There are many travel blogs out there . . .
A lot of them will tell you about what it’s like to walk off a plane into some remote culture. The bliss that comes with eating fresh coconut on a beautiful beach in the Caribbean. You will read these things, and you will feel jealous. Wanderlust, itchy-feet, maybe you will relish their experience because it brings you back. It reminds you of the time when you were on a beach, eating a coconut, in the Caribbean.
These accounts are enthralling, informative, and entertaining. And if nothing else they can be a great gauge of privilege. Something the travel industry is steeped in. At times a piece will be riddled with outright prejudice and even more so with unacknowledged biases. All too often it seems that we are doing little more as ‘travel writers’ than unconsciously assisting neoliberalism in it’s attempt at reaching all corners of the globe.
The problem does not lie entirely in how entrenched we are in our cultures; but in the inability, or lack of desire, to truly open our eyes to other cultures. Our travel only shows us what we are willing to see. When we leave home in pursuit of the endless horizon with two checked bags of privilege and a carry on of preconceived notions, most of the lessons travel is trying to teach us will be lost. I don’t need to beat this concept into the ground, many that read this have traveled and understand. I don’t believe many things are human nature, but can say with some confidence that the pursuit of knowledge within the unknown is intrinsic in this human experience.
When you aren’t traveling, how else do you escape? Do you read? Watch movies? Listen to the endless stream of music internet has granted you access to?
Now let me ask this: When you were growing up in school, if you had the privilege, what books did you read? Who were they about? Who wrote them? Who wrote your favorite ‘t.v. show based on a book’? Who sings your favorite songs, wrote your favorite books, created your favorite art?
On a train from Los Angeles to Seattle a girl asked me this. The answer shocked me.
Working in socioeconomic justice I have looked at our society with a critical eye for a long time. Based on my experience I do not hesitate to say that the United States is a white-hetero-patriarchy. This is not to say that all ‘white’ people, all ‘straight’ people, or all ‘men’ have it easy, or that they are all the problem. It is to say that through an in-depth analysis of this country—it’s roots, systems, institutions, and norms—there is an inherent bias towards people of certain qualitative factors.
And what did I realize then I analyzed my favorite art, including that which I was required to consume as a youth?
I found that the majority of my exposure to art throughout my life has been that created by heterosexual, white men, predominantly from the United States. I’m not positing this to be true for everyone, but my guess is that if you were raised, and schooled, in the Global North, your exposure may have been similar. If not, that’s great. If so, this challenge is for you. I challenge you to approach the art you consume from a new perspective.
I challenge you to take the White-Hetero-Cisgender Male From the United States Fast. You don’t need to dive in head first immediately. Fasting is tough work. It takes dedication and determination. It also requires a clear understanding of why you are doing it along with the intended outcome. First, instead of listening to a new CD because you heard a song on the radio, or reading a book because it made it onto a bestseller list (both the music and literary industry in the U.S. are extremely biased industries), look at who created the art, and whether or not their perspective is a new one. Will it allow you to travel? Will reading that story be new, or will it be the same story we’ve heard repeated for years? Be conscious of the words and ideas you bring into your being. Do they nourish you? Do they challenge you?
This is not about Racism. Not Sexism, or any type of prejudice for that matter. This is about a conscious understanding that we (in the U.S., along with other countries of the Global North) live in a society that amplifies certain voices. These voices happen to be white, they happen to be heteronormative, and they tend to be affluent men.
Art is an attempt at understanding. A way to describe the human condition in a pure, lyrical manner. It that has the power to change lives. It is not sterile, it is raw. It is wholesome, unsettling, and pure. Art makes us cry, laugh, and love because it shows us who we are. Too many of us are caught traveling to the same place every time we sit down and press play or crack the spine of a new book. We travel to the same place expecting it to look different each time.
Before you travel somewhere, ask yourself, how many times have you traveled there before? How often have you been there through art? What drives you to spend time in that place with those people if you have never heard a story told from their perspective?
We should always travel, abroad and at home, with intention and understanding.
M. A. Chavez
Is co-founder of Vagrant. Anonymous. He spends his time split between traveling and the North West. He is currently working on getting his debut novel published, and writing his second.
Will you try the fast? How do you engage with new cultures through art?
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