If you've lingered in social justice circles for more than 5 minutes, you've probably heard someone say that intent doesn't matter when it comes to prejudice. "But I didn't mean it in a racist/sexist/homophobic/ trans*phobic/ableist/classist/ blahblahblah way!" is probably the goto cop out of privileged people everywhere.
But intent doesn't matter. Not one tiny bit. And now I'm gonna tell you a little story about probably the biggest fuck up of good intentions in history.
Once upon a time there was a Spaniard named Bartolome de las Casas who came to the New World. He started out in 1502 in Hispaniola as an owner and raider of human flesh, specifically an owner of slaves from the local Taino Indian tribe. He even argued against the Dominican priests who said that genocide of the native people was bad.
He then moved on to Cuba, where he participated massacres against the natives. Participating in that level of violence changed his mind. He gave up his slaves and
became "Protector of the Indians". No seriously, that's what his title was. He spent the rest of his life lobbying various Kings and Bishops and Cardinals to get them to see that the indigenous people of the New World were, in fact, people. he even joined the Dominicans he had argued with previously.
And one of his brilliant ideas, put to Charles V of Spain, was that the encomienda program should be ended and replaced with....
wait for it.....
importation of African slaves to replace the workforce (slave force) the Spaniards would give up.
His intentions were good. He saw the horrid effect of European germs and slavery on the local populations. He didn't want any more Indians to die. That was it.
Of course, we all know what happens after the Spanish say "Fuck yeah, African slaves!". 500 years later and we're still seeing what horrors that plan created on 3 fucking continents.
And the thing is, if de las Casas hadn't been a privileged shitface to begin with- the idea of replacing one slave population with another, even with the "best" of intentions, would not have crossed his mind.
Now most of us will never have the influence to be a good-intentioned shitface on that scale. Thankfully. But that doesn't mean that our good-intentioned fuck-ups aren't hurtful and don't perpetuate oppression. It's the thousand tiny cuts that keep institutional oppression, well institutional.