L.A. Gang Tours: Innovative or Dehumanizing?

December 10, 2009

Hmm.. voyeuristic, dehumanizing, fetishizing and exploitative sound right to me.

Alfred Lomas (pictured above) is leading the L.A. Gang Tours which will host paid bus tours through South Central Los Angeles for people who want to learn about local gangs and gang culture.

For 65 bucks, tourists will get a two-hour tour through Los Angeles, Calif. Stops include the L.A. County Jail, the Metropolitan Detention Center and the Jordan Downs Housing Project. And, all of the profits from the tours will go towards encouraging capitalist entrepreneurs through jobs, franchised tours in new areas, and microloans to inner-city entrepreneurs, according to the Boston Globe.

Organizers of the tours are also seriously confusing gangs with elements of hip-hop. They are considering selling T-shirts painted on the spot by a graffiti artist (oh, I mean "tagger") and staging breakdance-offs between locals with the winner to be picked by the tourists for a cash prize. These came after they nixed an idea to give tourists a T-shirt that reads "I Got Shot in South-Central" after youth shoot them with water pistols.

To his credit, Lomas plans to talk with tourists about city planning and how this created tensions between racial communities. But I really doubt the quality of these discussions considering the context -- a bunch of white middle- and upper-class progressive tourists listening to an ex-Florencia 13 gang member teach them about "the hood."

Lisa Gray-Garcia at POOR Magazine writes:

"One of the many oxymoronic aspects of this concept is the notion... that our neighborhoods, our communities, our corners, our schools, and our homes, are crazy, dirty, sick, disgusting and must be cleaned up, cleaned out and eradicated, hygienic metaphors about humans scattered about with impunity.

And the complete and utter disregard for the fact that in every one of these so-called, blighted neighborhoods, filthy apartment buildings and poor people schools, homes and communities, there are families and elders and children of color who are living, thriving, learning and resisting.

There are heroes, and leaders, and lecturers and healers, and dreamers and teachers, and poets and artists, revolutionaries and scholars. And it is only the people who have engaged in philanthropy pimping, colonized learning and formal institutions of helping that get honored, recognized and listened to for their heroism, beauty, power and agency."

Although I see there might be some good intentions with this project, I don't think it's our responsibility to "teach" people about our lives. Not only does this objectify our community, but it fails to get "tourists" to be self-critical and self-reflexive about how they (and all of us) participate in institutional racism and classism that create this kind of extreme poverty and violence.


Leticia Miranda is the youth program coordinator at The Freedom Archives in San Francisco and an editorial intern at ColorLines.


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