Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ogling the Poor Is Never Cool

I recently read this article by Jina Moore about poverty tourism, making my post of a few days ago seem relevant enough, if a year late. Moore believes that critiques of such tours have less to do with exploiting the poor, but rather discomfort with "our own economic power and our concerns about using it ethically." She contends that tourists have no issue with exploiting the rich by viewing their, such as touring Windsor castle, but I strongly disagree with the comparison. A tour of Windsor castle or the White House are sterile and static experiences, polished facades presented to the public devoid of actual "living". There are no people and the point of the tour isn't the people, but rather the opulence of where and how they live. Poverty tourism, on the other hand, while also relying on the "where" and "how", relies on displaying the people, the poor, themselves. you don't tour an empty village with a guide showing you a shack families may sleep in; you walk around their very lives, ogling at the misfortune.

The most telling difference, however, is the implicit idea that experiencing the world of the poor will make you, the viewer, a better person. There's no mention in any brochure or advertisement - that's why it's implicit - but by talking to individuals who vacation in Africa, who go on "village walks", who specifically request visiting rural schools, it's there. And that's why it's exploitative. My slum tour is certainly no Millennium Village - that's actually a great project - but, willingly or unwillingly, no person should be part of a zoo.

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