Ever wanted to go to another country, an exotic land, and experience the vast, complicated and intricate details of the every day life of the people who live there? Doesn’t that sound like an amazing adventure? Sure, but what do those people you’re gawking at get in return? Who said they want YOU there?
Slumming it is nothing new. Ever since there has been an economy there have been haves and have-nots. And the people who have are always going to be accustomed to having MORE. Even when the only thing they don’t have, is a view of how the other half lives.
A lot of people who go to see the lives of people in poverty are well meaning. Whether from some sense that they’re giving back to that community by paying tour companies large sums of money that may, or may not, trickle down into the outstretched hands of the impoverished subjects of the tours, or because they think that these tours at least invite people to see more than one side of a country or a people. Neither of these sentiments are wrong. But, in my opinion, they are misguided.
You’re on my site so guess what you’re going to hear what I think on this issue whether you agree with it or not.
And what I think, is that people, especially people of privilege have been sheltered from the lives of “the common man” and they’re also used to seeing a personal benefit from anything they spend money on.
This sheltered way of thinking creates, as Chimamanda Ngozi calls it, a single story of what it is to live in poverty. And so the complex lives of complex people become a novelty. Something to be gawked at as a reward for the person doing the gawking, because hey, hey spent money on this and they want a show.
I see slum tourism as a warped child of the patronizing pity of the well-meaning and the voyeuristic fetish of the freak, the different, the monster we all want to reaffirm is present in the world.
I do not think slum tourism is a good thing, in that I think people SHOULD ALREADY understand that people are people no matter where they live, and that the money and you would spend on a tour would be better spent donating directly to that community you’re so interested in and/or petitioning governments to change THEIR treatment of these people and communities. Whether you petition your local government to give food to the needy in your own community (because NEWSFLASH there are poor people EVERYWHERE who need help) or if you petition the government at a national level to create better foreign aid policies.
I do think, however, that the photographs taken by people visiting these places and the stories they bring back with them could help others to understand the lives of people all over the world, and might, idealistically, inspire people to do some good for other people. Again, There’s no single story for anything in this world but I’m always leery of companies who stand to profit on the misfortune of others. Just something to think about.