When I posted “The Problem with Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist”, I guessed it might get more eyes than usual. It’s a controversial subject, I used blunt language, and I posted it to Medium – a platform I have only started to use recently for cross-posting. Over 2 million views, hundreds of comments, and seemingly thousands of tweets later, my mind has been blown. No matter how you feel about the piece, it sparked an important conversation.
While I am blown away with the response, it has also been a huge learning experience. In the days following the piece going live, I slept only a handful of hours and have been glued to my phone, iPad, and computer answering tweets and moderating comments. While moderating, I read a lot of really interesting comments on both sides of the argument. I have also read dozens of comments that, instead of criticizing my argument, took fault with me as a person. I have been called ignorant, selfish, spoiled, racist, entitled, and worse. Each of these comments I read and, in the faith of freedom of speech, approved.
Luckily, I have pretty thick skin. I was raised by great parents who taught me to be confident in who I am and I stand by my words. Sure, if I knew the piece was going to reach this many people I might have worried a little less about cadence and added a few more sentences explaining my background and experiences more clearly. Like how I did have 5 years of spanish before going to the DR, but didn’t have the vocabulary to teach and direct children. Or how I’m only 21 years old, am not currently pursuing a college degree (although I have 2 years under my belt), and have in no way cracked the code on life. But I didn’t, and that’s on me.
Bringing race into the discussion was a hard decision. My whiteness was glaring and often commented on in both the countries discussed in the piece. It’s something that people (especially white people) often prefer to ignore, or replace with socio-economic or geographical tags, as was suggested by many commenters. I think that to ignore the thing that people register first, along with gender, when they meet someone would be a mistake. The addition of race has also fueled the posts spread far beyond the places that would probably pick something I wrote up, for example: Your Black World.
Over the past week, I’ve joked on social media that I broke the internet, talked to my parents about not taking the bait and ignoring negative comments, and reformatted my blog to make it easier to ‘Follow’ me to capitalize on the traffic. Mostly, I couldn’t stop thinking about and analyzing the response. Thick skin aside, I went through small, but noticeable, lows when a surge of negative comments came in and was elated when some stranger came forward to defend me, or who they believe me to be.
It turns out going viral, even in a small way, teaches one a lot about oneself. This is probably especially true when the media is highly personal, as compared to a cat meme or silly video. I didn’t consciously choose to be ‘vulnerable’ in the piece, I wrote how I write just about everything – as transparently as possible. That transparency is, I believe, one of my greatest assets as a writer but also what most often causes me to take hits.
If you are interested, Roots & Shoots is a non-profit that I work closely with and believe in. Roots & Shoots encourages young people to take action in their communities through a “Think Global, Act Local” model. Other non-profits I encourage people to get involved with are She’s the First, which sponsors girls secondary education, and The GREEN Program, a travel program that immerses students in all things related to alternative energy.
Finally, I’ll probably never get millions of eyes on a piece in the near future, if ever again. Thank you for every one who read it, shared it, and tweeted it. My original goal, after passing 2K, was to hit 10,000 views. We passed that a while ago and it is thanks to you.