Sunday, April 12, 2009

Altruism Examined

Noemi has written a poem about people who come into poor communities of people of color to volunteer their time. It points out how it may not be as altruistic as it seems to be on the surface.

I recently met the girlfriend of one of my family members and she is one of these people. Every year she goes on a trip to some corner of the earth with plenty of brown people bearing gifts (e.g. pencils, paper, books) and "helps" them. On her lap top she had all these photographs of people and a story to tell for each one of them: This one is in his sixties and never learned to read. This one is completely blind but still came to the little makeshift school every day. This one braided her hair in the same way that people in their country wear it. This one hugged her and cried when she told them it was her last day.

All I could do was smile and nod and take deep breaths.


Zan said...

And you know, she honestly believes she is helping. I had a co-worker, young, white, educated and privleged, who just go back from two years in Africa. She was there as part of the Southern Baptist outreach thing and well...she blogged about what she was doing over there. And there were wonderful pictures and stories about the people. Which was all nice enough -- nothing really wrong with going to meet other people and seeing how they live if you have respect for them. BUT. The thing that got me was how just filled with superiority her blog posts were. About how horrible these people had it, how awful it was to live under the "oppression" of Islam...even though the people themselves didn't consider themselves oppressed. Even though they were happy with their lives. It as just....yeah.

cripchick said...

have you heard the song Common People?

"She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge
She studied sculpture at Saint Martin's College
That's where I caught her eye
She told me that her Dad was loaded
I said "In that case I'll have rum and coca-cola
She said "fine"
And then in 30 seconds time she said
"I want to live like common people
I want to do whatever common people do
I want to sleep with common people
I want to sleep with common people like you"
Well what else could I do?
I said "I'll see what I can do"
I took her to a supermarket
I don't know why
but I had to start it somewhere
so it started there
I said "pretend you've got no money"
but she just laughed
and said "oh you're so funny"

Maegan la Mala said...

Pues there is the line between pity, privilege and the idea that your single presence will save someone. The real point of volunteering or anything really is to empower others to empower themselves, not charity