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Raising Public Awareness is Over-rated

July 2, 2012

Wildly over-rated.

In an ideal world, becoming “aware” would be the acknowledgment of a personal point of ignorance. It’s the point at which we begin to care enough to understand something better — more deeply and meaningfully. But “awareness-building” isn’t really this anymore (was it ever?)

Despite the avalanche of news about labor rights violations of Chinese workers at Apple’s FOX-CONN (in China), Apple products enjoyed record sales that same year.

Awareness-building, itself, has a well-recognized two-pronged approach in our world. Information regarding “helping people” is geared towards Western, white, privileged countries and people. While awareness regarding the dangers of one’s environment and one’s behavior targets poor, brown and black people. Awareness, thus, perpetuates the imaginative narrative of saviors, violence and risk.

These days, awareness is an end goal in and of itself. Being aware is a badge that codes for education, knowledge, empathy. At best, it inspires token gestures which satisfy an easily pacified audience. It allows for a few to gain notoriety for having the privilege to tell other people’s stories. They have access and that alone makes them heroic. That their access might be minimal, superficial and perhaps even a hoax — does not seem to matter much.

We are drowning in awareness pornography. Take the latest business endeavor from a company called Reality Tours and Travels in India — Poverty Tours.

Reality Tours and Travel takes tourists on slum and sightseeing tours in Mumbai. For almost 200 US dollars, you get to see Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, and the red light district of Kamathipura, as well as other more traditional tourist areas.

Tourists on a Poverty Tour (CNN photo)

People from slum communities are employed to add a spectacle of credibility to something that is otherwise incredibly hokey at best, and exploitative, racist, casteist and classist at worst.

At the end of the day, these awareness tours profit from using poor people’s lives, stories and even bodies to embellish and entertain; educate and privilege those who require expensive tours to witness struggle.

And oh, it raises awareness.

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