Saturday, May 1, 2010

travel to other countries in order to "experience the people's pain"

An swpd reader sent the following email, in the hopes of hearing from other readers about what she describes:

My best friend's boyfriend (white) has recently revealed to me that, if he were ever in South Africa, he would want to live in the townships for a week in order to understand what the black South Africans go through, and "to see what $20 would do." He thinks that such an experience would make him a better person. Having to listen to him talk about this stuff made me really uneasy, but I didn't know how to articulate why it made me so uneasy. (Also, the reason he wants to go to South Africa in the first place is because he wants to enjoy the rugby and cricket there.)

However, on the flipside, one of my teachers recently told us about why he teaches, and one of the reasons were his experiences with the disparities in standards of living in India. My teacher, an Indian who grew up in the U.S., decided to go to Calcutta as a young adult specifically in order to be "shocked." I felt uncomfortable when I heard this, but I don't know if that's because I had just had the discussion with my friend's boyfriend. I'm still trying to figure out whether a PoC who goes to another country to be "shocked" is in a completely different scenario that a white person who goes to another country to be "shocked." (However, since my teacher here is an Indian going to India, there are of course other nuances.)


Do you think she's right to find either or both of these travelers in search of other people's pain off base?

And have you encountered other travelers (or wannabe travelers) like this? If so, what did you think?



Update: Thanks to commenter Sean for the following related video, "Gap Yah," by a British comedy group, The Unexpected Items:

41 comments:

  1. It's always "interesting" to hear people trying to say that they want to experience the world of another person/people because it's really an impossibility built on one's prejudiced notions of what the other person/people do, no?

    In this case, I think I'd find both disturbing, but to what extent is hard to say. The white male is definitely all sorts of racist, especially since his real ambition is not to really understand anything about black South Africans.

    As far as the Indian teacher, what was his real motivation in going, and what were his expectations. I think to some degree that traveling comes with some expectations of shock, but the way it's used here is wide open for interpretation... Is it possible to clarify?

    And yes, I've encountered plenty of people, POC or W, that just want to travel for creepy reasons. I wonder if it's because people that have time/money to do leisure travel are also privileged in one way or another...

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  2. Well the whole reason I travel is to find out what other people are doing and what it is like. However, traveling so as to suffer and thus to improve oneself is weird. Would they go live in a housing project here for a week to educate themselves?

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  3. I really hate shock tourists. One, the situations they go to see really aren't that shocking in the sense that they could easily find out about it by reading up on the subject and listening to the accounts of people that go blocked by the bubble of privilege that surrounds them. Seriously, you don't have to go look at the state of living/working conditions in wherever to find out how bad they are. Two, they tend not to really learn anything or use the experience to make any real difference in people's lives, but gawk at other people's suffering and talk about 'what a journey' it has been for them.

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  4. I have a serious problem with it. I think it is very "othering" to do that. I know they say they want to make a difference, but you cannot make a real difference if don't acknowledge the full 100% humanity of the people you are dealing with. There is a lot more to poor regions than the poverty!

    I think it might actually be a better idea to be a little more self-centered about traveling to poor regions. Go for your own purposes, to better your own circumstances or interests in some way. For example, my best friend wanted to learn French by living in a French-speaking area so she went to Burkina Faso, which is also one of the poorest countries. While there she was able to form a deep personal bond and is now trying to move to Africa permanently. As a black woman, she felt more comfortable there than she had ever felt anywhere. For her, going to Burkina was not about what she could do for them. She didn't even know them like that, and that's the point!

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  5. Unlurking, after months of reading and learning, so first, a big thanks to Macon, contributors, and those who regularly comment for having taught me so much.

    This post hits so close to home - as a former participant on service/immersion/mission trips when I was in college, someone who has worked and volunteered in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and as a white woman currently working in a rural part of Cambodia, I have strong feelings for both sides of the "poverty tourism" debate.

    My work is run through a church now, which means that we often have many visitors, mostly white visitors, who stop through to see our work, meet people in our community, and gain a deeper understanding about life here. Most of these visitors are donors, and our work would be impossible without them. They frustrate me with their trite responses to the poverty here (tropes like "They're still so happy!" "They know what really matters" and "I'll never take hot water for granted again!").

    But once I take myself out of it, these guests bring tremendous amounts of joy to the people in our community. The women I work with love the chances to show new people around their neighborhoods, practice their English, ask questions about life outside of Cambodia, and know that people beyond our small town care for them.

    When we have visitors come, I always strongly encourage my colleagues not to let them "volunteer." For me, the risk is too high that they would think they had done something good, that they had "made a difference" in their day, or week, or even month, of volunteering. After that, "social justice" gets checked off the list, and they can go back to their normal lives when they go home. Instead, if they're going to be here, they should own the fact that the trip is about themselves. I hope they take time to reflect on how the experience is changing their political attitudes, on how their privilege as white, rich, foreigners shapes the community's response to them, on the relationship between their wealth and the community's poverty. As far as I'm concerned, this is an important measure of whether a trip has made a positive impact - how does it change their lives when they go back?

    Of course, the most important measure is the impact on the people here in our community. As I said though, for them, receiving visitors is a source of excitement, pride, education, and relationship. Once visitors can get their minds of "doing something," they are free to sit around, hang out, play with the kids that are always around, show pictures of home and admire people's wedding pictures. These are the things that the people in our community love. They remember and talk about these seemingly small interactions for years. After these visits, they often say that they feel encouraged to know that they are not alone here.

    The community I describe is only one; I'm certain there are other places where visitors looking to be shocked by poverty are unwelcome and destructive. I just wanted to share my experience here in Cambodia.

    I've written a lot more about this, from my point of view as an international volunteer on my blog: International Volunteering: Who's it for? And why does it matter?

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  6. ARggghhh. My friend calls it the 'backpacker mentality'. They drive me up the effin' wall. Because they do that, and then go back feeling like now they are a 'better person'. And if you don't do that because you're actually from that country and grew up seeing it all around you and don't really think it's something you wanna do as a tourist, they point fingers at you and talk about how privileged you are and that you gotta get in touch with the poor. It's the hypocrisy that makes it awful. And it really makes not difference whether it's White or POC. I see it so much all around me. Sometimes I wonder if I should dedicate my whole freakin' career calling people out on this. That's how much I hate that mentality. It's a form of luxury. ugh. I don't have anything intelligent to say right now, just...ugh.

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  7. i think culture-shock isn't itself a bad thing. it's a useful experience for people to have, and helps you understand (on some level) the lives of other people.

    true, by the nature of being a traveler, your experience is lightened by the fact that you can leave, and that you have other resources that highlight the privilege of your stay in comparison to those who live there/wherever because they have no other choices.

    but i'd be more uncomfortable if someone went to another country and wasn't "shocked" at how people live. america is a very insulated country, and our population has little to no understanding about the rest of the world, especially the so-called "third world".

    it may seem exploitative in a conrad's heart of darkness sort of way, but more people should travel to the poorer places of the world and experience the lives of people who live there.

    if nothing else, more people would know what they're talking about when they talk about class, race, poverty, and globalization.

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  8. What bothers me about this is the idea of privilege that it entails. A person can go, see the shocking situation (they won't ever really feel the pain, and they ever BE the people they are seeing), and then they have the privilege to get on their airplane and go home, somehow claiming that they were a 'part' of it, when you never are a part of something like that, especially if you are choosing to do it.

    Now, I am a W F. I currently live in a Tibetan refugee camp. We get a lot of 'shock tourists.' What bothers me a lot is that they could so easily SLIGHTLY change their mind set and have it be a better experience for everyone. When I first went to Tibet, I went to SEE the situation. I had heard the stories, but there was a lot of contraversy, and I felt that as someone who did this work for a living, I needed to stop relying on hearsay. I can't feel tibetans' pain, I am not a Tibetan. No matter how bad things get (and between Tibet and refugee camps, it has gotten life threatening) I can pretty much always rely on my privilege as a white american to get me out safely.
    Secondly, I and anyone else from the outside coming in, am choosing to be a part of this, so there is no way I can 'feel the pain' of life under occupation, or coming into exile. They didn't make the choice, and that's part of what makes it so hard. The best I can do is try to see it with an open eye, and learn from it, recognizing myself as a privileged outsider.

    Now, I do want people coming here and seeing how hard life is. Because I want them to help. But I am bothered by this idea that you can just come, 'live' the pain for a week, and then return to your comfortable existence, believing that you've had the real experience. I've been working here a year, and I don't think I'll ever have the real experience.

    to take this a step further, something I see commonly here (I don't know about other situations, so I'd be happy to hear what you guys have to say) people spend time working with Tibetans and then say "Well, I basically AM Tibetan, I live here too!" completely forgetting their privilege and that they, unlike Tibetans, are here by choice. They then feel that because they believe that they've felt the pain that they can make decisions BETTER than actual Tibetans. It's absolutely infuriating to me.

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  9. I really agree with Danila - it's the othering that makes me feel most uneasy about it, and I've met precious few Americans & Europeans who've traveled internationally who *haven't* done this. (My sample size of people who grew up in other reigons is too low to really generalize, but I've seen these attitudes pop up everywhere.)

    On top of the othering, there's the classic trope of 'teach me about my privilege, group of people who don't share it!' I'd see your teacher's situation differently if he'd said that he wanted to 'shock himself' as opposed to 'be shocked', even though there are still the exoticization/othering problems.

    Traveling can be a great way to illuminate aspects and types of privilege that we were previously unaware of, but one of the biggest dangers I've seen is the false sense of knowledge that some people bring back. If your best friend's boyfriend really thinks that living in the townships for a week will allow him to "understand what the Black South Africans go through", that's ridiculous, and hugely problematic.

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  10. It sounds very anti-community. The comments here have said much of what I want to say but there is still this.

    Tourists don't put down roots. And taking pictures of someone's life is pretty offensive and an invasion of privacy, it's othering. It's like journalizing (keeping yourself detached) rather than reaching out to that other life like a human being.

    Metak makes a good point, you can be a part of their community but it still won't put their pain in your heart, it won't make you 'one of them'. But maybe that isn't the point. We hold hands and help out one another, live our lives together, that's what's missing in tourism. Lives aren't something you can put under a microscope for your leisure to study. Lives are meant to be lived.

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  11. A lot of what the other commenters have said isn't even exclusive to international travel. I have a friend who went a week on $5, just eating ramen because he didn't have any money at the time and wanted to see what it was like to be poor. Someone had pointed out to him that making the decision to eat ramen for a week was not the same as having no choice but to eat ramen for a week. My friend had a choice, people to call to borrow money from; he could get a job. He didn't have the desperation that other people in that situation had.

    I grew up in a largely asian populated community and when white people came into our mix, after a few years they often made statements like Metak mentions. "I'm practically Asian." They think that because they know how to use a pair of chopsticks, have all Asian friends, or picked up a couple phrases of an Asian language that it makes them "practically Asian." It's completely insulting.

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  12. I think this is yet another example of "seek authenticity".

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  13. @Zek J Evets re: "i think culture-shock isn't itself a bad thing. it's a useful experience for people to have, and helps you understand (on some level) the lives of other people."

    Culture shock isn't being shocked by what one sees in terms of the living conditions of other people. It's the disorientation of having one's cultural-behavioral assumptions collide with what is customary or normal in a different culture. Also, true shock at the way people live in other areas is an accident, not something the tourist plans on experiencing. Maybe incidental travel shock has a good side, but the intent to be shocked suggests that the tourist has already determined his or her response and perspective. In the case of intentional shock tourists, there's not so much revelation going on as validation of one's preconceived ideas.


    "it may seem exploitative in a conrad's heart of darkness sort of way, but more people should travel to the poorer places of the world and experience the lives of people who live there."

    What? It may be exploitative, but do it anyway? I'm assuming you didn't read the comments before posting. As you yourself point out, tourists who have the option of leaving can't experience the lives of the people who live there. So what are they doing besides maybe trying to ease their own consciences? How many make the connection between their own culture's wealth and the poverty of the cultures they visit? As Meg points out, they are more likely to have reactions of the "Now I really appreciate what I have" variety.

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  14. Mixed feelings on this one. I think it's important for all privileged people (but especially white people) to be fully aware of the world around them so that they'll contribute to making a change, not just in a foreign country, but back home as well. And while it's certainly possible to do research or donate money from afar, travel and volunteerism has its benefits as well in boosting tourism revenues, providing needed manpower, etc. It also helps to defy the mindset that certain countries (and thus their people) are so dangerous and horrible that no one should ever travel there.

    But clearly there are a whole host of people who are just looking for some kind of week-long "life changing experience" that they can use to feel good about themselves. As if making some small contribution to the underprivileged can negate the massive privilege that they'll live with for the rest of their lives. And besides, the people the OP mentioned weren't even interested in trying to help anyone, from what I can tell, they were just focussed on their own learning experience.

    There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to empathize with someone else's pain, but often it's only done for selfish reasons, and the traveler just heads back home and returns to the life they were leading before, with a clearer conscience that they don't really deserve. It's not about helping the people who are in pain.

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  15. On top of the other points that have been addressed by others, I resent the idea of having to travel outside the U.S., typically to a "less developed" nation to see people struggling. As though "true" suffering, prejudice, oppression are really confined to those other countries, and we don't have it in our backyard.

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  16. wow... that's hard to answer... honestly, if people want to feel others' "pain" and undertand poverty, I think they should just join a NGO along the lines of Peace Corps and volunteer with "poor" people in slums or Third World (I hate that term) nations... that goes for white folks and people of color.

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  17. @ Zek: "if nothing else, more people would know what they're talking about when they talk about class, race, poverty, and globalization."

    No they wouldn't. They could say they'd seen it, been shocked by it oh my god how terribly impoverished the rest of the world is dang I'm blessed, and then sit back, smug in the knowledge that they "truly" understand.

    But they don't really know what they're talking about. It's like telling a cancer patient you understand having cancer. No, you don't. You SEE that it looks hard, you SEE the pain they go through, but you don't know and it's so presumptuous to assume otherwise.

    And anyway, let's assume the white traveler really did learn something, what are they going to do with that knowledge when they return home?

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  18. This reminds me of a story I heard on npr this week: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/406/true-urban-legends

    Act 1: What's that Smell? is a story about a millionaire who is running for governor and who touts the time he spent teaching in what he refers to as an "inner city" school. He wrote a book about his experiences in this school in a very Hollywood-y sort of way. Ira Glass goes to the neighborhood to reveal that it's not so much the way the author described.

    It also reminds me of "Slumdog Millionaire" and its being called "poverty porn."
    http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/the-real-roots-of-the-slumdog-protests/

    I think the bottom line is that reducing people to their economic status is demeaning, even if you end up "helping them" or praising them or whatever. They're people. They have 3 dimensions. Their lives are not just about their poverty and it's very "othering" to assume that it is, even if you're sirening "nice" things about them. Also, I think that people's lives/homes/communities are not a theme park ride for privileged college students, regardless of how it may further the students' privilege by building their character.

    On the other hand, relationships are important to make human need more real to people in privileged situations so it's a tough question.

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  19. I don't think that the action itself is inherently bad. I think it's a wonderful thing when privileged people want to live amongst people who have radically different backgrounds and hopefully join them in whatever progressive work they are doing (as a supporter, not a leader). Privileged people could learn a lot from less-privileged people and from the experience. It's important to understand, however, that no one can ever "feel someone else's pain," especially not in a week, but that shouldn't really be the goal. And if the goal *is* just a notch on the belt, some sort of accomplishment to brag about that makes you seem more "cultured" or "travelled," then that's just selfish and insincere.

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  20. There's a nice little book that explores this idea.

    A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid.

    Really recommend.

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  21. It's weird. They want to be "shocked" by environments that the people whom live there indubitably find normal. I would think it would be insulting to those people. (I apologize if that doesn't make sense)

    I know I would find it insulting if one of my rich friends wanted to come over my house to be shocked by how poor people live.

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  22. The first guy sounds like he's doing it all so he'll have some stories to tell his friends back home, so that he will be elevated in their eyes; for his moment in the limelight pretending to be some kind of guru.

    As for your teacher though, I think it makes sense that an Indian person raised in the US would like to go and see how different his life would have been if his ancestors had stuck around India. I don't know which generation moved over here, but if his parents had been the ones to move, I can definitely understand being curious about where they had grown up, or his grandparents or whomever higher up in the lineage. I'm curious about where my grandfather spent his childhood and where my great grandparents grew up too, so I'm also projecting ;)

    In his case though, even though he might have actually gone for the "shock value" as a young adult, the ego in his journey seems *apparent* (it IS his visit to India for HIM) instead of hidden under this naive and ridiculous idea that a week in a township of South Africa would impart some kind of divine wisdom or understanding to him.

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  23. @kateris: my impression was that the teacher was not necessarily from the slums of Calcutta. I think you realize, and didn't mean to imply otherwise, that there are tons of other ways to be Indian. I didn't think we were talking about tracing ancestry here but that's another thing I've wondered about some. I, like many North Americans who have been around for a few generations, have Cherokee ancestry. Would it be appropriate for me to investigate that ancestry by visiting a Cherokee community? Could that be done in relationship and in a way that isn't "othering?" Again, does it matter that the destination group in this case are POC while the seeker individual is a WP?

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  24. This sort of reminds of when some white people believe that by dating an Asian, adopting a black baby, befriending a Hispanic or claiming that they have Native American heritage make them a better (white) person. "Better" how ("Better" as in "I'm a good and tolerate person" or "better" as in "look at me and my new commodity"? I don't rightly know sometimes.

    Anyway, I don't particularly like this kind of traveling. It's as if these sort of people want to seem as if going to impoverished areas of the world will make them appreciate being *American*, but in actuality, it's about them appreciating that they're white (AND American in some cases), since some fail to see that there are places in America that are as impoverished as some third world countries.

    While I do agree that priviliged people should definately count their blessings - and maybe visiting these places in person will help them open their eyes - I wonder if they actually change their worldviews afterwards.

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  25. ....he would want to live in the townships for a week in order to understand what the black South Africans go through, and "to see what $20 would do."

    Whatever. Scenario A screams white privilege. *cue fountain of vomit*

    My teacher, an Indian who grew up in the U.S., decided to go to Calcutta as a young adult specifically in order to be "shocked."

    Hmmmmm...shock touristy indeed. However, I can also see him wanting to travel to Calcutta so as not to be yet another American of color who is "confused" or "delusional" or flat-out clueless.

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  26. First time reader and commenter here, and I'd like to start out by saying I like what I've read of this blog so far.

    Do you think she's right to find either or both of these travelers in search of other people's pain off base?

    It's a sticky situation. Certainly the traveler's intentions play a serious role. What specifically are they looking to get out of the experience? And what does society get in return? I think the key to combatting all forms of inequality (racism, classism, poverty, etc) is empowerment of an oppressed or marginalized population. Are you going to lend them your voice to help them in their quest for social justice? If you're going to spend a week in the townships just to have one more thing to be thankful for when saying grace at Thanksgiving, then that's not really helpful to anyone. But if you're going to go over there, and listen to their life stories and experiences, and help them to communicate these stories and experiences to the world, then that's something else entirely.

    The idea of "making him a better person" is difficult, because it's easy to get stuck in concrete comparisons, without moving on to the larger abstract issues. Maybe you go spend a week in the townships and come back and think "Wow, $20 is like 2 months worth of food, I'm so thankful for everything I have, and I'm never going to waste food again, or buy crappy consumer items I don't need". In one sense, it's good that you value what you have, and resolve to not waste food or money, etc. But that only gets you so far. If you then go the extra step and realize that it comes down to issues of privilege, and that if you're of European heritage (particularly Anglo-Saxon or Dutch, in this specific case), it's as a direct result of the oppression of these people that your society got to where it is today, then you have a greater understanding of things.

    I'm still trying to figure out whether a PoC who goes to another country to be "shocked" is in a completely different scenario that a white person who goes to another country to be "shocked."

    I think it depends on the same conditions described above. However, there is an additional aspect of someone reconnecting with their historical culture, as in the example described in the original post. But that's not a "free pass". You can connect to or explore your cultural roots without connecting to your racial or socioeconomic roots. ("culture", "race", and "ethnicity" are often used as synonyms, but I believe they are in fact different from each other).

    And have you encountered other travelers (or wannabe travelers) like this? If so, what did you think?

    Sadly, I actually had a personal experience with this. I spent 3 weeks in South Africa as a young teenager. We were visiting family there, and during that time, one of my great-aunts was going to a Township with her church to distribute food, and brought us along. And I cannot describe how incredibly awkward it felt. And the awkwardness came not from the poverty or race relations, or anything like that. But from the feeling I had that we were doing this not only to distribute food, but also to pat ourselves on the back afterwards. And I don't like that.

    The obvious retort is "So you're saying that you can't feel good about helping others?". But it's not as simple as that. It's about the way it comes across and the way you intend it. I mean, nobody above the age of 5 or so is praised for saying "please" and "thank you" or not talking out of turn, because it's just what you do when interacting with fellow human beings. Yet when we give an almost-expired can of pumpkin pie filling to a homeless person in November, we demand praise, or at least notoriety from our peers. And, in my opinion, that's not ok.

    Wow, this was way longer than I intended it to be.

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  27. ""stay home said...
    On top of the other points that have been addressed by others, I resent the idea of having to travel outside the U.S., typically to a "less developed" nation to see people struggling. As though "true" suffering, prejudice, oppression are really confined to those other countries, and we don't have it in our backyard.""

    QFFT, though that still doesn't changed the my irked opinion towrds the priveleged's enlightened pain tourism nonsense.

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  28. I think this situation makes you uncomfortable because it oozes privilege out of pores you didn't know you had.

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  29. Really both cases sound like gross Western, monetary privilege. I doubt that either one of them would be comfortable with losing their credit cards, plane tickets, etc. and having to actually live the lives they suggested they wanted to embrace for any extended period of time. This is especially true in the case of the boyfriend who sounds almost identical to those who feel they have had the "Black/Latino(a)/Asian" experience by simply, as suggested by cl, visiting "Chinatown", the "ghetto", etc. and listening to certain kinds of music/watching certain kinds of film/learning the language on a very basic level.

    In short, the professor would only get a slight pass if he actually contributed something to the community instead of simply leeching off of them for the "experience". The boyfriend however? He's TOTALLY clueless. Did it ever occur to him that his skin colour and facial features alone would negate any chance of him living like a BLACK South African!? And that's to say nothing of the middle-upper middle class clothing he would probably be wearing and the fact that if things actually managed to get "real" he could just run away and not be bothered! Seriously, that kinda stuff just makes me sick to my stomach.

    *Great, now I can feel a migraine coming on*

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  30. This post reminded me of a video that was doing the rounds in my county a few weeks ago

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKFjWR7X5dU

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  31. I wouldn't want to travel to another country to experience someone elses pain. I can travel in the U.S. an experience this countries pain. Though our countries is one of the riches in the world, people would really be surprised on the poverty in our very own backyard.

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  32. Thanks for the video Sean. That really does summarize what many do. What's 'chundaa' btw? Is that what I think it is - vomit? It really is sad that I can't say that's not true. :(

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  33. Ursula LeGuin's allegory The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas seems like a fitting parallel here. (It's short. Read it.)

    The idea that suffering is redemptive is not always squicky, but set in the context of a power imbalance it has been the root if a lot of oppression throughout history. It's not a very big step from "suffering makes you a better person" to "suffering makes YOU a person, and YOU are not a person unless you suffer." (Read this.)

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  34. island girl in a land w/o seaMay 3, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    this post has touched a very raw nerve. this is the first time i've gad the chance to write about it, so please bear with me.

    i returned to the US from the philippines a couple of weeks ago. my mother died in early april, and i arrived in manila just in time for her wake and funeral.

    my mother came from a "good family," while my father and his siblings grew up in the kind of poverty that motivates some people to channel all their energy toward acquiring wealth and status. my father had been declined an invitation to join marcos' cabinet, so we immigrated as a family to the US. it was supposed to be a temporary relocation.

    my parents experienced downward mobility in the US, so i grew up with neither the extended family network to keep me in line nor the kind of privilege my older sister had had in the philippines. i have always lived rather modestly, although as a young adult i had to do some illegal and/or ethically questionable things to make the rent. i am fully aware, however, of the perks, big and small, that come with growing up in the US -- like linguistic capital, straightened teeth and a liberal arts education.

    there is *nothing* in the US like poverty in the global south. in the philippines, where something like 20-25% of the population is under the age of 18, witnessing poverty among children and youth is heartbreaking. in manila, i saw shoeless and naked children running around the dirty streets from the back seat of a chauffeured, air conditioned car. i was smacked upside the head by poverty, my own privilege and the vast social distance between those who have not and people, like me, who have.

    so i'll speak to what the OP wrote about the indian teacher who returned to india to "be shocked." i think that, for immigrants like me, perhaps like the indian teacher, whose privilege within our countries of origin facilitated our immigration to the US (and other global north nations), it's a very good thing to return, to see what our lives might have been like if we hadn't had the (metaphorical) winning lottery ticket -- wealthy, connected, educated parents, a social network in the countries to which we immigrated -- that enabled us to live comfortable, if modest, lives in our adopted homelands.

    the OP wrote parenthetically that the indian teacher returning to india probably had more nuance to his story than stated. i think that some commenters seem to have overlooked this. it's important to consider the context surrounding his decision to visit his motherland. we don't know the social position that he came from in india or where his parents may have started from. at any rate, i think that returning to the motherland has helped me to understand my experiences in the US.

    so maybe it's one thing to be "shocked," and quite another to be moved to action. which begs the questions: what does it mean to really act in service to others? how does one really help?

    thanks for hearing me out.

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  35. It is definitely a privilege to travel to another country - especially by air and overseas. I have never been off of Turtle Island what is known as US & Canada to Native peoples here.

    I could just be in my family and my community where generational and historical trauma is present. Alcoholism, internalized oppression, emotional violence, sexual violence, physical violence, drug abuse, depression, suicide and lateral violence in the Native community. Go to the reservation to experience pain. But, you might not be welcome especially if you are very privileged. Even growing up off the reservation that many of my relatives live on I am sometimes judged for being perceived as monetarily rich - which is not the case. So many Natives who leave the reservation for more opportunity, education, etc experience this.

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  36. The high school I went to has a relationship with a program in South Africa, so they do a yearly trip and (when the kids return) a presentation. I swear I heard the same fucking line in every presentation: "How come I have so much and they have so little?" I don't know, maybe because you're a rich white American in a private school?!? They'd swear that their whole lives had changed because they played soccer with a glass bottle or because they were the only white people around (they loved pointing that out). I instantly thought of the South Africa trip when I read the friend's boyfriend example. I can only remember one presentation that I liked... this guy talked about a friendship he formed with one of the South African boys he met; he just talked about him like he was a regular kid (his likes, his dislikes, etc).

    The Indian teacher wanting to be shocked... I don't know. I'm not sure what that means. I've been to Jamaica several times to visit relatives- some sort of well off, some poor*. My parents didn't grow up in extreme poverty, but they've lived in several different places on the island. When we went into the cities with my mom, we didn't really want to be shocked (we were aware of the poverty)- we wanted to see where she grew up, went to school, etc.

    *I'm sorry, I don't know how well this relates because I've never gone by myself, always with family. Just another example of a "third world" country, though.

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  37. Delurking to tell Meg that I really appreciated what she had to say. I go to a church that does mission trips where the students who go stay with a host family and work on building projects. Many of the high school students who go come back, I think, more mature and more open-minded for the experience and wanting to do fundraisers to send money to help students in the country they visit go to college.

    I had always thought of that as a really good thing for them and for the community they visit, but you've given me a lot to think about. I see Pajamas' point, too, though the reactions of the youth I've known have been a bit more varied, thank goodness. I think staying with the host families really helps in that the youth come to know their hosts as individuals.

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  38. Apparently, according to this article the video clip has gone 'viral' on the net. There's also a 'vocab list'.

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  39. That video is causing me to die of laughter. See also: "We saw all these little children and even though they were so poor they could still smile!"
    I'm also a big fan of arguments between travellers over who has seen the most poverty. Because that means your holiday was more real, right?

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  40. @ Sara: Thanks sincerely for your feedback! I definitely wouldn't argue that there are other ways to be Indian, but I think what I was shooting for was more like what island girl in a land w/o sea satated, about five or six comments up from this one. I definitely think it's respectable for a person to travel back to where they could have grown up, had their ancestors decided to stick around. Since I don't know the teacher, I would wonder how he responded to the visit to India and what it really meant to him, but I don't know.

    You asked "would it be appropriate for me to investigate that ancestry by visiting a Cherokee community?" My first instinct is to say "of course you should visit!" but I'm projecting the sense of curiosity that I have about my heritage. The word "investigate" leaves me unsure though. What would you be hoping to glean? I think that connecting with the Cherokee people might be great, but I'm not sure about the investigatory part. If you want to elaborate I'd be happy to keep talking, but either way it would still be me expressing my opinion: that it's great to connect with any of your ancestry, even if it's a personal thing.

    As for the last question "...does it matter that the destination group in this case are POC while the seeker individual is a WP?" If you were asking about the first case, where the white kid thinks he can get a real sense of poverty by living on $20 for a week then yes, I definitely think it matters. If that's not what you meant though then I'm not clear on what you meant, but I'd be glad to explore further if you're interested.

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  41. Weird how people can make themselves laugh at bad comedy with an agreeable message. E.G. this blog rightly criticises that horrendous Pauly Shaw film, 'Adopted', for being both unfunny and ignorantly tasteless... yet posts the 'Stopping European Immigrants' and 'Gap Yah' videos with a completely uncritical appraisal... despite them being devoid of humour. You'll probably claim something ridiculous like - I found those two videos funny - in response to this but try being honest.

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