. This is not an accident.
Mass incarceration of black men and women at a rate nearly six times higher than that of white men and women is not an accident.
Even ghettos were not created by accident. Jim Crow, blockbusting, and redlining have created the reality we live in now, but most of us fail to notice.
Walls do not form out of thin air. Today's Black Lives Matter movement calls for you to think critically about what you have seen, especially during your volunteer work. For you to acknowledge that there are walls and barriers imposed on people of color by a system of white supremacy. For you to recognize the devaluation and criminalization of the black body by this same system.
If you really want to do something for someone, listen when they tell you these walls exist, even if you can't see them yourself. This enables you to join them in ensuring that these walls fall - the best good that you could do for anyone. Hold the government that contracted these walls and the corporations that uphold them accountable for this institutionalized racism. Fight for their right to not "need" your volunteer service, and to simply be human.
If you really want world peace, challenge your intentions. When you really start working for the powerless, the powerful will not be as excited about you anymore. You will not be praised for your selflessness. You will not be complimented. Your return on investment for taking this next step of service will not be of benefit to you. In fact, in the context of Black Lives Matter, acknowledging the truth of how you have benefited from white or white-passing privilege at the expense of Americans of color can be very painful.
But this truth sets you free. It removes the paralysis you have often sensed within yourself but have been unable to identify. It makes your work full, as a servant to your sisters and brothers in humanity. All of the benefit, then, goes to the betterment of black lives in America. The uplifting of black value in society. Where it belongs.
As a citizen of a country that has white supremacy sewn into its very fabric, your job now is to check your privilege, or in more religious terms, humble yourselves. In pursuit of wellbeing for all, your job now is to sacrifice your comfort, and hear the stories of the Black Lives Matter movement. Your job now, is to show up and listen.
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