When tourists returned to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, there was a new site to see: disaster. Suddenly — in addition to going on a Ghost Tour, visiting the Backstreet Cultural Museum, and lunching at Dooky Chase’s — one could see the devastation heaped upon the Lower Ninth Ward. Buses full of strangers with cameras were rumbling through the neighborhood as it tried to get back on its feet.
A sociology major at Michigan State University, Kiara C., sent along this photograph of a homemade sign propped up in the Lower Ninth, shaming visitors for what sociologists call “disaster tourism.”
(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com; found here)
Disaster tourism is criticized for objectifying the suffering of others. Imagine having lost loved ones and seen your house nearly destroyed. After a year out of town, you’re in your nastiest clothes, mucking sludge out of your house, fearful that the money will run out before you can get the house — the house your grandmother bought and passed down to you through your mother — put back together.
Imagine that — as you push a wheelbarrow out into the sunlight, blink as you adjust to the brightness, and push your hair off your forehead, leaving a smudge of toxic mud — a bus full of cameras flash at you, taking photographs of your trauma, effort, and fear. And then they take that photo back to their cozy, dry home and show it to their friends, who ooh and aah about how cool it was that they got to see the aftermath of the flood.
The person who made this sign… this is what they may have been feeling.
Originally posted in 2011. Cross-posted at A Nerd’s Guide to New Orleans.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.