2+ Million Views Later – That Time The Internet Broke Me

"Passed 1M views on Medium. #Griffin and I are just as baffled as we are excited. #IBrokeTheInternet www.pippabiddle.com" - via Instagram (2/21/14)

“Passed 1M views on Medium. #Griffin and I are just as baffled as we are excited. #IBrokeTheInternet http://www.pippabiddle.com”; – via Instagram (2/21/14)

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.

About these ads


  1. You have a very open mind. Yes everyone has preferences and for some it is Race. The human mind has been trained to accept certain visual aspects of a person as appreciable and thus tends to assimilate certain traits to such a person. Hence the fair maiden is usually not suspect of evil, while the lesser ‘good’ looking one is presumed to be siding towards ill behavior.

    It is science actually, but we overlook that and draw examples from our own experiences to attribute weightage to people.

    Its all good, as long as you are happy and do not hurt another.

    Good luck and Godspeed my friend. May you touch a billion lives with your thoughts and actions.


  2. If you want followers, you have to add an RSS feed button prominently on your page. You can add one through the WordPress template. And as many other contact fields as you feel comfortable with, like email, FB, Pinterest, Tumblr, g+, YouTube, etc.

  3. You are a courageous woman to speak out on this particular issue – that is so woven passionately into the Evangelical fiber. What evangelical community does not strongly promote short term missions to the tune of $2-3K? I know of not one in So Cal. Anyway, our family of six has struggled with your same thoughts and came to the same opinion 15 + years ago. However, we have silently objected as our cpmmunity would reject us with such an unpopular opinion. How sad, right?!

    The wildest part is my husband was a missionary kid, growing up in a foreign country intil his teen years. That’s a tremendous story in itself. The take away from a life on the field – not as positive as folks make it out to be.

    He grew up observing the adult dynamics of being apart of a well known mission organization – being in the field has definitely influenced his opinion of what you described in your famous posting! He calls it self-serving and his opinion, over the years, continues to be if believers were truly concerned about the lives of those in third world countries they would raise their $$ with the same passion to give away to that region so the community could profit in more ways than one. Boy, does he have thoughts on this topic… But I’ll stop there.

    Need I say – Your words were a breath of fresh air a real blessing to our family! We were in the closet on this issue, silently disagreeing – but knowing all the while and with conviction it was true. Your blog has given us the forum and essentially the spring board by which we are now going to speak out.

    Thank you. We can just imagine the issues you have faced since its posting. You are in our prayers.

    Preach it sista!

  4. And you didn’t even see the comments on the places people shared your blog! I was one who both critiqued and defended you. At first I too thought the race issue was not all that important but upon further reflection and discussion I decided that if you were seen primarily as a ‘white girl’ and that identity colored (pun not intended but still funny) how you were perceived, then it does matter.
    It did seem that at the core though your argument was about being honest as to where you can be useful and helpful, not whether you are a certain color. That is hard since the lure of foreign travel and ‘helping’ people is a stronger pull than sitting in an office on a phone organizing some shipment.
    I have a daughter going to Haiti in just over a month on a mission trip so I am interested to hear what she will have to say about both your insights and her own perceptions. I am going to wait until after though to share the blog with her (though she might find it a number of other ways before that) since the trip is already planned.
    Thanks again for your willingness to tell your story and insights. It really is a good thing you did, and continue to do. By the way, I am a HUGE Jane Goodall fan and Roots and Shoots is a wonderful organization so kudos for spreading the word about it.

  5. I always hesitate a bit giving “cookies” to White people who speak out, because it’s really what they should be doing, and it shouldn’t be some special heroic act. Unfortunately, it is unusual enough that cookies are warranted, because it shows White people “Hey, PoCs appreciate what you’re doing.”

    So I’ll join the chorus of yeasayers: you did a beautiful job with that post. Yes, if you have 2 million people reading, of course people are going to pick it apart, but the gist of what you said it true, and a lot of the objections make no sense. For example, some people said it’s about socioeconomic class and not race, as if the problem could be only one or the other. It’s about socioeconomic class and race. And race is usually the one people are timid about discussing, so good on you for putting it right out there.

    I was frankly shocked at how many responses to your original post said something along the lines of “Sure, my going to such-and-such place didn’t actually do much for the locals, but I learned so much from the experience!” I kind of wondered if they had even read your post at all, or just the title.

    You may be young, but you’ve shown a bit of what I admire so much in Malcolm X—a true desire for justice and an open mind. You seem to show that you’re not afraid of appearing wishy-washy or indecisive as long as you keep finding truth and getting close to it. I hope you don’t think I’m inferring too much.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. So right! It shouldn’t be some heroic act to clearly speak truth — but it IS so rare to hear someone so young and from Westchester(!) speak deeply and accurately about race. I was completely shocked and pleased: hard to judge a personality from reading two articles, but it seems your folks did a good job, Pippa.

      The best line is “to ignore the thing that people register first, along with gender, when they meet someone would be a mistake.” Too many people ACTIVELY ignore discussion of race, especially here in New York City, because they feel we are “above” and “past/post” racism here.

  6. Hey there. I SOOOOOOO identify with this. As a former missionary, I just had a post go viral yesterday, and am feeling really weird today. Like the internet broke me, too! But guilty that I can’t defend myself against 300+ comments because I actually have to work to feed my family. I read your post a few days ago and LOVED it! Hopefully your interweb ickiness feeling will subside in a few days (as I hope mine will) and you’ll be left with the satisfaction that somewhere, someone who is responsible for a mission trip is giving it a second thought, and perhaps writing a check instead. Peace to you, sister.

  7. First of, thanks for writing about that subject. I work for a volunteer abroad none profit and I deal with all sides of this everyday. I pretty much agree with everything you said but one thing I will add is that I had the blessing or curse to grow up partially in Asia and then travel again as an adult and many Americans and Europeans don’t so it is my goal in life to get people in 1st world countries out of the comfort zones to experience the rest of the world. If they come back to their home country and have a better understanding and any inclination into the lives of others beyond just a facebook picture of them holding a poor foreign baby, then a little bit of good has transpired. On the flip side of that, if one hug of an orphan child or one sparkle in their eye to really learn English and get a better education when they grow up, due to a rich American/European, if something that big can happen in two weeks, then so be it. I’ve heard of schools in Africa that nobody would go to if it wasn’t for the foreign volunteers there on a regular basis. And in regards to qualified volunteers. I speak with tons of med students and Doctors and Nurses who want to go change the world in 4 weeks and impart their great knowledge on the suffering masses. To me, those type are way worse than someone in college wanting to puff up their CV or resume or party and volunteer. The moral of the story is that if you want to really make a difference or help you need to join the Red Cross, peace corp, doctors without borders, or go comit to teach for a year somewhere, but if you are totally afraid of that, which our culture teaches us to be, then go stick your little fearful feet in the foreign waters for a few weeks and see if you want to dive in at a later time. OK, ramble over. oh and forget about the naysayers and such, again, you have touched on an important topic and it will always be an evolving debate. thanks

  8. It’s definitely a good conversation. We shared it on our Live58 FB page and it is one of the most “engaging” pieces yet. The 58 community has been discussing it in the thread, respectfully, I am glad to say. It is cool to see the community of faith wrestle it out. Thanks for sparking a great conversation and I am sorry that some don’t know how to disagree kindly. Hang in there and have fun!

  9. I read the post you mention here and I was very tempted to reply, in favor and against, your post made me think about voluntarism. I am from El Salvador, a very poor and violent country, I guess everybody knows that since is our sad trademark and I have been volunteer here, especially with Habitat for Humanity and I have worked with a lot of young foreigner that come here to “build” houses and you are right, most part of them don’t have a clue about that kind of work and often they just delay the construction. But I consider this a fail from the NGO, not from the volunteers. They come here to help, if the NGO ask them something they are not able to do, it is not their fault. As explained by the king character in Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince: “if I ordered a general to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not obey me, that would not be the fault of the general. It would be my fault.”

    I am graphic designer/photographer, I always try to volunteer as that. It is my area of expertise. What else can I do better than that? Nothing. But once – during my later studies in Switzerland – I was sent to an internship to a Asylum Seekers Refuge and they asked me if I wanted to do office job or field job. The field job was to build and maintain fireplaces in the swiss alps! this is the work some asylum seekers do while they wait for an answer. So I chose the field job. Even I don’t speak swiss german, even I had never done that job. But it was the most life changing experience of my life. To work with such great men and women, learn from them, listen to their stories, fighting to communicate. I still keep my working gloves as a reminder of that experience. Everytime I want to give up, I look at my gloves and remember my team and myself going up a huge mountain with pounds and pounds of tools and materials. Probably I was a handicap for the team, not used to that kind of work, not used to the weather, without a clue of what to do, but it changed my life.

    There are always to side of the same story. Thanks for your posts. I am also a kitchen enthusiast so, I also find your other blog interesting. Cheers!

    1. As I replied to her earlier blog entry, sometimes the benefit is to both countries. When my son and I went to Cuba, the actual painting may have been just as easily done by the locals, but we brought the tools…. the brushes, rollers, roller pans. We also brought toiletries, so that in THAT little corner of Cuba a few families didn’t have to choose between soap and toothpaste that month. For that week, there was meat on the table EVERY night due to the dietary requirements of one of our volunteers – and the funds we brought fed everyone at the compound the same meal. We were able to show what Americans (regardless of colour, it was a mixed-race group including European descent, African Americans, Latinos & Native American heritage) aren’t as depicted by their dictator. The experiences we had and things we saw were certainly at odds with the face Cuba presents to the world – including the truth about their ‘world class medical care’ – only available to Castro (either one) and his friends. The rest wait for months for things we consider routine.

      Sending money wouldn’t help – difficult to get it there and the things needed just aren’t available. Until I typed it above, I hadn’t really associated it, but our group had basically the same spectrum as the Cuban population, if not the same proportion.

  10. Wow, an amazing amount of visitors to your blog! On a previous blog of mine I had a post go viral – it was about a giant badger at my daughter’s school, silly story really, but it grabbed everyone’s attention. I shut that blog down due to negative comments, which I took personally. Since then I’ve set up a new blog connected with my work, called Someone Else’s Shoes – http://www.someoneelsesshoesblog.com. No negativity on there so far – just lots of nice, positive comments and encouragement. Good luck with your blog, although it doesn’t sound as if you need it, it seems to be going great!

  11. It’s great to have the courage to speak what’s on your mind and you did just that. No one can force their views on you. Just stick to the ones you believe in and keep going! Keep the posts coming!

  12. I appreciate your post and your forthrightness.I had some similar experiences when I “taught for America.” What do the locals have to say about white people coming in? I would imagine they would say there are ups and downs. I’m thinking specifically of a really fascinating interview I heard once with Chinese factory workers who were outraged that American groups wanted to shut down the plant due to human rights violations. They wanted the work and couldn’t understand why anyone would shut them down. They did not welcome the idea of Americans even boycotting the product. Do the people you were helping wish you hadn’t come at all? Do they wish you had just given cash? Did they feel enriched at all by the contact with someone from another culture, or do they wish to be left alone?

  13. Pippa I saw this when it was shared by friend on Facebook. Your original blog and your follow up were both insightful and you deserve praise not bile for raising the issue. Here in the UK the encouragement of youngsters to go on these trips is increasing and the emphasis seems to be mainly about what they will get out of it. The money they have to raise to go would possibly be better used to provide local employment and opportunities to help themselves.

  14. Hi Pippa, I found this through the YW Challenge Grid, and then read your original essay, which struck so many familiar cords with me. I worked at a small private Catholic college for a while, and I was a faculty/staff chaperone (and eventually lead organizer) for the annual school *service trip*, which involved building “houses” for families in border communities. Issues related to race, class, privilege, access, economics, Free Trade -vs- Fair Trade, and the definition of “helping” we’re heavy on my mind during those experiences (and actually still are – even though I left that job and stopped being a *voluntourist* years ago). Keep breaking the internet, girl! Your essay was smart, thought-provoking, and honest. Thank you.

  15. I’m not sure how I would handle going viral like that – I don’t expect to. But when you have a message like that to share, it pays to have tough skin. I’m working on thickening mine.

  16. I can never travel without seeing the contrast between the poverty of the locals and the white vacationers…Travel shows us how much alike we are, and yet how much of a divide there is between the world we take for granted and all the other ‘worlds’ out there. I haven’t read your post, but I will, and suspect I’ll agree with a lot of it.

    1. Where I live there is a large Jamaican and Philipino population. A year ago I went on a one day trip to visit an orphanage our Parish and another faith group were contributing to (the Mustard Seed group). It was important to them that the congregations donating get a chance to see what the funds were doing and it was an easy trip to arrange. The raised funds were not used. The Director was so excited for us to be able to see the children and the facilities. In this case, there was a large race difference between us and those we were helping. Although our small group was of mixed race, it was predominantly ‘white’ and Latino, with a couple of African Americans. Even so, the African Americans are MUCH lighter than the Jamaicans. The children didn’t see race as much; as I sat with them while a group sang for us, my lap was filled with toddlers and kindergartners playing with my hair. The Director was distraught about this and tried to get them to stop. I told her that I understood and had no problem. She still tried to get me to stop until I pulled out my camera to show her pictures of my children, whose races (between two of them, there are three represented) do not match mine and one is African American. When he was little, there were white children entranced by the different feel of his hair. The Director calmed down then.

      I sort of got distracted there. My point was that when the Jamaicans I know found out where I was going they were concerned until they found out that we had local escorts and would only be in the bus or on the compounds all day. They did not consider the area safe for themselves, much less a bunch of Americans.

      For those who preach Think Globally, Act Locally; we are. We owe much to our Jamaican friend who are such a large part of our community and it is the most local area we can act – we live on the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO); there are many contract workers on the Base that are from Jamaica and the Philippines – by supporting charities in their communities, we are acting locally. Just as many of us also support charities that act in the US, whether where we ourselves are from, or where someone in our congregation is.

  17. If you hadn’t put yourself out there like you did, it wouldn’t have been as good an article as it was. But this is a prime case-in-point of what I was saying in the earlier article. Of course you didn’t do everything perfectly in the original article. But aren’t you glad you did it?

    It’s critical that people be allowed to try a great thing and fail. In fact, if you aren’t a little bit scared, you may not be stretching yourself enough.

  18. Pippa, thank you so much for your post and follow-up post. I’m an aspiring author with a focus on diversity in YA (not only in ethnicity but gender identity and orientation as well) and I think this discussion is so important. The line that really struck me the most was “I think that to ignore the thing that people register first, along with gender, when they meet someone would be a mistake.”

    White people, in general, are very uncomfortable with discussing race, which is why it is so important that there are those of us who stick our necks out and talk about it anyway. I think this discomfort comes from a genuine desire not to offend as well as the fear they may have to defend the white privilege that they never asked for or the privilege they confer to other whites that they don’t even see. But talking about race is like any other skill: if you don’t practice it, you won’t ever get good at it. How can we ever really make change in this country, in this world, if white people won’t talk about race. We must do it. Yes, sometimes we will offend, but as long as we try to make amends for ill chosen words or thoughtless assumptions and learn from our mistakes we can keep the conversation moving forward. Certainly nothing will change as long as we keep our silence.

    Keep up the good work!

  19. Pippa, I stumbled on your post by providence, I agree with your observations. My church sends out small groups to Hati and Mexico regularly. I’ve often wondered if the goal was to help, then the better use of the travel funds would be to send the money and not the eager, but not trained hands. You are young to have figured this out….may you continue to grow in wisdom and grace.

    1. I totally agree – my mother in law’s church sent her to Guatemala for a week. She’s a reasonably healthy woman who does zumba in her 60′s to maintain her fitness, but I thought the cost of the airfare and housing would have been better spent by paying locals to do the job. I suppose the nicest thing to say is that it’s better than doing absolutely nothing, but these voluntourism trips always seem to be more about filling some perceived spiritual hole in the lives of the grateful recipients or that of the volunteers, rather than trying to do the most good.

      And Pippa, I thoroughly enjoyed the original post and the follow-on post, as both were quite entertaining. You stirred up quite a debate, and it’s good to see such active responses from both sides.

  20. This was a well written, honest, and powerful post. Thank you for sharing. Your thoughts on voluntourism truly resonates with me.

  21. Pippa, congratulations on such a well written, though-provoking post and follow up. I agree entirely and have thought similar things for many years. After my single 2-week Honduran mission trip as a teenager, 20 years ago, I spent a long time feeling like a real saviour, until I realized that the expensive experience made me feel warm and fuzzy inside but undoubtedly did less than nothing for the locals. At the same time, I struggle with the realization that that very trip was critical in helping me to be the person that I am today.
    Glad that your skin is thick (or that you can pretend it’s thick in front of the masses). Either way, hang in there. You’ve done a beautiful job challenging bizarre dogma and I doubt this is the last we’ll hear from you. :) Well done.

  22. You’ve raised a very important part of the discourse around the issues of volunteerism, volun-tourism and sustainable growth in developing areas around the world (including areas in the US). As a Fulbright Nehru Fellow working in India with an education non-profit, when either myself or the interns from the US come it can serve as a distraction for a period of time. It is very important that work abroad is meant to help create sustainable learning in the host country and that volunteers are properly trained. The goal is to add to the skill set that is there and not to become a drain on resources.

    The truth is that many non-profits are able to fund their work in-country through volun-tourism which is a vital source of revenue. I’m sure you have received this comment before-the education of these trips is primarily for you-not for the people you were serving. The goal of volun-tourism for high school and college graduates is to improve empathy, social and emotional learning and create understanding between people of various cultural backgrounds. Non-profits or religious groups who have other agenda’s should be in question.

    Maybe you could come up with a set of questions that help other high school and college students make decisions around which volun-tourism trips are best for them-I see an app in the making.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and I appreciate your insights.

  23. Thank YOU… for sharing your initial thoughts and insights… and for the follow up piece.

    As someone who lived and worked continuously in Northern Somalia, Uganda and Haiti for close to 6 years… I could agree with you more… and am so very please that you words have affected so many (whatever the individual responses).

    I tip my hat to you… and long for more friends and co-workers who share your drive, heart, insight, commitment and wisdom!



  24. Hey there,

    Congratulations on your article.

    I once jumped at the opportunity of working for an international aid project in the Galapagos Islands – not as an ‘aid worker’ but as a design & communications professional. I was there for three years.

    I managed to put a documentary together which explained developmental and conservation issues in the words of local people.

    The angle of the documentary was precisely the purpose of foreign aid and the last chapter deals with the subject head-on. It will probably resonate with your experience.

    You can watch it at:


    Hope you enjoy it.



  25. Hi Pippa, I just read your original article today and now this follow up. Well done on both accounts! You are perfectly right to say your transparency, I would call it honesty, is one of your best assets as a writer. Keep it up and ignore the negative comments as best as you can. From a volunteer in Ethiopia ;)

  26. Yours is the first blog I have ever responded to. You are wise beyond your years and I really appreciate your candor. Later for the haters and continue to follow your own great instincts. Thanks so much for saying what needs to be said.

  27. Great posts… I’ve been thinking about this in my own country of Australia as I’ve learnt more about my own European culture’s history of being the conquerers. I think it has a lot to do with hegemony, conquering and colonising. How can you truly fix problems or help when you are a coloniser? (And in most places that is what white people are.) When we are in power over another person, the relationship is by definition unequal. Unless we go long term and build relationship that is always going to be the case. As a white person with concern for the indigenous Australians who have been displaced by my own culture, I struggle with what to do and how to help when I am in a position of power simply because of my racial heritage. Great food for thought.

  28. You are absolutely pathetic. You are the epitome of stupid liberal Americans. This has nothing to do with race. You went where there are almost all black people. the fact that they are black and poor has nothing to do with black and white in this country. And you are the racist for noticing color as you claim is the first thing you notice.

    But clearly you are privileged. Privileged enough to take your vacation. I didn’t do that out of high school because I couldn’t. afford the luxury. It was to college and work part time or full time work.

    You had ZERO skills to offer and ad no business there. You couldn’t take care of yourself here so how did you get so arrogant as to think you could help other people. Then you try to label what is wrong with all “little white boys and girls”. Well guess what not all whites in America are privileged little wimps like you.

    I am now retired from 30 years of high tech. Earned a good living. But guess what. If I had gone there after high school I could have laid a brick, framed a wall etc.

    Your mistake was you think you were helping “black” people but getting to travel as well. You equated blacks here with blacks in Africa. You should have traveled to another city where people feel entitled to your help rather than another country that didn’t want you there in the first place.

    But you are correct. You went on a vacation to make yourself feel better. You thought that just because you were not poor that you had something to offer. In fact you had nothing to offer except you could “collect” things. Brilliant.

    I suggest you get an education in college that is useful and that you pay for it by working part time and breaks learning to lay bricks where you have to do it right. When you go home with an aching back you might not feel so privileged and you might not assume ALL white people are so privileged.

  29. My cousin, a very wise woman, posted your original article and many of the descriptors you used popped into my head. I am conservative and rarely agree with many liberal leaning posts, but this one caught my eye and I read on. I did not agree with your stance about skin color being a negative, but I get where it comes from and why you would believe it to be true. After finishing the article, it became apparent that even though the headline and initial premise seem wrong to me, you truly did find your calling and have more than proven yourself to be a wise woman. I hope you continue your service to this nation and all others. The world truly does need more of you–regardless of whether I agree with ideology.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s