I posted a story about an on-line test developed by the University of Chicago to help people learn about their tendencies to think a wallet or a cell phone may be a gun depending on the color of the person’s skin. Two commenters wondered what the study has to do with travel. I think most things have to do with travel, but I majored in sociology as an undergraduate, so I see connections in EVERYTHING. Name two subjects and I’ll find the connecting dots somewhere.
Since my post, Iva wrote a post about gun related deaths in Chicago during one weekend, and the people she knows who wants to see bad neighborhoods. This is not that different, I don’t think, than people who drive through Appalachia looking to see if people have teeth.
When I learned about the study about racism and guns, I flashed to ideas about safety and travel. Perhaps, I was thinking, people’s ideas about safety have something to do with where they choose to go on vacation, and perhaps, if they travel at all. There are plenty of reasons why people choose vacation spots, but there are reasons why people don’t pick certain destinations as well. I don’t think racism is it, but a sense of security and the predictable is.
There’s a reason why Disneyland and Disney World get a crowd. Part of it has something to do with feeling safe, I would guess. The Magic Kingdom has a far-reaching comfort zone. When our daughter was five-years -old, we lost her in Disneyland for a few minutes because my husband thought she was holding my hand, and I thought she was holding his. We were busy arguing about something, thus distracted. Our daughter had stopped to look at something and we had kept going. We freaked a bit, running pell mell, retracing our steps, but I didn’t think something bad would have happened. Disneyland is about as controlled an environment as one can get.
New York City, also a popular tourist destination, isn’t controlled, and perhaps, because of this, people may feel more on edge, particularly on a first time visit.
The first time I went to New York City without adults, I was with a high school friend. We went for a day walking a tidy path from Times Square to Grand Central Station, down 5th Avenue to Rockefeller Center and back to Times Square. There wasn’t any risk of getting lost. Never mind that as a 4th grader, I had ridden my bike all over State College, Pennsylvania when I lived there. On my next trip to New York, also in high school, I did strike out on a subway for more of the unknown. Years later, I feel perfectly safe in the city, even when walking to my brother’s apartment at night by myself.
People have ideas of danger that are on a subconscious level. When a friend and I traveled across the United States by bus (yes, it can be done) after we got out of the Peace Corps, we spent a few nights hanging out at bus stations in the middle of the night the further west we got. For some reason buses don’t seem to leave any earlier than 1 a.m. or arrive any later than 5 a.m. once you get past St. Louis. At least that’s what we found when we were traveling.
While we were waing for a city bus in Denver to take us to the bus station, after we went to a movie blocks away from the theater we asked a woman about the safety around the bus station that time of night. She gave us a police whistle she had around her neck. In Salt Lake City, one couple, who knew that we were heading to the bus station late at night, decided they would take us there when we stopped to ask them for directions. As far as I could tell, we were as safe at the bus stations as we would have been at Disneyland, but there are impressions people have of bus stations at night.
I’ve lived several years outside of the United States and have talked to many, many, many people who think that cities in the United States are not safe because of all the guns. At times it has seemed like people think that as soon as you step off the airplane at JFK or La Guardia, you’d better duck and cover. (That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but people, mostly taxi drivers in Singapore, have said that they worry.) Whenever people mention a thought of the United States not being safe, I tell them that it is safe. Really.
My thought is that people who travel extensively may see the world as a much safer place just because their exposure to diversity is that much higher. The unknown becomes less threatening because the unknown is smaller. This is my hunch based on conversations I’ve had with people who don’t travel much. I’m not saying that those who travel are better people, but their experiences may give them a broader knowledge of humanity.
To mr, the study by the University of Chicago is not a definitive account on racist attitudes, but one that is looking for an explanation about an aspect of human behavior. Just like it is surprising to think of Robert Quest, the CNN reporter getting caught in Central Park with a small bag of meth in his pocket, we have notions of who we think might be more likely to be holding a gun. As I said in my post, I never think anyone is holding a gun. I actually don’t know anyone who has a gun besides two people–one of them a hunter. There may be others who think everyone is holding a gun.
I do think that which type of person travels, and where people go, has something to do with safety. Whether people think an object that is pulled out of a pocket late at night is a gun, a wallet or a cell phone probably has more to do with where someone is and the circumstances. Where someone is may have something to do with where the person feels safe. That’s my opinion, anyway. I can’t help it. I majored in Sociology.
Oh, and what does love got to do with it? The line from the song, “What’s Love Got To Do with It?” played in my head for some reason when I was thinking of a title for the post. It stuck. It’s a line from the Tina Turner song. The next line line from the song is “What’s love but a second hand emotion?” I don’t think this has anything to do with travel, but it’s catchy.