I was 16 when I first saw a slum tour. I was outside my 100-square-foot house washing dishes, looking at the utensils with longing because I hadn’t eaten in two days. Suddenly a white woman was taking my picture. I felt like a tiger in a cage. Before I could say anything, she had moved on.Odede stacks the deck with these anecdotes about completely inappropriate photography. Rude tourists with cameras are a notorious problem in many contexts. I'm sure proponents of slum tourism would assert that they follow good rules for photography, or they could fix the existing tours by enforcing new photography rules.
When I was 18, I founded an organization that provides education, health and economic services for Kibera residents. A documentary filmmaker from Greece was interviewing me about my work. As we made our way through the streets, we passed an old man defecating in public. The woman took out her video camera and said to her assistant, “Oh, look at that.”...
I once saw [a tour go] into the home of a young woman giving birth. They stood and watched as she screamed. Eventually the group continued on its tour, cameras loaded with images of a woman in pain.
So the question remains, is the tourism wrong apart from the bad photography? I think it is, but then, I am not the slightest bit tempted to travel like this.
I can't imagine thinking that I am a better, more engaged citizen of the world because I spend money and effort to go look at things in person that I am capable of learning about the way I would learn about history: by reading. If I can't understand and empathize by reading, that is my problem, and I'd be ashamed to try to solve that problem by imposing my physical presence on people who are suffering.