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Stepping into the Waters of (potential) Controversy

As I am on the eve of officially launching this whole endeavor, the list of "what ifs" starts to pile up, as well as the "to dos", and the "did I think of that"s. Anxiety around starting a tour company in the present circumstances is to be expected. By "present circumstances" I mean a pandemic. However, there are other "present circumstances" that have been weighing heavily on my mind: the wave of BLM protests against systematic racism and unchecked police brutality, the loss of black lives innumerable, and the disheartening backlash against the calls for dismantling the systems of oppression in this country of mine. I myself have attended several protests, waived my sign, repeated the chants and calls for change with conviction, and am committed to continued support of the movement. Something though is eating at my brain, in particular in relation to the calls for white people to educate themselves about what it means to be an ally. I take those calls seriously and have tried to act accordingly.

Due to these efforts I have become increasingly self-conscious about the fact that two of my tours focus on the lives of African Americans in Washington, DC, and that I be blunt.....a very white tour guide....talking about the lives of black people. Specifically, the lives of people who lived in DC's historic alleyways (93% African American during the height of the alleyways' usage as residential microcosms in the 1880s) and those who were key figures during the Harlem Renaissance in the U street neighborhood.

Now, I've stated before that the mission of Off the Mall Tours is to shed light on the stories of Washington, DC's people and places that are not as well known. So, it is somewhat inevitable that the topics have revolved around historically marginalized groups who do not feature heavily in history as far as accounts from their points of view. This would include women and people of color. But I am loath to sound sanctimonious. I desperately want to avoid the moral high horse that so many socially high-standing figures back in the day adopted, who looked upon themselves as white saviors to the downtrodden African American communities in DC. One such figure was Francis Scott Key (you know, the one who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner), who was an ardent supporter of the colonization movement in the early 19th century, which was responsible for the establishment of the country of Liberia. Their approach was "yes, free the slaves, and then send them out of the country so we don't have to think about them anymore" while patting themselves on the back for being oh-so-humanitarian and progressive. Maybe not an accurate comparison, but I hope my meaning is coming across.

So where does this leave me? I've done my research, pulled from a variety of sources and authors (white and of color), and am trying to be as sensitive and conscientious as possible about how I'm presenting the material. I understand that that may not be enough and I'm reaching out to members of the community who can perhaps offer me a reality check. I may get criticism, and that is completely fine. I welcome any and all feedback and will take it into account as I continue tinkering with scripts and presentation materials. I do not by any means expect anyone to do the emotional and intellectual labor for me. I am certainly not expecting a pat on the head for telling these stories. This is my form of allyship and it's done without expectation of applause (unless they just really like the tour). I hope people find the tours interesting, educational, and thought provoking, and yes, make them think about the history of the African American communities throughout DC's history. I welcome any and all thoughts on this, book recommendations, etc. These discussions are critical. The fact that they are being had in so many forums and that they continue to be front and center in the news and social media speaks to how relevant and necessary they are.

So I'm just putting that out there, and bracing myself. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you soon.

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