'dear White People': Your Race Matters in Tourism

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:18
Oral Presentation
Donna CHAMBERS, University of Sunderland, United Kingdom
In this presentation, I critically explore the concept of whiteness and its relevance to an understanding of the location of power in tourism. I contend that in tourism studies there has been little if any problematisation of the way in which whiteness shapes ways of knowing in tourism (epistemology) and ways of being in tourism (ontology). Indeed, I argue for an alternative methodological approach to our interpretations of exploitation and subjugation in tourism which does not focus predominantly on non-white ‘Others’. That is, I suggest that in tourism studies, by focusing on racial disadvantage, we have failed to adequately theorise the power that comes from racial privilege.

It was Ruth Frankenberg (1993) who used the term ‘whiteness’ to describe a set of three interlinked dimensions – (1) a location of structural advantage (2) a standpoint or place from which white people look at themselves, others and society and (3) a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed (1993, p.1). She suggested further that whiteness is not an empty signifier, but is instead a ‘daily experience of racial structuring’ (ibid). I extend this argument to contend that whiteness thus becomes normalised and is rendered invisible in contemporary quotidian tourism practices and theorisations of power in tourism.

A soft science research approach in tourism should undertake a methodological unpacking of power in tourism through the lens of whiteness to provide an interpretation of structural advantage that is occasioned by race. Whiteness urges white people to (re)consider myopic understandings of racial power in tourism by refracting their epistemological lens onto themselves. Whiteness implores white people to reflect on their own racial identities and cultures, the privileges that accompany them, and how this serves to legitimate racial inequalities in tourism.