Tuesday, December 8, 2009

go on ghetto tours

[Update (1/17/10) The idea for a "ghetto tour" described below ($65, lunch included) is up and running this weekend, as noted in this New York Times feature story.]

So someone in Los Angeles is now offering "Ghetto Tours"?


Yes, really -- turns out that "Doonesbury" (circa 1972) was waaaay ahead of its time:

According to the Los Angeles Times,

A group of civic activists, united by faith and a belief that the poor economy in the interior of Los Angeles is a social injustice, is preparing to offer bus tours of some of the grittiest pockets of the city, including decayed public housing, sites of deadly shootouts and streets ravaged by racial unrest.

After a VIP preview last weekend, L.A. Gang Tours expects to open to the public in January, giving tourists a look at the cradle of the nation's gang culture -- the birthplace of many of the city's gangs, including Crips and Bloods, Florencia 13 and 18th Street.

Before going on to explain why I think this is a problem, I think that description of "L.A. Gang Tours" merits one more "Doonsebury":

Seriously now, what kind of white people will go on these ghetto tours? What or whom will they be looking for, and how close do they really want to get to that? Why do they want to get so close (but not, you know, too close)?

I can't imagine that any more than a very small percentage of people will go on these tours with anything other than a prurient, voyeuristic desire to see and photograph what amounts, for them, to animals strewn across the Serengeti.

Okay, maybe I shouldn't be so quick to doubt this effort. According to the Times, some apparent community leaders are involved, and the profits are marked for explicit community improvements:

"This is ground zero for a lot of the bad in this city. It could be ground zero for a lot of the good too," said Alfred Lomas, a former Florencia member who has become a leading gang intervention worker in South Los Angeles and is spearheading the tours. "This is true community empowerment."

The nonprofit group plans to offer two-hour tours at an initial cost of $65 per adult, with profits funneled back into the community through jobs, "franchised" tours in new areas and micro-loans to inner-city entrepreneurs. Early routes will focus largely on South L.A., with forays through Watts and Florence-Firestone. . . .

The L.A. tour comes after months of planning, and is offered in a spirit of education and public service. Lomas, who will lead tours at first, plans to talk about important chapters in the development of the city's core, such as how racist housing restrictions shaped ethnic enclaves and the formation of gangs.

Well, I suppose it could be an education, for some. But still, how could the organizers ward off gawking, pseudo-ethnographic thrill-seekers? Maybe they think including such people will be okay, since their money will go to good causes? Maybe.

Nevertheless, some aspects of this story suggest that a lot of ghetto tourists are going to have their stereotypes about inner-cities, and about their non-white residents, confirmed rather than challenged:

Other aspects may raise eyebrows. Selling shirts painted on the spot by a graffiti "tagger" is one thing. But one backer said he also hopes to stage dance-offs between locals; tourists would pick a winner and fork over a cash prize. It wasn't long ago that organizers decided against a plan to have kids shoot tourists with water pistols, followed by the sale of T-shirts that read: "I Got Shot in South-Central."

Yes, those aspects did raise my eyebrows. And my anti-racism hackles, too. Others in the areas to be toured seem to agree. Francisco Ortega, a field staffer with the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, told the Times that the tours "could come across like a zoo or something. . . . You're being carted about: 'Look at that cholo over there!' It could be perceived as demeaning for the people who are living in these conditions. I don't know how they're going to manage those perceptions."

City Councilwoman Jan Perry seems to have even stronger reservations. "It's not right to put people on display," she said.

Apparently this is an expensive operation, with several big-time investors involved. In fact, money is a suspiciously big concern here. According to the Times, one of the investors, Terry Jensen,

believes the tours could generate $1 million in profit in the first year, and that it would compete for customers with operators of celebrity-home tours in Hollywood.

"I think this will be a destination tour," Jensen said. "I think people will come to Los Angeles to take this tour."

Amidst Jensen's rosy promises that some of the profits will be used to send a local "tagger" to art school, he acknowledges the risks of hauling busloads of tourists through gang territory:

"We all know that the day somebody gets hurt, it's over," he said. "We're counting on the fact that the gangs aren't going to mess in their own beds."

Yes, we all know what bed-messers those Crips and Bloods and such can be.

"Driver, stop the bus! No wait, step on it -- my Harold just got a cap busted in his ass!"

I shouldn't joke about this effort to . . . rejuvenate areas devastated by racism? Make some money from jungle-crawling adventurers? Well, maybe it's both, but the whole effort does seem ripe for satiric derision.

As I said, a potential problem here, which seems like a big one, is that a lot of people who don't live in a neglected urban setting will probably emerge from such a tour with their misconceptions and stereotypes firmly in place, rather than displaced, or even challenged. They'll be lighter in the wallet, but they'll have had a brush with "danger," too, in a place they already associate with "the jungle," and with people who resemble in their imaginations the inhuman and frightening residents of a jungle. These are the kinds of atavistic stereotypes that long ago drove white people away from cities; they also continue to account in large part for levels of residential segregation that in many places are higher than they were during the Jim Crow era.

Another problem, from what I can tell, is that residents of the touring areas were not consulted in any significant way about being put on display like this for gawking tourists. It seems that the people approached from the area were primarily those associated with gangs, and the main motivation there was to ensure that bullets aren't flying when the buses are cruising through. (At one point in the Times story, a negotiator for the project tells a local leader with gang connections, "I'm not saying you have to stop shooting each other. . . . Just allow me a certain time in the day. . . . Just let the bus go through.")

So hey, folks, adventure tourism just got better, for those Americans who can afford it. And, it's become less time consuming! Who needs to go to Africa for a Safari, when you can get up within snapshot distance of wild things right here in the U.S. of A.?

Oops, there goes my satiric reflex again. This idea of "ghetto tours" makes it really hard to resist.

[My thanks to swpd reader JJC for a tip about this story. For another, smaller-scale ghetto tour in Chicago, see this 2007 USA Today story. Also, via Racialicious, a post at Gothamist on tourists in NYC flocking to the site of Amadou Diallo's death.]


  1. Until I see people (people of colour in particular) taking tours through middle class white suburbia. Which may never happen for obvious reasons. I choose to declare this outright racism in my own mind. It is. How else can one explain as Jan Perry stated in the article putting humans on display. It's simply another form of "freak show" in which the other is otherized even further.

  2. It's like they're going on a safari!

  3. I say let the tours go through, but no agreements with gangs. If people think that it'd be a fun outing to gawk and point at poverty and dysfunction, they deserve to be shot at...

    But yeah, I thought the same thing as Ms Sheeba - it reminded me of the Victorian fashion of visiting the insane asylums to be entertained by viewing the 'unfortunate outcasts'.

  4. @ Deborah,

    They are.

    "Come see the wild nigger and spic in their native environments!"

  5. In other pop-culture references to the idea, Don Delillo's Underworld has a memorable chapter of a ghetto tour through the Bronx. Life imitates art I guess.

  6. What's the problem,are we not honest enough to put on display what many live and see everyday?
    Maybe we ought to get a tour company for Washington,DC so the tourist can see the real nations capitol.

  7. A gloriously brilliant idea! I think I'll start a franchise of it in Asia with the ethnic minorities there...Oh wait, they already have thousands of tour operators with the same idea (ethnic tourism anyone?).

    But yay, it's complete with a dance eh? So, will the tourists get to see the guns and chains the way we get to see Papuans with their spears and koteka? And get to hear a pseudo-antrhopological explanation about how the social & family structure works? You know, who the tribal chief...I mean gang leaders are, the hierarchy, why the native culture prefers single mothers, etc.

    >the profits are marked for explicit community improvements

    Don't they have to use part of the profit to pay protection money to the gangs so they don't kill the tourists? (How the hell is that 'community improvement'??) And...if the rest of the money goes to community improvements...won't that drive the business to the ground? What are they gonna show if the place starts to look nice, jobless rate goes down, gang activity goes down, etc? They're gonna have to preserve some of the gangs, neighborhoods and run-down schools, and leave them untouched if they want to maintain client interest hey. Not.

    It's so excitingly exotic. NOT. sigh. sigh. sigh.

  8. Bigmac,

    You're taking it for granted that the folk who live there WANT to be put on display (and for the entertainment of White folk too)! I don't see being treated like a zoo animal while I'm going about my daily business trying to survive and make it in such an environment remotely uplifting.

    And if you think the White tourists will be moved to think differently or do anything positive with what they've seen, I have beachfront property in Kansas to sell you.

  9. EPT,

    "Dysfunction" makes it seem that you're implying something is inherently wrong with the folks who live in those places. Basically if they were functional, they'd be succeeding. It smacks of victim-blaming and of bootstrapping and doesn't take into account the myriad issues that make the ghetto a ghetto (piss poor schools, racist law enforcement there to keep them IN the ghetto and not to protect ANYONE in it, even lack of decent grocery stores so that the folks-there I go being racist with that word-there can by nutritious food, crap-ass medical care, etc.).

    I'm not saying that there are not folks there who ARE dysfunctional, but to slap that label on wholesale speaks to an arrogance that somehow you could not end up there being so "functional" and all. It's like folks who think that poverty cannot happen to them because they believe in Jesus and tithe to their church.

  10. Hmm... does it depend on who would go check this out? Because I know Soweto tours in South Africa are very popular for tourists. Yes, Soweto is much more than just slums, it's a cultural experience for people from elsewhere.

    So, how is it different from going to see any other culture?

    For example, would it be racist for American white people to go on a slum tour, but not a South African white person, like myself, because it's in a different country, therefore something completely different?

    And is it more, or less, racist than going to a "cultural village"? Does it differ when it is real people vs actors? How so?

  11. What.the.hell. I don't know why I'm even remotely shocked considering that white Americans and Europeans do this all the time when they travel to underdeveloped countries and take pictures with "the natives."

  12. And...if the rest of the money goes to community improvements...won't that drive the business to the ground? What are they gonna show if the place starts to look nice, jobless rate goes down, gang activity goes down, etc? They're gonna have to preserve some of the gangs, neighborhoods and run-down schools, and leave them untouched if they want to maintain client interest hey.

    That was pretty much my first thought. It's amazing the number of white people who will complain when the scary neighborhoods aren't as scary as they used to be.

  13. I just happened across this blog today and found it was well written and quite sharp. Being white and living in Ireland you may not think there are any similarities. However what you might be missing is historical and global referencing. Currently in Northern Ireland they run tours through pretty rough areas in the former British Army Riot vehicles to show off the sectarian artwork. The residents are now in the situation where by they are keeping artwork reminding them of the past in order to keep getting tourists instead of moving on. It is effectively stifling the progress of many areas. Such tours are quite common worldwide for disadvantaged areas bringing in much needed revenue. The context in the US seems to prevent it but I would have said the same about NI.

  14. Witchsistah:I'm thinking in terms of using the tours or the ideal of starting one in your city as a way to get some of these lame politicans up off of their behinds and pay attentions to the needs of the entire city.
    No politicans wants bad publicity!

  15. This is a monstrously bad idea. White people tend to be in a constant state of omniscience whether they've seen or experienced anything they are talking about or not. Now they're going to gawk at "ghetto's" (from a safe distance away from the ethnic hordes, of course) and the only thing that will happen is my conversations with Whites will become more frustrating. Now they will have sufficient experience with which to rebut my insistence that Inglewood (where I grew up) is not unsafe. They drove through for 32.8 seconds, they know a lot more than I'm giving them credit for!

    The small infraction of, you know, treating people like museum exhibits, may not the best idea. And really, you're going to insert your judgmental gaze into these people's lives? Its already difficult growing up or living in one of these neighborhoods as it is.... no need to be put on display.

    I'd actually be pretty okay with it if they also loaded up a bus full of people from these areas and they did tours of Brentwood, Holmby Hills, Beverly Hills and whatnot. But I suppose that won't be happening anytime soon.

  16. They've been doing this in New Orleans since Katrina hit. People make money off taking gawkers through the lower 9th Ward...

    The residents of the 9th Ward who need money get nothing, of course...

  17. PattiLain's question is interesting. On a related note, we might view this in relation to more traditional tourism, which focuses on the lives of the rich as representative of the life of a city. To the extent that we're going to have tourists, does it make sense for tourism to be confined to the rich white areas of cities? While I recognize the problems inherent in putting ghetto "denizens" on display, it often seems like the alternative has been to make them invisible

    I think our tourism experiences might be related to the way we often equate a city with its white inhabitants: when you think of a person with a "Chicago" or "Boston" accent, what race is that person? I think our ideas of what is worth seeing in a city is important, and the fact that people of color are often excluded from our ideas of what's worth visiting is problematic as well.

    Is there a way of incorporating poor people of color into tourism experiences in a way that isn't patronizing, degrading or tokenizing? Or does the very idea of tourism inherently make these people either exotic or invisible? Can we look to other edutainment media (e.g., documentary film) for inspiration about how to incorporate people of color into tourism, or should we just abandon tourism?

    I think a partial answer might involve the language and other cues we use -- are we talking about housing projects the way museums talk about yurts, the way Holocaust tours talk about concentration camps, or the way architecture tours talk about the Empire State Building? It might also involve incorporating both rich and poor parts of the city in the same tour -- so the story we're telling is one about inequality and racism, rather than one about poverty and people of color.

  18. @patti

    I'd say Victoria and Danny answered you better than I would have.


    It still is no less creepy and skeevy and explotive and even racist. There are still better way of highlighting an issue that doesn't involve continued disenfranchisement and assholery.

  19. If these people want to see "the ghetto" so badly, why don't they go volunteer in those areas and actually meet the people who live there? I don't like how they are painting this as some sort of indirect public service (like when you buy detergent and a $1 of it goes to a charity). Out of the $65/person fee, I feel about $7.50 will actually go to those who needs it, only after everyone else gets their share.

  20. My friends, this is proof that even liberals can be douche-bags.

  21. So they asked the gangsters to hold off shooting while the buses come through? I'm sure that the gangsters, being decent people who care about their own community, will readily comply.

  22. Just like those "safaris" in Soweto or the Brazilian favelas. Simpering, middle-class white liberals hug a few poor black street urchins and think they're Mother Theresa or Bono.


  23. As bad as it is, the tour is headed by a Hispanic community group that I think is desperate as hell to get some attention. When I saw this on the news, I had to shake my head. There's no way in pure hell I'm venturing down to gangland!

    As a L.A. resident, I prefer my craziness elsewhere, like in Suburbia.

  24. EqualOpportunitySkepticDecember 9, 2009 at 10:10 AM

    Seriously now, what kind of white people will go on these ghetto tours?"

    Seriously now, where in the article does it say that only white people will be going on these tours? Why not ask what sort of asian, black, arab, or latino people (or just people in general) will go on these tours?

    If this thing gets off the ground at all (I don't think it will), at $65 a pop, I predict that a significant number of the tourists will be wealthy foreigners, and I don't see any reason why they would be exclusively white ones.

  25. Welcome, EqualOpportunitySkeptic!

    Did you happen to notice the title of this blog?

  26. EqualOpportunitySkepticDecember 9, 2009 at 10:26 AM


    Some things white people do are worth talking about because only white people do them, or they do them in a particularly white way...

    Other things white people do no differently than anyone else. Like go on poverty tours. What's interesting about singling them out in cases like this?

  27. Wow, "ghetto tours"?! It's hard to imagine that working out well. Very little improvement of the community involved is likely to happen, and yeah, if it did, that would render the cash-cow of a tour obsolete.

    EqualOpportunitySkeptic, to wonder what kinds of white people will go on such a tour is not to claim or imply that no non-white people will go on the tour. You're trying to change the topic. And you know something? I don't think it's going to work.

  28. Like Honeybrown, I am an L.A. resident and saw on the local news that this is a Latino run group. When, I saw that they were Latino part of me thought that they should be able to make some money off the many tourists who come here and want to see Compton and South L.A. I taught exchange students from Europe last summer and heard how they tend to want to see urban L.A. because of rap music, so in some ways it's akin to the people who want to take a Sopranos tour in N.J./N.Y. I don't know if European tourists and others are searching for dysfunction so much as they are looking to find the landmarks referred to by rappers. Hopefully their stereotypes will be challenged. I know years ago when I first went to Compton I was surprised to see how suburban it looked compared to rough neighborhoods in my native Chicago where there are no lawns, trees or houses, simply concrete and tall projects (at least back then, it's changed now). Compton looked like a great area compared to what I'd seen elsewhere, which led me to think that some of these gangsta rappers weren't as "hard" as they claimed.

  29. EOS, America remains a de facto white supremacist society. White people are of particular interest as potential tourists here because they embody, and in innumerable situations, impose, the effects of white supremacy on non-white people. It seems to me that -- given the lifelong training that white Americans undergo into whitened modes of thought, feelings, and behavior, and given also their continued occupation in most institutional positions of power and influence in the U.S. -- their participation in this tour is of particular interest. Will many of them go to really learn about and contribute to the revitalization of blighted urban areas? I doubt it, given the lack of work most of them have done toward undoing their white racial training. As I said in the post, I suspect that most of them will probably have their stereotypical feelings, thoughts and so on confirmed, rather than significantly, productively challenged.

  30. I have very little to say about this, except that it is heinous.

    EOS, actually, I think white people who participate in poverty tours will do so differently than others. They'll see the ghetto from a white point of view, and whatever they take away from the experience will likely be reflected in their interactions with Americans of color in a way that it won't be with people who are of color and/or foreign.

  31. I don't think the intent is racism, though who can really say. I'm interested to know what part the community members had in this - I presume none.

    Thought I will say that I once took a summer job teaching inner city autistic children and the program that we worked for took us on a tour of the city (in it's entirety)to kind of discuss the history of the city - how it went from booming to dying and the effect it's had on the community. We saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. I'd like the think that since this was a job where people were sought out to help children and part of our introduction to the community and the history that we weren't merely going on a safari. I took much more from it than I ever thought would be possible. But then again we didn't just go to the "ghetto" we saw the downtown area that is speckled with "for sale" signs in the building and learned that this city used to have an economy - used to have jobs.

    I wish that I could say that what I got out of our city tour is something that everyone else will get, but honestly that's not the truth. I think that even if money (that will be reinvested in the community) will come at the hands of this, so will a lot of confirmation of stereotypes. A two hour visual tour will never be able to explain the history of how such inequalities were created and perpetuated.

  32. *sigh*

    You know who would love this?


    They love "ironic" racism and pretending to be poor while soaking up white privilege.

  33. Bigmac,

    Most mayors don't give a damn about poor Black and Hispanic neighborhoods anyway. And they give the same excuses for not caring as most Whites do. "Those people are just dysfunctional." "Those people don't care about their neighborhoods." "Those people are just inherently more prone to criminal activity." "Those people are too lazy to work and would rather have a bunch of babies and collect welfare."

    If you believe that poverty is solely the fault of the poor then there is no motivation to relieve it.

    That said, I still don't see debasing the folks in those areas as a way to get money or attention for their problems.

    As for intent as the argument, it doesn't really matter. You could have unintentionally shot someone dead. They're just as dead as if you'd taken careful aim at them. We can pretend as if a good bulk of these folks'd actually open their minds a little and think of the people living in these areas in another way besides a White supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal one, but I bet we'd be really disappointed over those results.

  34. I'm not sure why anyone would go on a Ghetto Tour™ when they could just pick up a boxed set of The Wire™ on DVD or go see Precious: based on the novel Push by Sapphire™ at their local suburban theatre?

  35. @Cloudy:

    Some sick, twisted part of me wants to charge them more so they can be shot at.


    Because that's not "authentic" enough!

  36. Nadra,

    I had the same thoughts as I moved to L.A. from Philadelphia when I first visited Watts and Compton. It looks more suburban than urban. Take away the gunshots and some blight, you'd think it was a suburb. These cities were obviously different than my North Philadelphia "hood".

  37. Let's hope that after taking the tour, these visitors will see that "ghetto" is not synonymous with gang bangers, bad taste, and exotic hairstyles. Perhaps they'll get to see the postal workers, teachers' aides, factory workers, health-care providers, and all the other hard-working people who live in the ghetto. That's the best thing I can say about this idea.

  38. I live in a "hip" neighborhood in Kansas City (nope, not an oxymoron) and we get this sort of tourism from Johnson County (Kansas) folks who come to our neighborhood to gawk at all the "weird" people and businesses catering to us weirdos like the local New Age/Pagan store, the coffeeshops, the "ethnic" restaurants, the tattoo/piercing parlors, etc. The residents, me included, greatly resent these people coming to gawk at us like we're zoo animals and thinking they're being all "edgy" by even stepping foot into our space. They also seem to try to take up as much of it as possible by clogging the sidewalks and sucking up all the seating in restaurants and cafes and maintaining as loud a decibel level as possible.

    Still, it's not nearly as intense (in the past, we got at most a short bus full of tourists--it's mostly individuals and small groups of JoCo folk--who stick out like hell--coming to claim their safe street cred) as these proposed ghetto tours. And if we, as middle-class people in a predominantly White (with Hispanic and a few Blacks sprinkled in) neighborhood find their presence objectionable, I can only imagine how those tours are gonna go down with the populace.

  39. [Dear Jordan, thank you for your submitted comment to swpd. Unfortunately, its publication would constitute an offense to many readers here, namely, some of those further down the road of racism awareness than yourself.

    You see Jordan, knowing about, and/or having been subjected to, the blunt-yet-surgically precise force of today's de facto white supremacy in the U.S. makes it tiresome, and in some cases even painful, to read comments like yours. Referring me, for instance, to racism in other countries, where it's supposedly worse than racism in the U.S., is a derailing canard -- and probably an unwittingly racist one at that -- that deflects attention from, and trivializes as well, the issue at hand. And that issue here is, basically, white supremacy, and more specifically, the common, harmful, and deeply embedded white stereotypes and fears of "the ghetto" and its "denizens" (and btw, those common white burdens are something else to which your comment registers painful oblivion), as well as the likelihood that these tours will enhance rather than challenge said common white stereotypes and fears.

    Prior to submission of another comment in the hopes of publication at swpd, you would do well to first spend some time reading around here, both posts and comment threads. Who knows, it could well alleviate some of your own white burdens. Sincerely, macon]

  40. This has been going on at least since they gave tours of Five Points in the late 1800s and certainly was in full swing when they gave bus tours of "the bohemians" in Greenwich Village.

  41. @NorthboundtoLoop who said I wish that I could say that what I got out of our city tour is something that everyone else will get, but honestly that's not the truth.:

    Amen. I grew up in suburbian southern California with very little exposure to black people other than what I saw on TV. Shortly after the 1992 riots, when I was twelve years old, my father took me on a driving tour through what was back then referred to as South Central. We drove and talked for several hours about racism, poverty, the cycle of economic segregation contributing to racist attitudes (which then continues to support economic segregation), and media stereotypes as versus reality. We saw buildings with no windows and broken doors, all tagged to shit; we saw nicely-maintained homes; we saw people hanging out on street corners eyeing our car; we saw people going about their daily business. I learned that day that South Central wasn't this land of rioters and gang members (and the innocent families of gang members caught in the crossfire); it was a place where people, normal people, lived. And I learned that those that do fall into those negative paths - drug dealing, being in gangs, etc. - do so not because there's anything inherently wrong with them; they do so because they have no other choices (or, in some cases, they feel they have no other choices due to being so psychologically beaten by the circumstances they face every day). It was an enlightening trip to say the least, and one I've never forgotten.

    Do I think that the tourists on these "ghetto tours" will be getting that kind of discussion, or taking those kinds of lessons away with them? No.

  42. I know there are existing tours of Harlem:




    White people are often brought up with a notion of "bad areas" of town--with "bad" often defined by the neighborhood residents being predominantly people of color. Once an area gets marked as "bad," non-residents don't just think, "I wouldn't want to live there" but also, "I wouldn't set foot there."

    Part of the frustration of living in one of those areas is the sense that you know its complexity--its sometimes very real dangers and its joys.

    When an area gets marked in the minds of whites as "bad," that seems to operate on a tipping point that often becomes a self fulfilling prophesy, as area businesses suffer and property values take a hit (and with them, schools do as well).

    So I can see where just getting whites to recognize an area as safe to visit can be a step toward some economic recovery that would benefit residents.

    Of course, the downside of this is that, again with the tipping point problem, when whites see an area as "good" again, it's often gentrified as whites move in and existing renters are pushed out (see President Clinton in Harlem).

    If something like this is going to work, it has to, I think, actively work against the "residents as spectacle."

    And it should avoid the historical approach that renders an area interesting only because interesting people used to live there but now don't (ie, a lot of the narratives I see talking about Harlem discuss it in terms of the Harlem Renaissance, jazz, vibrant life... then a period of deadness, which essentially dehumanizes all those who lived there before it got hip (ie, white) and gentrified again.

    Still, so much of it is a mess that I'm not sure it's possible. And the mess of it is made evident if you try to imagine busloads of black people being brought into, say, SOHO for a walking tour through the expensive boutiques.

    The asymmetry makes it hard to imagine these tours being something other than a nightmare.

  43. Wow, to be on such a tour bus is to have a bullseye painted on your body. I can just see rightfully outraged gangsters performing a nonchalant drive-by aiming right at the bus. Talk about a death trap... and you've paid $65 for it.

    However, I can see those buses filled with foreigners, who tend to worship urban black culture. Hipster won't do the tour - they'll just hang around their white hipster coffee bars and talk about how racist this whole idea was...

  44. [Dear Peppers, this is a blog about stuff white people do, not a blog about stuff Asian tourists do. Sincerely, macon]

  45. >> "[Dear Peppers, this is a blog about stuff white people do, not a blog about stuff Asian tourists do. Sincerely, macon]"

    This made my day.

    Incidentally, Macon, I worked as a tour guide for a couple of summers, and I think "stuff white tourists do" could make a really stellar spin-off blog, if you ever have free time.

  46. macon said..."[Dear Peppers, this is a blog about stuff white people do, not a blog about stuff Asian tourists do. Sincerely, macon]"

    Since you did not post my comment yesterday, I will try again:

    if this is a blog about what white people do, I asked you if you have actual data that supports this blog's accusation that white people go on ghetto tours? Clever Doonesbury comics from the 1970s do not count. Maybe they went on slumming tours back then, but what about white people in 2009? Do they still go on ghetto tours? I can't tell because you offer no proof.

    I stated that such a tour would likely be more popular amongst Asian tourists, who have a romanticized view of American black people and their secret lives thanks in large part to Hollywood.

    So what exactly is it about my post that you deemed was unworthy of printing? It is on topic and I don't think it's derailing, either.

    Willow said..."This made my day."

    Interesting that your seeing only one side of the discussion would somehow "make your day." Why is that so? Do you even know me? I just started posting here.

  47. That's a bit better, Peppers, and if you're going to continue trying to post comments here, then I appreciate your efforts to post ones likely to be deemed a contribution, rather than a derailment.

    Regarding your question about "this blog's accusation that white people go on ghetto tours," one thing you could do is read more carefully before you post. That is -- the post doesn't make that "accusation." It instead asks, "what kind of white people will go on these ghetto tours? What or whom will they be looking for, and how close do they really want to get to that? Why do they want to get so close (but not, you know, too close)?" The post expresses my doubt about the efficacy of these tours for a lot of white tourists, given the obstinate stereotypes that many white people still carry about those who live in what still get called "ghettos."

    You also just asked what was wrong with your rejected comment that mentioned Asian tourists, and you wrote:

    I stated that such a tour would likely be more popular amongst Asian tourists, who have a romanticized view of American black people and their secret lives thanks in large part to Hollywood.

    No, that's not what you stated. Here's everything you wrote about "Asian tourists" in that part of your rejected comment:

    In all probability, these "ghetto tours" will probably be far more popular with Asian tourists.

    That's off topic, and it's a common form of derailment in discussions of things white people do (or in this case, will do) because it claims there's something of value to be added to the discussion by pointing at others and saying, "but look, they do it too!" Beginners are welcome here, but not if they're going to try to function at an elementary school level.

    Now, if you had focused on Hollywood's racist imagery as a potential influence on Asian tourists' imaginations (racist imagery that also infects American imaginations, including white ones), then you'd be onto something more related to the topic of the post, and of the blog.

    So, if you do want to take part here, just keep in mind that the topic is stuff white people do. Detours into similar things that other people do, or supposedly do, are basically irrelevant (unless, as noted above, that does have something to do with stuff white people do).

  48. >> "Interesting that your seeing only one side of the discussion would somehow "make your day." Why is that so? Do you even know me? I just started posting here."

    What "made my day" was the way in which Macon phrased his reply. I am have a crappy day, and he made me laugh.

    If you look at my past posts here, you will see that I regularly acknowledge it when I find something particularly funny.

    My intention was not to make fun of you, but I absolutely see how it could be taken that way. (And, at any rate, in anti-oppression discussion intentionality doesn't matter, hehe, right? :P ) I am sorry.

  49. How much do you want to bet some of the same anti-racists who disdain these tours would go on a slum tour in Jo'Burg or Rio though? Seriously.

  50. @Witchsistah - Let me guess: You're talking about the Crossroads section downtown (closer to SW Boulevard) or maybe the 39th Street/Valentine area, right? I grew up in KC, and I recognize your experience all too well. In fact, my mother spent most of my generally happy childhood sucking her teeth every time someone mentioned the fabled "Johnson County" in casual conversation or on the news. The way folks described it, you would've thought Thomas Kinkade, Hello Kitty, unicorns and the Knights of the Round Table lived there. Mom's favorite line: "White folks moved out there to get away from us, but crime happens all the time out that way, too. You just don't see THAT on the news."

    I haven't compared line-by-line crime or quality-of-life stats between the two areas, but I do know the city and its tax base are continue to suffer from the legacy of "white flight." Still, as you just described, there have always been viable, well-maintained communities within the city. Many like the one I grew up in bordered struggling neighborhoods (black, white, Latino) or had collapsed, although not the way we've seen in places like Detroit. In any case, my parents and I lived in the central city a few blocks east Troost Avenue, long considered the "official dividing line" between black and white Kansas City, and it's inner ring suburbs to the west in Kansas. Listening and reading the news at the time, you would've thought it was Bantu land, though our neighborhood was still "mixed," with blacks dominating most of it.

    I can't break down Kansas City's entire race and housing history here (), but I will say this: As I later prepared to sell my parents' home, what angered me the most was the blatant devaluation of properties, even in areas near ours that had been well-maintained. After a while, I just couldn't buy the idea that it was just talk (or evidence) of "crime," but alas, I'm not a economist, nor am I a sociologist. I can only imagine how annoyed I'd be with some tour group barreling through my community, but I can't say I'm totally against the idea if it's done with care to make people parse the ill-informed ideas rattling around in their heads about the communities they're visiting. True, some may never come away better educated, just like in that poignant Doonesbury cartoon, but I imagine some might. Heh, as a community member, I'd at least make the tour company help pay for my precious streets and sidewalks. :)

  51. Why do people keep wondering what the reaction would be if busloads of poor POC lookie-loos showed up in wealthy white areas? The thing that seems so problematic about "ghetto tours" is the idea that they'd be "pity tours" or "superiority trips." That doesn't come up when you truck Comptonites into Brentwood. (If anything, I suspect they'd generally be happy to be on display, and see it as only right.) No, the nearest possible equivalent would be to bring vanloads of well-off gawkers of color into some poor white area. Not sure how that would go over, but I doubt it would go well.

    I'm a POC. I'm certainly not rich, but I've been known to spend $65+ on a concert ticket, so I could afford a "trailer park whirlwind tour" or whatever. But no way would I go on one. For one thing, I'm just not that kind of traveler. I prefer full immersion. To paraphrase Henry Rollins, why would you want to experience the world through smoked glass?

    For another, I'm originally from Jamaica, and I've had plenty of well-off white people who stayed at Sandals Montego Bay or something once, 20 years ago,* break out that pearl-clutching, head-shaking "Oh, it was beautiful! But the people— *gasp!*— they're so pooor! We made sure to buy some of their native handicrafts at a local market." (displays crappy "no problem, mon" tchotchke). I always want to say, guess what? Jamaica has whole areas full of wealthy people. Duh. You just didn't see them, because a) they don't happen to live on the route between the airport, hotel and tourist-trap market, which is all you saw; b) they're rich enough to keep random tourists out; and c) you weren't that interested in seeing them, anyway— the poor ones are so much more authentic, right?
    So... yeah. Wouldn't want to be like those people.

    *Or they just got back from Guatemala. That was a popular destination back in the 90s. Also Bali. Seriously, I've heard this kind of thing many, many times.

  52. this is so not cool!! its like mocking peoples lives. the ppl. who are buying these tickets know not to go into the ghetto so why pay $65? how about with the $65, you take one of these so called "ghetto families" out to dinner and ask them, questions your seeking. Or how about you take these children to Beverly Hills and give them the encouragement they need to get out of the ghetto and live better. Come on ppl. think before you react and try the next scaming way to make money!


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