Confronting Privilege, Identity and Guilt Trips | Dr Anu Taranath (Beyond Guilt Trips)
On this episode, our guest is Dr. Anu Taranath, a speaker, educator, and racial equity consultant who partners with a range of people to deepen conversations on history, harm and healing. A professor at the University of Washington for the past 20+ years, Dr. Anu knows that the most compelling conversations on race, identity and belonging take place when people feel valued and heard.
Her book Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World was shortlisted for the Washington State Book Award, selected as a Winner of Newsweek's "Future of Travel Awards in Storytelling," and named one of Oprah Magazine’s “26 Best Travel Books of All Times.”
Dr. Anu joins me to discuss her book Beyond Guilt Trips, the modern crisis of identity, heritage travel and homeland journeys, the power of whiteness, guilt and shame in tourism, privilege as a four-letter word, and finally, holding space at home and abroad. Enjoy!
Intro / Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World
Why Write for Young Travellers?
Identity Crises and Homeland Journeys
The Power of Whiteness
Identity Beyond Blood
The Refugee and the Tourist
Inviting Dialogue Beyond Guilt and Shame
Privilege as a Four Letter Word
Privilege as Cultural
Holding Space at Home
Post-pandemic Reflections: What has changed?
Chris: Welcome to the End of Tourism podcast, Dr. Taranath.
Dr Anu: Thank you. I'm glad. I'm so glad to be here.
Chris: Would you do us the great honor of telling me and our listeners where you find yourself today, what the world looks like for you, where you are?
Dr Anu: I find myself looking out a gray and cloudy sky. I'm in Seattle today, and the world is the way it is. And my work is to think through how I want to respond to what's in front of me. The world is the way it is. There's a lot of deep, deep suffering. There is so much joy and beauty. I find myself squarely in the midst of all that, just like you, just like any listener.
Chris: Well it's an honor to speak with you today and to know that there's someone else in the world that's showing up for duty in a good way. So, we've invited you on the [00:01:00] pod, in part, as a result of this great work, this beautiful book, you've written "Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World."
And I wanted to ask you what the inspiration or perhaps necessity you felt you had in writing the book in the first place.
Dr Anu: I came to this book with a series of vignettes that were circulating in my mind for a long time. Stories of my own. Stories of young people that I've known on their journeys. Stories of friends and family and community members. And what the stories had in common is that they're all exploring unsettled feelings about living in this glorious and very painful world that we're in.
I did not make the world the way it is. You did not make the world the way it is. And here we [00:02:00] are in it living and experiencing it and traveling through it differently, based on all of who we are, what we've experienced, who we are not, what we can see, what we don't see. And these vignettes were in my mind for a long time.
I started pinning them down. I had no idea how the would or even if they would be somehow united as one. And the book, I will say, in some ways, wrote itself because these were the conversations that I had been having with so many different people, with other program directors who are interested in thinking about issues of justice in a transnational context, those of us that are program directors or field guides that shepherd students or student groups or older [00:03:00] people to different contexts in order to share, introduce, inspire, teach.
It's a lot of responsibility, certainly to be that shepherd. It's also a lot of wonderful conversations that can take place. There's also quite a lot of tricky conversations that need to take place about who we are, what we see, who we are, not what it means to be here. Should we be here? How do we take a story back home?
How do we offer grace and honor to the hospitality that we might receive? These are hard questions that nobody really teaches us how to have with each other. I hadn't seen many of these conversations take place in my career, and this is what I wanted to talk about with people, with my students, with other colleagues.
And that book [00:04:00] emerged from that. I thought if I could offer some of these stories in context and offer stories that hopefully you can touch readers and make them think, "oh, me too. Yeah. Yeah. I had felt that. I have felt that discombobulation, I have felt that sense of being unsettled. I have felt that sense of wonder."
And if we can then thread our stories together with some critical conversation on identity, race, power, history, harm, and move toward a sense of collective healing in some small way together. That's what I ended up doing. I didn't quite know I would be doing that. I didn't know at the beginning that that's what I wanted.
That's what I needed and that's what I wanted to offer. And that's how the book has emerged.[00:05:00]
Chris: Beautiful. And you imagine your reader in your book as "well-intentioned young adults from the west who traveled to low-income countries in the south." Why write specifically for those people, for those types of travelers?
Dr Anu: I'm speaking specifically to that demographic, and I'm also speaking outside of that demographic. Let me share what I mean. I'm speaking specifically to the well-intentioned young person who is riding this larger wave of global citizenship, that many institutions in the global north are promoting. "Send young people abroad, let them see the world, go, go, go," we hear, in a variety of ways.
And the relative affordability of many of these programs, their ubiquitousness, the accolades that one receives when [00:06:00] participating in a program like this and upon one's return. The way it looks on a resume or a CV. All of this is creating some wonderful incentives for young people to go out and about.
And yet an incentive to go out and about doesn't necessarily mean that we are being equipped with the kind of ethical and moral lens from which we should be going out and about. So, the well intentioned reader is aware, I presume, that we live in an unequal world and the world lands on us differently based on who we are.
I also presume that the well-intentioned young person who is on their way to Nicaragua or Peru or Bangladesh might not have had that many opportunities to think through who they are, where they're going, what's the long history that they're [00:07:00] participating in. How is this travel about them? (And also not really about them). That that's conversation hasn't really happened as often as I think it should around travel.
Especially young people travel. So, hence, my calling in this community saying, I see you, I hear you. This might be a conversation you'd like to join. I'm also writing to not only young people who are on their way to Peru as part of a semester abroad. I'm also writing to anybody that's thinking consciously and critically about the inequities of the world and finding their hearts entangled.
I am not sure how to hold all that the world offers. I'm not sure how to hold the weight of the inequities, the histories of harm, [00:08:00] torment, that we humans do to one another. I don't know how to hold all that. Even though I study this, I'm not sure how to hold all that. And whether you are on your way to Peru or whether you are in wherever your home is, the long history of inequity has shaped our present.
And there are so many of us who are wanting conversation, comraderie and community to talk together about history, our good intentions. How do you hold complex thoughts and not find ourselves so tangled that we're unable to move forward? What do we do together? What is individual responsibility? What is collective responsibility?
There are so many of us that are curious and hungering for honest, thoughtful, sensitive conversations on this. And I have written this book again, not only if you're on your way to Peru, but if you're just in your space and looking for comradery and some support to be able to navigate these very tricky issues with a little bit more grace.
This book, I am hearing, is being read by young people, travelers, and the programs that they're on. I'm also hearing that this book is being read by people in various offices, government agencies, different firms, across the US who are looking for some guiding support to slow [00:10:00] down, to have a common text that doesn't just tell them that they're wrong or bad, but a text that says we live on a planet that has been wronged and in a world, and in a planet where we humans have done wrong to one another.
What does it mean to do right by that? Whether we're speaking about race and racial equity, whether we're speaking about the environment, we're speaking about the dignity of dispossessed and disenfranchised peoples. There are so many histories that are playing out now. How could they not? Of course they are.
And many of us, we want support, thoughtful, sensitive spaces where we can sit together without guilt and shame and say, "I'm not quite sure how to navigate this. What about you?" It's an opening. It won't do everything. It's an opening though.
Chris: Thank you for bringing us to that threshold in creating a text in which these deeply complex conversations can, as you said, have a beginning and that we can come to them, you know, together in a good way. And there's a lot of themes in your book that I'd like to touch on today as you mentioned, guilt and shame and privilege and identity.
And I'd like to start specifically by asking you about the search for culture, which Is maybe not the first thing that most tourists travel for, but often is hiding beneath the reasons or purposes or pretexts for their travel. So, like yourself, I participated in a heritage trip or homeland journey to one of my parents' villages only to be [00:12:00] confronted by my own naive expectations and even more deeply confused identity as a result of going there, or perhaps lack of identity. You write about one of your former classmates alongside you in Delhi, an Indian-American who criticizes his own ancestral home in order to secure his shaky American identity.
And you recall another classmate, a white American, who on the same trip finds himself deeply as strange from his own roots, yet who was intent on discovering and perhaps even honoring them. What do you think are the consequences of going in search of culture and ancestry as travelers, as foreigners and tourists, and how might whiteness or racial identity obscure the causes of such a search.
Dr Anu: I love this question and it's [00:13:00] also a very big question.
Let's answer it by looking at a couple of different layers of it. Yeah.
Whiteness has been and continues to be
the cultural construct that too many of us have understood ourselves through and against. This is not to disparage white people in and of themselves. The system of whiteness actually makes white people have to think of themselves through that system as well as it does people of color. So, the system is what I'm actually pointing to, not an individual here.
And the system of whiteness has so thoroughly seductively and nefariously structured so much of our sense of identity as immigrants, as people of color. As in my [00:14:00] experience, of global south ancestry, being raised in the global north, figuring out who one is against the specter of that system of whiteness is not an easy task in and of itself for anyone.
I think it becomes especially fraught for different people for different reasons. In my case, my family's migration story from India to the US and their subsequent assimilation into the US and also not fitting in to the US, was predicated upon "we are Indian, we're not American." We are different, but we live here and that we are different and yet we're here, that was an important story for my parents at their particular moment in their life.
It was a different story for me as a youngster growing up in the shadow of those stories. Now my heritage trip to India in my early twenties was an opportunity for me to think through who I was outside of simply those stories, but to also open up and think about stories from other people too.
What I learned on that trip is that I am neither the right kind of American for some people, nor am I the right kind of Indian for other people, which then puts it squarely back on me or you to have to figure out who to be the right kind of person for us. It's not about what, how others only see me. I know that much more now as I've navigated these questions more openly. I think I was [00:16:00] navigating these questions from a very fraught place as a youngster because I needed one answer because everything around me told me that I was wrong.
I was wrong. That's what the specter of whiteness does. It teaches you if you are not that, that you are wrong. And when you have been brought up in a very loving home like me, but also being taught that you are so wrong, it does a number on you, no? It does a number. And so rethinking that dichotomy of being right or wrong nowadays, that doesn't have that much purchase for me anymore.
I'm not so interested in being right or wrong to anybody. I'm more interested in being more true to me, which means that my sense and my identity is less about, "am I the right kind of Indian or American," and more "am I living my values? [00:17:00] Am I able to be a shapeshifter in different contexts? And what are the benefits of being a shape-shifter?"
I don't belong to one category. The very thing that created so much pain in my life as a youngster, because I did not, I could not claim one identity, is the very thing that offers me so much openness and relate-ability now. I don't want to only be one thing. I love having a multiplicity of identities to choose from, to try on, to practice and to live through.
And I don't feel the pressure in the way that I did as a young person to have to ascribe to one way of being. I'm perhaps more comfortable being many things at once. And that's a skill. It's exercise, [00:18:00] right? I've had to exercise those muscles. Because we are taught to be usually one thing. Because in a hierarchical society, there's usually one thing that matters more or gets more value than others.
And those of us that are in the middle of many identities, we could be talking about race. We could be talking ethnicity, we can be talking language, sexuality, gender expression. There are many, many ways to not be one thing. We haven't yet learned as a culture, how to actually celebrate that multiplicity.
We say we like diversity, but we actually don't quite know what to do with diversity. Right. Multiplicity is a multiple it offers multiple avenues to plug in.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. I think this notion of [00:19:00] multiplicity, plurality it opens up this sense of imagination, right that is perhaps stunted by the dominant culture's identity politics that doesn't necessarily demand that we imagine ourselves otherwise but at least offers us an opportunity to as you said, not see the world so black and white, as binary identities...
Dr Anu: in your travels, you speak a bit, you said about you traveling as a younger person in search of something. What were you seeking and what did you find?
Chris: Well, on the surface of things, it was a lot of culture. I visited a lot of ruins. I visited a lot of historical sites without[00:20:00] really a particular interest in those subjects in archeology or history. And you know, underlying that was a certain need to escape, the sort of pressing, crushing, economic and cultural aspects of living and growing up in a north American metropolitan center.
And yeah at the end of the day, my reflections led me to an understanding that I was looking for culture because there was none that I could find at home that there was something lacking in the soul of the culture that I thought I would find elsewhere.
And it didn't quite happen. You know, after 10 years I was still struggling with that.
Dr Anu: I really resonate with that. And, you know, I've come to think over the years that our search for culture means many different things, right? Culture is a word that. [00:21:00] Is about song.
It's about buildings. It's about narratives. It's about history. It's about language. It's about what one eats. It's a hundred different things. And for me, search for culture has meant a search for story. It's a larger story in which I can place myself where there's some continuity and some of that story took place as I have traveled through India as a younger person.
So that very specific story of "I am Indian American and I am seeking quote my identity," but that story in which I find myself in is also not simply about the blood lineages that have given rise to me. It's also about the ancestors, the literary and cultural ancestors outside of my own lineage, whose [00:22:00] stories, way of being, their activism, their sense of beauty and wonder is something that I deeply resonate with too. My culture extends beyond simply my blood.
I think all of our cultures can extend simply beyond our blood, right? If culture is a sense of story, who are we, where does one fit in? We can fit in into a multitude of places. There is some risk, of course, in assuming that I fit in elsewhere. Right. I have to think about how to be a very welcome guest in someone else's story.
But the fact is, in that multicultural globalized world that I am living in, where I have access to a range of expressions outside of [00:23:00] simply the ones that my family and my community have made. I will resonate, of course, with different people's expressions in different ways. And there's got to be a way for us to speak about this kind of lineage as well.
This, to me, has been a wonderful gift as I have learned to really lean into it and think about ancestry and lineage from more than just the way that I was taught ancestry and lineage operate. It's not only about my family and my blood ancestors or my progeny, that's one line of it. Yes. And perhaps I can also resonate with different communities expressions.
And that to me is culture that makes it so much more meaningful to be alive at this moment for me.
Chris: Yeah, I think it might come across as a bit of an [00:24:00] oversimplification, but certainly there's nothing simple about the narratives and stories that we inhabit and inherit in anglo-North America, about and around exile and how, you know, the vast majority of people living in those countries and on that continent now, arrived in exile more or less, you know, again, not to simplify it, but, and that there's so many unique and often forgotten stories, neglected stories that, that deserve being remembered at the very least as a way of coming to terms with history, as James Hillman said as a way of opening the mouth of the dead, so that justice can be done.
Yeah. So I wanted to ask you about a little bit about guilt and shame in this [00:25:00] regard, because my family having become Canadian in the modern sense of the word or becoming modern had decided to largely neglect and ignore a lot of the ways that they became Canadian. A lot of the ways that they came to Canada and a lot of the reasons that they had to leave the places that they came from.
And so there was maybe not guilt so much as shame. But there is also this aspect of modern travel and tourism that seems to be rising up at the edges of a lot of these conversations that are also based in guilt and shame. And I think that personally, I see guilt as a kind of twin of entitlement.
On one side, you have people who travel to other cultures and other places, thinking, believing, not consciously, but often consciously as well that, you know, I [00:26:00] deserve this. This is my time off. This is my time to be served by these people. And you know, it takes on a kind of extractive quality, right?
One that's more or less colonial in nature. On the other end of that, is this kind of, you know, sense of guilt or shame that, and should note that they're not the same thing. But guilt amongst travelers or tourists about their impact and how to proceed and maybe not proceeding because of that.
And then at the same time, I guess the shame that arises from people proceeding as moral puritans that you should or shouldn't do this. So I'm gonna, sorry. I went on a bit of a tangent there. I'm going to find a question for you
if that's all right, unless you want to respond to that in some way.
Dr Anu: Well, what I hear you sharing [00:27:00] are different layers of what travel means, right?
Many of us travel, but travel looks different at different moments for a refugee who is leaving home because home is now untenable or harmful or unsafe, and that traveler's travels and journey to a new land is a kind of travel, but that travel looks, feels, and is operatively quite different than the privileged tourist, stereotypical tourist that you mentioned.
I'm going there to lie on the beach and [00:28:00] be served by those people, because I worked hard for the last two and a half years and I've saved and I deserve it. Both of these figures are travelers in an unequal world and yet the politics of inequity and identity and history and contemporary geopolitical configurations, make both of those traveling stories really different.
Right. And so the consciousness of the privileged traveler on the beach, what does it mean to offer spaces for that kind of a traveler to plug into some of these conversations, less in a way that shames the desire to want to, to relax on a beach? There's nothing ostensibly wrong with that at all, to work hard for some years, and then to feel a sense of wondrous delight at [00:29:00] being able to rest the body and mind for some time.
That's actually what we should be doing. We shouldn't be resting the body and mind at different moments. So there's nothing more sensibly wrong in that kind of a traveler wanting to enjoy themselves in that way.
Now, what gets kind of tricky in that is of course, the politics of inequity that, that kind of travel travel plugs into and exacerbates. Who is able to lay on the beach? Who is serving the people who is laying on the beach? What does it mean if the people who lay on the beach don't come one season to the people who serve the people who are laying on the beach? That's not just about that one traveler that is about a larger economy.
Right. And that larger economy, as you rightly say, is a longer story of colonial and imperial extraction. It is about wealth being concentrated in particular [00:30:00] parts of the globe or particular communities that is then deployed to simply amass more and impoverish others in more acute ways. Again, that's not just about that one traveler, right?
Our beach, our beach-enjoyer traveler is not necessarily a bad person for wanting that, but that kind of travel plugs into a larger system. That more and more, I think people are wondering about right. More conversations about what does it mean to have sustainable travel, to have ethical travel, to have reciprocal travel. These are bigger conversations that many of us are interested in having.
So, then the fellow that wants to relax on the beach can do so in a less exploitative way to the people whose community he's [00:31:00] entering into. Right. And also for that particular traveler, there's something disconnecting about the usual travel narratives that have that seductive notion of "I get to be someone else. I get to like be away from my real life and be elsewhere."
I can see why that might be compelling for some. For me, I would actually like to think about the ways that my travel incorporates the different parts of me and that helps me bring who I am to different locations, as opposed to kind of getting away from myself or getting away from my context.
I would love for my travels to enhance who I am and who I can be both at home and abroad. And again, that is a conversation more and more that I am hearing.
Now for the traveler who had to leave their home because of [00:32:00] harm or no opportunity, that person or family's migration to another land... again, though, we say that though, we can imagine that that is "traveling," that travel, of course, lands differently for them. How could it not? Again, the politics of inequity and geopolitical
relations across the globe have created pockets of opportunity, have created pockets of harm. Certain bodies are more expendable than others. And we live with this. This is normal for us. For some reason, it has become normalized as opposed to all of us crying with indignation.
Wait, how is this possible? Why is this happening? Right? We are for the most part, I think, okay with certain people having more rights, [00:33:00] opportunity, dignity, and safety, then those other people over there. Now, again, that notion of travel is such a nuanced idea. We can all travel, but we travel so differently based on what we are leaving, where we are going, how we are received, how we feel about the journey, about the impact or benefit of that journey or the costs or risks of that journey.
Those are some really compelling questions for me. And it allows us to really just slow down for a moment and to investigate these ideas from a wide range of perspectives. My travel is just one kind of travel and that's somewhat awe inspiring to me. It also really humbles me to know that my travel is just one kind of travel.
It helps put me in conversation with many, many other kinds of travelers whose [00:34:00] experience might look quite different than mine. Again, I don't know how to fix everything. I don't know how to fix everything. I don't know how to sometimes even hold all the complexities that I'm raising, but I know that for me, a more engaged and plugged in life is about raising these questions without guilt and shame, or even the pressure to have to know what to do with them.
Raising these questions for me makes me feel more plugged in to humanity, makes me in some small ways, realize that my life is just one life. I'm just one story in a very, very rich cauldron of many, many other stories. I'm just one story. And that makes me feel not alone in any way. It makes me actually feel a part of something much bigger.
The more I realize how small my one story is, I feel maybe it's an inverse relation: [00:35:00] the smaller, I realize my story is, the more plugged in I feel to other people's stories.
Chris: Wow. Yeah. Sense of humility, it sounds like, you know, coming to these things in this way and certainly outside of these notions of guilt and shame.
I wanted to ask you, doctor about privilege because it's another theme of your book and it's obvious I think to most that it's become a very hot topic in the last few years and to some degree, a four letter word. So as, modern people and I guess tourists, we might say, understanding our relative privilege before we travel and during our travels is important and necessary.
I'm curious though about how that privilege translates in other worlds or if it translates, that is our understanding our Western understanding of privilege. While certain [00:36:00] privileges appear universal through western lenses, do you think we miss or lose our ability to approach the uniqueness, the historical and cultural locality of other places and people if we presuppose or supplant our own cultural and historical understandings of privilege or suffering on to other worlds? Does our own cultural give a shit just end up recapitulating the very things we might otherwise wish to undo.
What happens to our ability to learn overseas and the possibility for intercultural moments and learning, if our ways of seeing abroad blurred by what we see at home?
Dr Anu: Again, you're asking I think some great questions some questions that have six or seven layers to them. I'm getting a sense of the kind of questions that you asked Chris.[00:37:00]
So, let me start by sharing that you are right. I think privilege, I'm not finding conversations of privilege to be as productive as I think I should, as somebody who does the work that I do. Privilege is often understood as a four letter word. It is seen as bad to have, bad to be unaware of, and the so-called right way to be is to be more aware of one's privilege and to know what to do with it. That's usually the conversation that I hear. I understand why that conversation takes place.
And I appreciate the spirit of that conversation. I'm also not sure that that's the best way for us to grapple with some of these broader global inequities that we're not quite sure what to do with. [00:38:00] Simply sharing how privileged I am doesn't really do anything to expand my sense of accountability or empathy or connectedness with anybody but me.
Decrying how much privilege I have instead can become another narcissistic endeavor that I'm engaged in over and over again. "Oh, I have so much. I have so much, I have so much." Now, I'd rather, instead of simply speaking about how much I have, I'd rather ask the question, "given that this is my life, what does it mean for me to be in community with others whose lives might look different than mine?" And a question like that, for me, feels very relevant, both at home, on any given day, as well as [00:39:00] when I am in travel mode.
How do I connect with others, given the experiences of my life, which also mean the riches and opportunities of my life, right? (which is privilege) but also given my unique identities, my unique take on the world. Again, that very small story that I have in the world. What does it mean for that story to connect with others? That to me is a much more compelling way of grappling with any of the privileges that we might enjoy.
Because for me, if I have riches and advantages, part of the benefit of having those riches and advantages is about sharing that for me, that is a important part of my value system. So I'd rather not simply hoard the privileges that I have, but I'd rather think about [00:40:00] how to share what I have and two, how without guilt, shame and remorse, how to be exactly who I am and connect with others, given that my life might look different. That's I think a harder question it's more compelling. It's harder. It feels heartfelt to me. It allows us to step in wholeheartedly toward one another. I'm not pretending that structures of power and institutional bias aren't playing out all the time. I, I know they are and I study them, I know them very well and only looking at structural and institutional issues about who has more and who has less and who's privileged and who's not, I think disconnects us from [00:41:00] what travel can do for us, the best of travel, whether you're going far from home or whether you're right at home.
The best of travel means seeing how you are different and similar to others. And having a sense of wonder about that, how we are similar and different to others and having a sense of wonder curiosity about it. That's a traveling ethos for me and only centering my privileges in that conversation spends more time on me than I would wish for and less time on exploring how I might be connected to others.
Again, I don't mean in some Pollyanna way, you know, if you just try hard, you can [00:42:00] connect with anyone. I don't mean to take us out of the context of material reality that we are all in. We are absolutely in that. I'm looking for a good balance between rigorous engagement, with the politics of power and privilege and identity and history and institutional structural bias and what it means for you and I to simply have small stories in the world, move with and through them and be meeting one another, whether we're at the market half a block away from me, or we are 10,000 miles away.
I'm so curious about those moments too. Is there a way that we can bridge some of this? Right. Once again, I don't find too many conversations in which we're able to really [00:43:00] center and foreground the politics of different and institutional harm and history alongside invitations to wholeheartedly be who we are and think about connecting with one another in very small ways, nothing big and dramatic.
I don't do anything big and dramatic in my life. I try not to. I just want some small shifts. I invite my students into small shifts. My book is inviting readers into small shifts, and this is something I think a lot about small shifts, nothing big and dramatic. I can't, I don't know how to do that. I can only think about some small and intentional mindful shifts that helped me yes.
Understand the larger history that I come from and that structure my life, which certainly privilege is a part of it. But that also stretches me out of simply a [00:44:00] binary of I'm privileged or I'm not. I have guilt around it or I've dealt with it. Those, that conversation doesn't get me very far. So I want to be aware of what I have not pretend that it's not a factor in my life.
Of course it is. And what does it mean to actually create some lines of inquiry and curiosity between me and others?
Chris: You use the term "holding space" in your book, for each other, as a political, as well as interpersonal act. And I feel that, you know, that's also a way to hold space for new worlds.
Right. And, and the kinds of worlds we'd like to imagine living in, given all of those contexts and themes you just mentioned. Right. And not just one or the other, or, you know, kind of not just regurgitating things that are either strict political ideology on one hand or on the other end the kind of greenwashed marketing schemes that you see in the tourism industry.
So in your book, you write, quote, "our trips abroad need to intersect with our local lives, otherwise we're just exoticizing difference abroad while refusing to engage with it at home."
This really, really rang home for me. And throughout your book, you speak about the relative privilege of tourists in the context of tourism's critiques, privilege is often centered around the ability to escape, to move, to travel, to tour, et cetera.
What about the privilege to stay home? What might mindful travel at home look like if we understood staying home and doing the work learning home as both a responsibility and a privilege.
Dr Anu: Throughout my book, I am offering the idea that travel isn't only about getting on a plane to go somewhere far. Travel for me is any time we are engaging with people who are unlike us. Anytime I am engaging with someone, not me, I am in a sense traveling. I am journeying in some way. The journey might not be so dramatic as sitting on a 14 hour plane ride and yet the journey to actually listen to another story outside of mine is a journey in and of itself.
So coming into the notion of travel from this framework where it's not about the distance that one travels. It's about the lens with which we engage one another. So much more is travel for me. It's not only about that trip. It's about our lives, right? I think travel from that lens can be a wonderful metaphor [00:47:00] for us to think about some of this.
And if then, travel isn't just about going far with my packed bag and my 14 hour flight... if travel is actually about engaging and holding other people's stories who are not mine, it's a wonderful way for us to think about the impact of traveling at home. One need not go far to travel. One need not go far to engage in people's lives, cultures, frameworks, and stories that are unlike yours.
I love that concept. That concept really resonates for me because it interrupts that that sense that we have in a lot of mainstream travel, that my travel is going to do something different than my real life. Even these phrases that we use, you know, my real life is here. My exotic travel is there or here's who I am at home.
And there's who, you know, that's who I can be there. That bifurcates us in a range of ways. And like I shared with you earlier, I'm looking for a traveling experience, either close to home or far from home where I can be more reconciled instead of being more split. And the project of reconciliation on a personal level is I think part of reconciliation on a societal level, on a community level.
Right. If I am creating more narratives of fracture and divide in my travels, won't that influence the lens in which I am seeing and hearing things. If on the other hand, travel is about reconciliation of those divides and having something more holistic, might [00:49:00] that I hope influence the way that I travel and what I see and hear?
So that sense of travel as being, not just about distance, but being about the lens with which we go about our day-to-day lives, whether I am at home or far away, offers a lot more opportunity for us to incorporate that traditional travel of, "I went there" into my so-called real life here. Right. If my time in Ghana is another way that I'm reconciling myself with who I am and the stories around me that is also the work that I am doing in Seattle.
That is also the work that I'm doing in Bangalore India. That's also the work I'm doing and Mexico City. It's also the work that I'm doing today, last week, and next week. It's a part of my values. It's a part of my ethos. It's just how I am. And then that becomes really exciting because we hope we don't have that easy dichotomy between home and over there, that home and over there is a very easy dichotomy to put all of our fears and nervousness in right.
Or our exotic expectations about the over there. And again, those are just constructs. They're just stories that we're telling about who we are and who those other people are or who we are at home or what our home is and what that other place is. They're just stories. So if I can be a little bit more mindful of those stories that I'm telling and think less in bifurcating, less in division and if I can think more about reconciliation on some small, small ways, does that help me be a more mindful traveler today and perhaps later this year? This is some of what I think about when I hear your question.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, I think after having read your book and having also engaged over the years as a facilitator or a guide for student groups here in Oaxaca, that how we are at home might very well be the basis for how we are with others abroad and how we are in our own lives.
In the, as you said, that kind of reconciliation, that is multilayered, multifaceted and how we are perhaps as guests and hosts in our own home, entails how we might become good guests abroad despite the relative and obvious difficulties and differences that we would have in doing so.
I wanted to ask you a question about context, right? So, your book was written in pre pandemic times and most people know that the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown the global tourism industry[00:52:00] almost entirely for at least months, if not an entire year. And so throughout your book, you seem to be wrestling with this notion of, you know, whether we should travel or not.
Right. And the consequences of doing so. And as tourists, not as necessarily as workers or immigrants or exiles, et cetera, but us as people with the relative privilege to take a vacation and it seems you make the case for both sides. Right? And so given what we've experienced during the pandemic, especially global travel and tourism being.
And appearing as a kind of vector for the virus, do you find yourself with a more distinct or clear view on that question or is it just, has it become more muddied?
Dr Anu: This book was released a few months before the pandemic. I would've never anticipated that a few months later, we would have had the experiences of these last two years. Two [00:53:00] and a half years.
And yet I'm not sure I would change anything in the book, through the pandemic either. I would maybe nuance what you've said and say, "I'm making less a case for not going or going and more a case for don't not go simply because you think it's the right thing to do." That doesn't help anyone either.
Don't simply go because you think that you've got the audaciousness that you can. That's not useful either. Rather, a more mindful traveling stance is when we can ask questions throughout the journey, before, during and after, and have a community where those questions are honored, respected, and reciprocated. That traveling lens is about conversation.
It's about holding space for one another. It's about knowing that there's no one right answer in an unequal world, frankly. There's very few things that's either definitely right or wrong. There's a lot more gray in the world then we're really comfortable with. And so it's, I think it's too easy for me to say, "don't go." It's too easy for me to say. "Yeah. Yeah. Just go."
It's actually harder for any of us to say. Hmm. Given what we know, given the histories, given who we are, given who we are not, given all of these complexities, how might we think of our journeys as a part of a larger, ethical struggle to lead a good life in an unequal world? Our travels are not outside of that.
My trip to Bali or India or Nicaragua are a part of my larger struggle or joy to lead a so-called good life in an unequal world. It's a part of it. So it's not just about, "did I recycle that plastic or did I not?" It's about "wait, what does sustainability actually mean to my life? How much am I bringing in?
How much am I using? How am I sharing?" That's a larger question that I can engage with lifelong, as opposed to that particular piece of plastic, that I'm not sure what to do with same with my travel, my upcoming travel, for example, it's not just about, should I go or should I not go on that trip? It's about what does it mean for me to travel through different stories and experiences in the world at home and far away given who I am and my values.
That is a question I can get on board with [00:56:00] because it is a lifelong question. It's not just about that one travel or that one piece of plastic, right?
Chris: Incredible. I really loved that answer. Thank you so much, doctor. I have two more small questions. I don't know if there's time. Okay. And they're not my questions, actually.
You wrote these questions. So, this is just two questions I pulled from your book that I think are really incredible. So it's such a breath of fresh air that you put yourself to asking really important questions and questions that refuse an easy answer, right?
Maybe there'll be a little bit easier for you, given the fact that you wrote them, but we'll see. So, these two questions are in regards to holding space together. And in your book you ask, " what would a meaningful, mutually beneficial exchange for all parties look like, that is between [00:57:00] hosts and guests?
Is that even possible, given the differences and opportunities, wealth, and privilege that different people navigate?
Dr Anu: I did write that and I am still confounded by.
I will share that in my own experiences, I have seen partnerships that seem quote equal on the outside. You know, party X gets this much money for the, for the engagement party wide leaves with this much knowledge or whatever. I have seen those kinds of partnerships that on paper look equitable, feel bereft of humanity.
I have also seen other partnerships where when you look at it from the outset, it looks egregious that this set of people have so much, and that [00:58:00] set of people have so little. And yet there has been so much heart and humanity in the space. I have seen both and I've experienced. And rather than make clear on what quote good collaboration means across inequity,
it brings me to, I think, a harder and more humble place where a collaboration across an inequity includes a couple of different components. It includes certainly the transactional element of time, resources capacity, all of that. We need to be mindful of that, but if we stay only rooted in that where also we might be missing something else, if we only on the other side though, say "it's not, it's not about the money.
It's not about the capacity. It's not about any of those things." Let's just kind of be [00:59:00] people and pretend that the inequities around us don't matter. We're being somewhat naive and childish in our understanding of how power works. I'd like an approach that can incorporate both of this in a more robust, responsible way.
Collaboration, I have learned over the years, is where parties feel heard, seen, and understood. And sometimes that's about the exchange of money. Sometimes that is about a half hour meeting that actually takes three hours because that's the time that one needs to really unfold the relationship.
I have seen both. And again, I'm not downplaying the importance of fair and equitable wages for work done, nor am I trying [01:00:00] to herald as more important than that, the relationship building. We need to be considering a variety of things when we are traveling across inequity. There is no easy checklist for me or anyone to offer (even though I am asked this all the time)... There's no really easy checklist to say, "okay, if a community has half as much as you do, make sure you pay X amount for every hour." I'm sure that'd be easy if there was some formula and I'm sure somebody has created that somewhere. That's not really a formula that I'm so invested in trying out.
Collaboration, whether it's for that one day, or this is a long-term partnership. Collaboration is about all parties feeling seen and heard, all parties feeling like they've got some skin in the game, all [01:01:00] parties feeling that they're not simply being stripped or used, where they feel like they can however much they want participate.
That means that we will have to unfold our time with one another outside of the usual 10 minute meetings we have as we are arranging things "quick, quick, quick, tell me I've got 10 minutes. Tell me how we're going to do that partnership quick, quick." It doesn't really work like that, right? Yeah. We're guaranteed a transactional relationship when we come in with transactional tools.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, it might not happen the first time around might not even, it might not even, we might not even understand what that is until an exchange or an encounter or meeting is concluded and then maybe not even after the 10th time. And so the, the last question kind of, as an extension of [01:02:00] that is then, you know, what, what happens to that relationship afterwards?
Right? You ask, how might you metaphorically quote, "keep in touch with someone you've met abroad, but will never see or hear from again? What does witnessing a slice of their life or hearing a part of their story mean to you now that you are back home in Akron or Calgary? What does it mean to do right by them?
Dr Anu: But true collaboration is not just about the interaction that one is having. An actual collaboration has a life span far outside of that one interaction. Same with the stories of one another that we might be exposed to traveling near or far from home metaphorically, keeping in touch with people who we might never see or hear from again isn't about [01:03:00] adding them on social media, although that's, you know, one particular way, many of us do these days, but on a deeper level for me, it's about knowing, like we shared earlier, that my story is just one story in the world.
I think of so many people that I have met over the years, close to home, or far from home, that for a moment have made me come stop in my tracks, not because something big and dramatic was happening, but because something was so small and simple, and that helped me understand my place in the world and just a different angle and just a small, different way that very sweet moment of the grandfather in a trotro and outside of Accra, making space for me to sit near him, even though he had a very big bag, but he moved his bag to make some space for [01:04:00] me. Again, a very small, everyday normal gesture that happens all over the world.
And yet the sweetness in this grandfather's eyes, as he made some space for me, stays with me. I don't know him. We did not exchange social media handles. I don't know who he is. He doesn't know who I am, but he knew that I was an outsider and he made a little space for me and that warmed my heart. And it helps me think about what I want to do to create space for others in a small way.
How do I move some of my bags, my metaphorical baggage to make some space for another. Again, I don't know who this man is. He knows me not. And yet the thread of that moment to my life now, it feels pretty unbroken. It feels taut. It feels strong and vibrant. And I have so many stories like that. Again, they're not someone might listen and say that they're not even notable again, there's nothing big and dramatic in them.
And yet the moment that was revealed to me is a bit more of that concept of reconciliation. That moment of reconciliation. We are on a project to reconcile ourselves and each other in deeper and deeper ways. We are opening up these concentric circles of belonging over and over again. That's how I think of my work, how I think of my life.
And if I, for a moment, feel a bit more belonging, then the next time that I'm able to offer some of that for someone else, my concentric circle, it widens and widens and widens. I don't know if that's what's called a global community. We have all these buzz words that we use over and over [01:06:00] again that I don't use so often.
But these concentric circles of relationship of relationality, those are the traveling stories that I keep in my heart. Those are those traveling stories that helped me think that that moment was not just about that moment, but it helped me glimpse something else. And then it gives me permission to do the same in my life.
We are just learning from one another, no? We are just learning from one another more and more often these days, the more people we are meeting. What can I learn from others, even though that grandfather probably didn't think he was teaching me anything, he was just making space for me on a trotro.
That's it. And yet, right. What we glean from that moment might be different than what the moment intended. That's all right. That's no problem. I hear from students all the [01:07:00] time. "Oh, you said this in class," which I won't even remember saying in class, but three years later, I'll hear from a student and say that thing that you said shifted me in this way.
It was not my intent. I wasn't trying to be profound. I was just saying something, but we resonate with each other on different frequencies at different moments in our life. So, maybe if that student had heard what I said the year before, it would've been fine, but nothing important for them. Maybe if that grandfather would have made space for me the month later, it wouldn't have resonated.
So sweetly as it did for me again, we are just learning from one another at different moments in our life when we are open to the lesson. That's community. That's collaboration.
Chris: Thank you for that doctor. I'm a little bit speechless at the moment because it's really, I can see how your [01:08:00] students would say something like that.
Dr Anu: I love the work that I get to do and I lead a exceptionally privileged life to use the word that we spoke about sometime ago. It's a pleasure for me to engage in the work that I do.
Chris: Well, it's a great honor to be able to speak with you and I'm not just saying that for the sake of the podcast either. It's been a really beautiful conversation and I can tell very clearly how carefully and delicately you put yourself to these responses, the responses to these questions and how you appear to move towards nuance at every turn.
And that's something that we're greatly lacking in and impoverished by a lack of in our time. And so I'm very grateful for that. And on behalf of our listeners, I'd like to a few deep bow for joining us today. And before we say goodbye, would there be a way that our listeners could get in touch with you or find out more about your work and purchase your book Beyond Guilt Trips?
Dr Anu: Thank you. Thank you for this conversation. I'm available on a couple of different spaces. I've got a website anutaranath.com where people can learn a bit more generally about my work and approach. Beyond Guilt Trips is available wherever you buy books. Please order it from your independent bookstore.
Share with them, this book, and see if it's something that they'd like to carry. It's also available at some of those big bookstores that you can get online. And I've got a LinkedIn profile that if people are looking for work updates, they can join that. If they would like something that's a little bit more personal they are welcome to follow me on Instagram and to see some fun photos along with some work updates.[01:10:00]
Chris: Beautiful. Well, I'll make sure all of those, those links are available on the End of Tourism website.
Dr Anu: Thank you so much for this opportunity. Thanks for this beautiful conversation.
Chris: Yeah. Likewise, thank you, doctor. Have a wonderful day.