According to the media, African, Asian, and Latin American nations primarily are composed of a class monolith. Starving children, struggling slums, you name it: poverty remains the face of these locations. Last week, Amber Rose shared pictures of her trip to Ghana, but received a bit of backlash from her fans for focusing on impoverished neighborhoods. Many Ghanaians felt that she was contributing to the stereotypical face of Africa, and failed to show the burgeoning middle to upper class. But is the presence of middle to upper class citizens strong enough to challenge the popularity of poverty tourism?

In searching for the “other,” many Americans and Europeans would prefer to see the impoverished side of the “third world” for various reasons. Some are simply curious to see abject poverty first-hand in an exotic setting. Others want to “give back” and volunteer their services to ailing neighborhoods in foreign countries. But most notably, it might be ideologically confrontational for westerners to see themselves in middle to upper class locals. Who really wants to “ruin” a vacation with the “startling reality,” good and bad, of capitalism benefiting more than the just western world? Most ordinary tourists would prefer to have their stereotypes confirmed and ideologies unchallenged.

Growing up, I held similar poverty stereotypes of many foreign nations, stereotypes that were fueled by more than just the media. At an early age, I received the opportunity to visit Ghana, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, and the only wealth that was front-and-center were those of foreigners who booked lavish rooms in beautiful beach hotels and stunning resorts. It was rare to meet wealthy locals, as most tours only covered historical landmarks, royal buildings, and impoverished villages. Frankly put, poverty tourism and colonial nostalgia have proven lucrative in dealing with westerners in search of “exploring” local cultures.

In college, I was fortunate to meet numerous students from various nations across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. While some came from poverty, the majority experienced middle to upper class upbringings, sharing similar class values to most Americans. It was through these friendships and encounters that I truly learned the reality of what Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie calls the “danger of a single story.”

She says, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity…when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

Indeed, it is this paradise that more western tourists should seek to gain in their travels. It’s the encounters that you experience off the beaten tourist path that allow you to see the many facets and complexities of a nation.

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  • LA

    I don’t critique Amber for her choice of travel within Ghana. And as far as poverty within the U.S., from what she says, she lived it. All in all I believe she had good intentions and she is entitled to travel wherever she pleases. Coming from a poor background, her mindset in visiting rural areas of Ghana does not match that of your average middle to upper class American coming to witness poverty and engage in volunteerism. These individuals seek to have an “experience.” Even if it means passing thru impoverished rural and urban communities in their own states, on their way to the airport.

    I do agree that international travel is not needed to witness poverty. My first encounter with poverty and economic disparity was at age 4, driving from the suburbs, thru some of the roughest neighborhoods of Baltimore City, to reach my private school.

    I think if poverty is an issue that one is concerned, the fight against it needs neither to be isolated to one’s home country nor abroad. Poverty affects people around the globe and should be fought in every corner it reaches.

    • B

      Totally agree! Well-stated.

  • chinaza

    Extreme poverty exists in ALL countries in the world.It’s just that it’s open and stark in some places and a “dirty little secret” in others.But poor people and their benefactors need to remember human dignity.
    We must assist the needy without enabling them to be beggars or shaming them.
    On the flip side, poverty is a choice when you refuse education or work then feel entitled to be “helped” on the backs of those who made different choices.Those who can do better must get up on their own feet and do better.

  • Wanjiku

    I am an African in the Diaspora and what alot of you don’t understand is that we are tired of the way Africa is continually potrayed in the media, just the way you hate the way African Americans are potrayed in the media. Most middle class and rich families suport their siblings and when people say that they are visible in their country so they shouldn’t be in the Western media they are assuming that they are all corrupt. Don’t assume you know something when you don’t have a clue. My mother grew up extremely poor, she wore her first pair of shoes when she was in High school but she worked hard as a teacher and we grew up in a middle class household and she also helped educate her siblings. Being potrayed as only one thing is not right because it creates stereotypes.

    • African Mami

      Boomshakalaka…..and folks there you have it!!!!

    • Sands

      Agreed I’m part of the Ghanaian diaspora and I must say some of the comments I’ve read on here are missing the point. This is beyond Amber Rose, its beyond middle class Africans complaining about how they are being portrayed in the media.

      Its about an incomplete story which legitimises unfair trade policies and much more.

    • B

      @Sands: “which legitimises unfair trade policies and much more.” Now, see you’ve made a point I can agree with – a point that I considered but wanted someone else who knew more than me to bring up (the influence of such media representations on the World Trade Org.’s decisions regarding Africa; how these representations affect the World Bank’s decisions about who to lend money to and at what interest rates; how they affect non-African countries’ decisions about whether to invest in/trade with African countries, etc.). Very important insight. Thank you!

    • Alexandra

      Thank you for your comment. Why is it that there’s only one side to show when visiting certain countries? They do this to the entire African continent, to some exclusion South Africa, Kenya and Northern Africa. But even if they aren’t showing poverty, they’re showing crisis, wars, protests, famine etc; Never anything good. These issues are a problem everywhere they just seem to be highlighted more with Black people.

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