What is bad tourism?

The PBS documentary series P.O.V. recently gave its "Film Your Issue" award to Brandon Odum, the director of "New Orleans For Sale."

From P.O.V.

Odums is a 22-year old New Orleans college student who is part of a young filmmaking collective called 2-cent that makes projects to inspire change within young people. When they noticed the gawking tourists who had come to see the devastated 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina, they decided to make a video about the locals' reactions.

In addition to winning the P.O.V. award, New Orleans for Sale also garnered an FYI Jury Award 2008, the NAACP Award and the AFI SILVERDOCS Award.

As you all know, I went to New Orleans last March for the NTEN conference. While I was there, some of my colleagues wanted to go on a bus tour of the Lower Ninth Ward. I couldn't in good conscience go on such a tour, where people are taking pictures and pointing fingers at a space that has become so sacred to many who have either lost their lives and/or livelihoods.

I realize that my colleagues and others like them only had the best intentions when they went on this tour. Hurricane Katrina really opened hearts and minds to the realities of poverty in America. Many "poverty tourists" believe that by going down to the devastated areas, they would have a better understanding of the issues the people there are facing.

However, I also believe that this crosses the thin line into voyeurism. If these people really wanted to understand the problems Katrina survivors were going through, then when going down to the Lower Ninth, go there with open hands instead, asking what you can do to help rebuild the city, which in the three years since the storm, rebuilding has been slow to stalemate.

(For the record, NTEN organized a "day of service" for attendees to share their tech expertise with New Orleans nonprofits devastated by Hurrican Katrina. The bus tours were organized separately by conference attendees.)

Like I have blogged about before, poverty tourism seems to be worldwide phenomenon right now. But my question is when do we start treating other people like human beings, rather than animals in a zoo?

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