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NYC 'Ghetto' tours dehumanize poor

'Do you feel safe around all those brown folk?'

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You ever get the feeling that you are being watched? Well, depending on where you live, it could be more than just a feeling.

A New York company had the "genius" idea to offer, of all things, a "ghetto tour." Real Bronx Tours took tourists through a unique experience to see a real-live ghetto, up close and personal. The following is an excerpt of the description from its website:

"When we think about the Bronx we see images of the '70s and '80s when this borough was notorious for drugs, gangs, crime and murders ... Real Bronx Tours will take you on a three-hour journey into this diverse and mysterious borough called the Bronx. Sites on this tour will include: Yankee Stadium, Mott Haven Historic District, Bronx Zoo, Bronx Museum, South Bronx, Arthur Avenue (Little Italy), Grand Concourse and a ride through a real New York City 'ghetto.'"

It's not enough that we have created a culture obsessed with reality TV shows, which allow viewers to follow, in voyeuristic glee, the lives of regular folks just trying to hold it down and keep things together. Now we are going to step it up a notch and actually organize tours to see the "native po' folks" in their natural habitat.

The good people of the Bronx were rightfully outraged over the controversial tour. The Bronx Borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., urged the company to stop profiting from a tour that characterized the Bronx "as a haven for poverty and crime, while mocking everything from our landmarks to the less-fortunate members of our community who are availing themselves of food-assistance programs." The tours have since stopped running.

The concept of a "ghetto tour" reminds me of a show in the '70s that came on Sunday nights called Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I watched it religiously. The star of the show, Marlin Perkins, would narrate the show every week in the most monotone voice. His faithful sidekick and general safari man servant, Jim Fowler, was always doing the grunt work, such as trying to deliver grizzly cubs while simultaneously being mauled by the irate mother.

While I was fascinated by the show when I was younger, it turns me off now when I apply the concept to humanity. Dehumanization is a psychological process of demonizing an individual or group by making them seem less than human, which allows the perpetrator to treat them inhumanely.

I've experienced it a little closer to home than New York.

I have spent the majority of my time in Charlotte living on the east side, specifically off Central Avenue. During my almost-20-year tenure, I and other east-side residents I have spoken with have occasionally been asked by some folks, in a hushed tone, "Do you feel safe?" The question is code for, "Do you feel safe around all those brown people?"

I share the example of the Ghetto Tour and my experience on Charlotte's east side because, somehow, we are now demonizing folks for being less fortunate and actually treating them like another species to be photographed and gawked at like a herd of wildebeest.

Imagine it: There I am, minding my own business, coming out of my neighborhood Family Dollar on Eastway carrying my requisite bleach, tube socks and crackers, when suddenly a van full of European tourists, and maybe even some curious locals, enters the parking lot.

Tour Guide: We are now entering one of the many strip malls on the east side. Please remember to keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times. You can also register today for our sister company, West Side tours, where we will take you take you through the dark and mysterious wonder of Beatties Ford.

Passenger: How do you know which neighborhoods are safe?

Tour Guide: Questionable neighborhoods will be marked with discernible signifiers, such as check-cashing establishments, many liquor stores, and a costumed Statue of Liberty waving at day workers during tax season.

Tour Guide: If you look to your right, just emerging from the Family Dollar, you can see Brownus Manicus, a wonderful specimen of the male native of this area.

Would I douse the bus of Lookie Lous with my container of discount bleach? Would I charge the bus like an enraged rhino defending his territory? Or perhaps would I simply give the universal sign of protest, hand raised and middle finger extended, so when more evolved beings review the inevitable photographs that follow, archived by the curious tourist, they will indeed know that the natives were restless.

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