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Campfire Chat: Dr. Anu Taranath

11 Minute Read

 

Our Place in the World: Making Connections Through Identity, Difference, and Travel

The ATTA Campfire Chat series brings inspiration and vision from dynamic thought leaders whose areas of expertise inform and guide the adventure travel industry. Along with other efforts to regularly engage the global ATTA community in your remote settings, these virtual interviews hosted by ATTA executives are designed to provide a brief but thoughtful reflection on issues you are facing now that will affect tourism tomorrow.

Adventure Travel Trade Association president, Casey Hanisko, hosts Dr. Anu Taranath for a Campfire Chat about her award-winning book: Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World, which was named one of the “26 Best Travel Books of All Times” by Oprah Magazine.

Listen to Casey and Anu explore how travel professionals can create more spaces for low-stakes, honest conversations to nurture more curiosity and equity in an unequal world both far away and close to home. 

Dr. Taranath expands on specific tactics for leaning into discomfort and fostering deeper connections as aspects of our personal identities intersect with those different than us, be it race, gender, wealth, privilege, ability, religion, language, class, or another facet of identity. The ideas explored in this chat and in her book are offered as building blocks for individuals to do more collective good through recognizing our differences and treating everyone with dignity and respect. 

Anu has generously provided the ATTA community with a 30% discount code to purchase the book directly from the publisher, which is an independent, worker-run collective. To receive the discount, apply the code ATTA30 at checkout before 31 July 2021. International shipping available: https://www.akpress.org/beyond-guilt-trips.html

About Dr. Anu Taranath

Dr. Anu Taranath brings both passion and expertise to her work as a speaker, facilitator, and educator. As a UW Teaching Professor for the past 20 years and a racial equity consultant, Dr. Anu deepens conversations on diversity, social justice, and global consciousness. She teaches about contemporary world and multi-ethnic literatures; colonial and postcolonial literatures and theory; and transnational feminist and cultural studies. A four-time member of Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, she has also received the Seattle Weekly’s “Best of Seattle” recognition, the UW’s Distinguished Teaching Award, and multiple U.S. Fulbright Fellowships to work abroad.

Her book Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World was published in 2019, and has garnered many awards and honors including Fodor’s Travels best “13 Books to Inspire Your Travels”; Oprah Magazine’s “26 Best Travel Books Of All Times”; and Foreward INDIES Book of the Year Prize (Bronze Prize Winner). Beyond Guilt Trips has been featured in YES!, AFAR, Mindful, National Geographic, and Bitch magazines, the national podcast “To the Best of Our Knowledge” and “Travel with Rick Steves” radio program. For more on Dr. Anu, please visit www.anutaranath.com

 

Reflections from a Beyond Guilt Trips Book Club

In the fall of 2020, four members of the ATTA’s internal Diversity Council formed a book club around Beyond Guilt Trips. They met on Monday evenings, discussing one chapter per week. The unfolding of the book led them into conversations about different parts of their personal identities, travel memories and stories, social justice, privilege, and how all of these thoughts and concepts integrate with the travel industry and work of the ATTA. These are some of the reflections from the book club participants. 

Casey Hanisko, ATTA president

A Favorite Quote from the Book: “Our modern lives are not set up for deep, thoughtful, and meaningful exchanges around hard-to-articulate ideas about identity, travel, and difference. Talk like that–as well as the conversations we’re having throughout this book–requires genuine care and time. When we encourage one another to process our journeys in community, we interrupt business-as-usual thinking and living to offer each other alternatives.” pg. 183

A Key Takeaway: Be open, Breathe deeply, and Step Toward the World

During our book club discussion we talked about experiences we had while traveling that included the discomfort of being seen as different or special or as an outsider, and then being pulled into pictures, into markets, into vulnerable spaces. For myself, often while traveling, this feeling was one to pack away inside and not acknowledge.  

Dr. Taranath’s suggestion that we breathe into these uncomfortable moments, to move the unease into ease, resonated with me as a way to allow the experience to touch and affect me differently. And then, perhaps more importantly, to come home and talk about and acknowledge these feelings and experiences. 

I believe many of us observe and act without the important added element of reflection. We are always so busy moving from one place to the next that we don’t take the time to really absorb the lives in the space around us. We continue to be conquerors of time and experiences. This is not always conscious; it is not a purposeful way of being, yet by beginning to think differently – slowing and surely, we will change. After reading Beyond Guilt Trips, I will make time after the return of a trip to talk about uncomfortable moments, to process them with a friend, and to make it okay that my experience may not have just been full of Instagrammable moments

Lesley Brannen, editor of AdventureTravelNews

A Favorite Quote from the Book: “None of us have a manual for dealing with the different ways our differences and advantages make us feel, or how our identities play out abroad or at home. We do, however, have small choices of how we navigate what and who might be in front of us. In the process of attending more carefully with each other and listening to each other’s stories, we might even heal a bit of ourselves.” (page 86)

A Key Takeaway: Zoom Out, Zoom In, Stay Present

Even with her expertise in the field of identity and difference, Dr. Taranath shares that she still doesn’t always know how to navigate awkward situations or uncomfortable feelings that come up when traveling. She stresses the importance of giving yourself grace, staying present, and moving forward with a willingness to admit when you are wrong or don’t know something. Remembering to “zoom out, zoom in and stay present” will stick with me long after I finished this book.

Zooming out means taking a step back from your feelings and looking at the larger picture. We live in an unequal and unjust world. Acknowledging that fact and the systemic and structural layers at play puts each unique situation within a larger context. When we are faced with those facts through experiences at home and abroad, we can get stuck in a place of guilt or shame. It takes a conscious commitment to feel and process the weight of inequality and injustice in the world or how privilege plays a part. It is a continual learning process and it takes practice–it takes space.  Taking an initial step back from our personal perspective and emotional response gives us some room to move forward. Zooming out acknowledges that nobody is given a manual. Much of what we feel in challenging moments requires navigating something larger than any individual experience. 

Staying zoomed out too long, however, can lead to shut-down. It can feel like the inequalities of the world are just too big to process, let alone change. We may be tempted to pull back completely and ignore the opportunity to zoom in during an interaction or experience. Zooming in means making an intentional effort to focus on what Dr. Taranath describes in the quote above as “those small choices of how we navigate what and who might be in front of us.”

Zooming in, to me, reflects the decision to be present with the moment and connect with the people right in front of you. Once you have made the choice to be present, you can “attend more carefully to each other’s stories.” Making a mental commitment to stay present, breathe, and actively listen has allowed me to hear stories and experiences across differences in a way I hadn’t before–through this book club and beyond. 

This photo captures a moment when I grappled with identity and difference abroad.  I shared this photo and my reflection of this experience with the book club as part of a “holding space” exercise. Dr. Taranth explains the importance of reflection after travel and the book provides helpful prompts to process the feelings and experience of difference abroad.  Without the book club, this captured moment would have stayed buried inside. Now I see the photo and the experience differently. I gave myself the space to reflect while Casey, Sharon, and Tami held that space with me. 

Sharon Conceicao, ATTA community lead Latin America

A Favorite Quote from the Book: “I offer these stories as a medley of voices, perspectives, and emotions. Like a juggler who’s gradually learning to incorporate more and more balls into her act, holding many stories in our minds and hearts at once requires us to stretch, absorb, and grow.” (p. 100). 

A Key Takeaway:  Traveling to a different reality is the only way for some people to think deeply about their ethnic, economic, and geographic identity.

It’s a fact that traveling to a destination that’s very different from our everyday reality makes us all reflect on and question our identity, often from cultural, ethnic, and religious points of view.

As an example, Dr. Taranath detailed how she experienced her own questions of identity in different parts of the world due to how other travelers or residents interacted and responded to her as an American who is the daughter of Indian immigrants. Though it is different in every place, the interactions can be very meaningful.

The book also very sensitively detailed to us how external geographic, political, and economic complexities can prompt internal reflection by travelers in ways they hadn’t expected. While expansive, this new awareness and perspective can also cause feelings of guilt or discomfort that reverberate long after the trip after one returns to the relative comfort of their own home. 

For those who have the courage to integrate this new perspective, Dr. Anu takes us by the hand through various stories from people of all different ethnicities and how they experienced these “shocks” in global travel, which helps us see we are not alone in these feelings.

As a Black Brazilian woman (and traveler) reading parts of the book, I also discovered a new layer of identity that others may see me as, which is a person who was born and lives in the “Global South.” 

I was not very familiar with this concept so it was enlightening to me. This positioned me as a 2nd or 3rd person in most of the stories, which gave me an extra reflection path to cover different gaps that would not have been possible without discussions with my colleagues and fellow book club members who are all from the “Global North.”

In discussions about diversity, the concept of self-defining our race can be a good starting point,  but we are a long way from race being the definitive path to a complete understanding of our identity. Holding space with a lot of heart is the path to our human oneness in the midst of so many categories and facets of identity.

Tami Fairweather, diversity council lead + ATTA ambassador

A favorite quote: “Do we see and register the differences between us? Yes. Should we see and register only the differences between us? No. Our differences are both present and real, and they influence our lives in concrete ways. It’s also true that our differences may not always be the most important thing about us.” (p 14) 

A Key Takeaway: Differences + Heartfelt Conversations 

Socially (and oftentimes professionally), we are subconsciously drawn to people who are “like” us. Yet for most of us, the draw of travel is to experience something different–different places, cultures, and people. As Anu puts it, “we revel in the unfamiliarity” when we travel. The quote above aptly communicates how differences shouldn’t be overlooked when seeing a person as a whole being, and they are also not the defining thing about any one person. The book helped me to see more clearly how that “desire for different” dynamic is available to us in an interpersonal, self-reflective way when we acknowledge differences in aspects of our personal identities as we are interacting with one another. This can be with someone we’re traveling with whom we are experiencing the same activity, or even by noticing and experiencing what’s “different” much closer to home with the curiosity of a traveler.

While in the book club, I had a local travel experience that illustrated this well, while on a day trip along the Mississippi River with my friend Queen who had recently moved to New Orleans. We live near each other and have similar social tastes (music, dancing, nature, interacting). She’s Black and I’m White. On our outing that day, we stopped by the Whitney Plantation, a former sugar plantation turned museum focused exclusively on the lives of enslaved people. We didn’t talk much as we walked the grounds while listening to the self-guided tour in our headphones, but we stayed close. Though I’d been there a few times by myself and with visiting guests, this was Queen’s first visit. And my previous companions had all been White.

I noticed how this time, my mind was wandering to how different this experience must land for her than it does me, due to the racial aspect of our personal identities. Near the end, we asked each other how we were feeling. I told her how I’d been thinking a lot about her experience, which opened up space for her to share how it felt to see the names of the enslaved people listed as property who had the same names as many of her Jamaican aunts, uncles, and relatives. We went on to have a conversation about the guilt I was feeling as a White American, our similar shared recognition of how not long ago this was, and the deeper weight of how resilient these enslaved humans had to be to make it through, and reflecting on how being a descendent of them made Queen feel a responsibility to live her life with meaning and continue to pursue her dreams. 

Later, we stopped and had a nice lunch and a lot more laughs. There was room for all of it, which is the kind of experience most of us love when we travel. I wonder how as experience providers, we could intentionally make more room for recognition of the different layers of our identities in a group, and heartfelt, low-stakes conversations that foster connection and understanding, making the world more equitable one small step at a time. This leads me to another favorite quote in the book: “Learning how to create social and business pathways that deviate from the status quo is a challenging process and can take time. And be better served with patience, humor, and lightheartedness.”

In the epilogue of the book, Dr. Taranath shares the concept of “Night Here, Morning There” as a global citizen. She says:

“Night here, morning there connects each of us to a roster of badassery, folks around the world who live near us, folks we meet on our travels and folks we hear about in the stories we share and the books we read. Within this worldwide community, we can all offer one another rest and hope as we forge links and make change. I think about these interconnections often, not only when I am very weary of the work of repair and change, but also when I’m feeling powerful about the meaningful conversations and connections we build together.”

 

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