Friday, January 29, 2010

Check It. LA Gang Tours.

So the migration of "white flight" is heading south this winter--right into South Los Angeles. After tourists finish up with their double-decker buses and snapping pics of where Paris Hilton lives, they can check out LA Gang Tours, a $65 drive through those infamous places out-of-towners had only heard about on The Chronic.

OG stops include the LA County Jail and the corner of Florence Avenue that birthed the LA Riots. As ridiculous as that sounds, the creator of this tour, Alfred Lomas, is framing it as a way to give back to the community. The mission statement:

"The objective is to create jobs for the residents of South Central, Los Angeles; to give profits from the tours back to these areas for economic growth and development, provide job/entrepreneur training, micro-financing opportunities and to specialize in educating people from around the world about the Los Angeles inner city lifestyle, gang involvement and solutions. This project will create opportunities to contribute to the economic health of South Central and the tools needed to access the American market."

OK. But I still feel uneasy about it. How will exploitation ever lead to empowerment? I think this is, at its heart, still a business. A business that kind of sounds like taking middle-class jerks on safari. However, the dialogue it's creating in our local media is phenomenal. Race, class, history--all the issues that should be a part of the discussion are right there. And, yeah, that's something tourists and locals alike should experience if they really want to learn about this town.

And while I see LA Weekly's point, I have to agree with the Times that the messages are too mixed. There is value in learning about all of LA's real, breathing, working parts. Like everything in this city, our relationship with gangs is complicated and totally anomalous. Exploring it first-hand with an educated guide... well, maybe that's not such a bad idea. Taking people to "the unofficial jail to over 120,000 gang members!" for $65? That's Hollywood sensationalism aimed exclusively at wide-eyed tourists and the total opposite of what this endeavor should and could be about.

Oh, and here's a thought: if you live here and have never been to that part of LA, take your own tour--for free. Drive surface streets and go eat at my favorite BBQ place over in Inglewood. The intersection where the riots started is just a few blocks away. Seeing it is really moving.

-- Heather Robertson

No comments:

Post a Comment