Posted on Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 at 9:10 pm
Author: Renee Martin
There is more to L.A than bright lights, wealth and fame. The dark side of the city includes a gang culture with a rich history of violence, drugs, and other forms of criminal behavior. The continued existence of the gangs is a reflection of our apathy towards impoverished people of color. For many, the only escape involves an undertaker.
With the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, people are quick to point out that those of Latino heritage have made great strides to demand their share of the American dream, but tokenism does not help the teeming masses at the bottom. The Sotomayors of this world provide inspiration for what is possible, but the pathway must be determined from inside a community if a true and lasting change is to occur.
It is with that end in mind that Alfred Lomas has organized LA Gang Tours. Tour buses will take participants through historic sites that symbolize the birth of L.A. gang culture. For sixty-five dollars they will visit:
* The Los Angeles County Jail
* The Los Angeles River Bed
* The Metropolitan Detention Center
* Skid Row
* The Symbionese Liberation Army Shoot Out
* Florencia 13
* Birthplace of Black Panther Party
* Florence District
* Florence Avenue
* Firestone Sheriff Station
* Hall of Justice Jail
* Pico Union Graff Lab (Graffiti Lab)
To ensure the safety of the tours, a ceasefire has been arranged between rival gangs. On each bus, a member of a local gang will act as a tour guide. Having seen firsthand what gangs and violence can do to a community, Lomas has determined that “public safety is paramount; without freedom from violence, no other freedom can exist.”
Lomas hopes that these tours will provide funding for micro loans so that former gang members, ex-cons, and young people may have the ability to legitimize their talents. “In my opinion”, said Lomas “there are a lot of individuals that are selling drugs that should be CEO’s, because they really have good skills. There is really a lack of access to the American market… People are looking for a magic bullet or a cookie cutter effect that will be able to help our communities, but there are different legs to a stool”.
The website for L.A Tours states:
“The objective is to create jobs for the residents of South Central, Los Angeles; to give profits from the tours back to these areas for economic growth and development, provide job/entrepreneur training, micro-financing opportunities and to specialize in educating people from around the world about the Los Angeles inner city lifestyle, gang involvement and solutions”.
The question then comes down to this: does the end justify the means? It must be said that no matter the reason behind this non-profit industry, those who take the tours will do so out of a spirit of voyeurism. The area that they will be touring is over 65% Hispanic and what they will see is a history of violence and bloodshed. Is it appropriate to solidify many of the negative social stereotypes of Hispanic people in order to fight the violence, poverty and racism in this community?
From the days of Sara Baartman (The Hottentot Venus), people of color have been reduced to animal status for the amusement of Whites. Though LA Gang Tours exists without cages and bars, in one sense, it still amounts to what Lisa Gray-Garcia terms “the zooification of people of color.” Tourists, after all, will come to gawk at the foreign and exotic.
When we consider that Whiteness is constructed as the default, and that people of color are understood socially to be the “other,” we can see how touring this community may very well empower the very same racism and classism that the organizers are fighting. It is doubtful that many of the “tourists” will leave with a clear understanding of the struggles that this community faces every day. When they return to their homes, it will most likely be with a sense of relief, rather than anger. And if poverty, gangs and violence are understood as “normal” for people of color, the injustice that causes this situation will be obscured. It is not enough to see an area; one must understand why it exists in the first place.
Yet whether or not L.A Gang Tours is a success, it has already caused conversation regarding what constitutes acceptable forms of awareness-raising and political action. There can be no doubt that its goals are good, and it seems that this enterprise will furthermore present opportunity to people that society has forgotten.
Ultimately, it is easy for those of us who sit outside of the neighbourhood to point to the problematic aspects of the tour, but in the end, it is not our lives that are at risk. Pointing a finger from a safe distance is all too simplistic. Just as with many Western feminists who routinely fail to recognize both their privilege and ignorance when they go on about so-called Third World women, outside criticism of this project can only go so far. Do we really have the right to sit in judgment of the form of activism chosen by this community, when we can never hope to understand the reality of daily life within it?
Global Comment © 2012 | Design & Developed by : Slate