CULTURAL TOURISM: an age of empty curiosity?

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Watching Boyz ‘N’ the Hood from the comfort of a cool basement in the suburbs of Greenwich, CT. Attending Hot 97’s Summer Jam concert in your mom’s company box seats. Going abroad to an underdeveloped country to intern with an NGO for the summer, only to return to study at an Ivy League institution. Some may claim these various scenarios as white privilege, possessing the ability to experience a lifestyle while never actually having to be subjected to living it permanently. However, what all of this really illustrates is a macro view of the world’s most lucrative consumer base – cultural tourists.

In an anthropology course I took during the last semester of my senior year at Rutgers, I learned a great deal of the origins of tourism, its ugly history and role in the early years of European imperialism, and what the meaning of travel meant to particular groups of people. Last weekend, I attended Brooklyn’s most anticipated annual event, the Afro Punk Festival, and had the opportunity to see to Young Black America’s best talent take the stage and rock (literally) hundreds of people from all over the East Coast, and possibly further. But, this moment of bliss did not last very long. When I ventured into the tent of a vendor from the Ivory Coast selling modern clothes made from Ankara fabrics, I also started to see the correlations in behavior between various Afro Punkers and case studies from my academic training.

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Afro Punkers perusing the racks of an Ivory Coast vendor’s tent, buying up most of her Ankara for the day.

White people perusing around dashiki shirts and Ashanti bracelets; White people “Diddy bopping” and screaming along to the their favorite lyrics of Danny Brown; White people throwing up Black Power fists after a Dead Prez set. Honestly, I wasn’t startled by it. In fact, I was very unfazed by their behavior. I grew up in a town where most White people knew how to Wu-Tang, or at least understood the concept of it. So, seeing some of them do this meant nothing to me. However, I then began to reconsider my accepting attitude toward this behavior and asked a rhetorical question– is the goal of White patrons attending these cultural festivals to window shop Black America’s rich culture and go home somewhat satisfied of experiencing something outside of their “normal environments;” or are they genuinely attempting to learn and gain understanding of Black America by being active participants in the celebration of cultural freedom?

There are two ways to approach these loaded questions: either I (1) slander White people for being curious about Black culture, or (2) give White people the benefit of the doubt for their presence at Brooklyn’s most dope event of the year by giving them credit for their curiosity. But why make extremes out of something that does not have to be? Where is the grey area in this bell curve? Quite simply, it lies on the outliers of our immediate understanding of race relations in America through the eye of tourism.

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HYPE for Danny Brown // white boy hair swangin’ for the lyrics of XXX.

Everyone is a tourist, despite our fixed beliefs on who and what we are, how we choose to portray ourselves as such, and why we justify our dispositions. The world is a closet of curios, each clothes rack offering a glimpse into an alternate dimension that remained unknown to us before our discovery of such an existence. These out-of-pocket experiences are the very reasons why we travel, both literally and figuratively, between our comfort zones and the outliers of our “normal environments”. The heavy guitars of Unlocking the Truth to a kid whose ears are most accustomed to the trap lyrics of Harlem’s A$AP Mob is no different to the journey of a kid watching their first mosh pit unfold at a NJ Hardcore local show after years of bathing in the sweet folk strings of the Beatles and Jim Morrison. By nature, we are curious of things we do not understand, yet find pleasing by aesthetic. We explore so we can know. That is the equation, as well as the conclusion. So, we truly cannot write off White people in their exploration of Black America’s rich history in the arts without discrediting the experiences of the Black Renaissance in its efforts to culturally hybrid Western and African traditions to create a solid American identity for Black folk.

So go ahead, White America, bump Trap Lord and Stay Trippy through the neighborhoods of Princeton and the streets of Chelsea. I would rather you love me for my art than hate me for my progress.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Ringo P says:

    “By nature, we are curious of things we do not understand, yet find pleasing by aesthetic. We explore so we can know.” Yes! This is why I started writing about hip-hop.

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