Some time ago, I attended a talk by Chandra Mohanty in which she mentioned that cosmopolitanism–and traveling, specifically–is a lifestyle that occurs at the expense of marginalized people who are incarcerated, or held in place, in order to make the system work. (Think, for example, of the many essays that have been written about the post-Katrina tourist scene in New Orleans, where locals work in festive restaurants and go home to slums. Or, where bus companies provide “Katrina tours.” See In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina for more.)
My initial reaction was resistance. I love to travel! My secondary reaction was resignation: Of course I’m resistant to changing this construction since I’m privileged. Now, months later, I’m trying to take a more nuanced perspective …
I’ve been looking at the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Programs website. Although my life circumstances have not so far permitted me to consider the Fulbright program (if they’d have me), I know people who have done it and I think it’s spectacular. According to the website, “In the aftermath of World War II, Senator [J. William] Fulbright viewed the proposed program as a much-needed vehicle for promoting ‘mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world.'” I can definitely get on board with that.
And, I realized, my love of traveling has a lot to do with my desire to learn. My idea of an ideal vacation is to wander, to talk to people, to learn about local culture. I spend more “vacations” sweaty and dirty than lying on a beach. I’m certainly not saying that I travel “correctly” or “ethically.” But I do try. And I also think that participating in systems of oppression is unavoidable, whether I’m traveling or not. That’s not an excuse; it’s just that I don’t want to let my fear of participating keep me from gaining new understandings and making friends and forming alliances. So, in the spirit of doing my best, I’m trying to compile a list of resources for sustainable, ethical, socially just travel. Here’s a (very small) start: