Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > "Riding While White": Transporting Race and the Production of Blackness
pdf

In 2010, LA Gang Tours went on its inaugural ride through the streets of Los Angeles. The tour drives a busload of 30-40 mostly white tourists through South Central. The tour guides are four to eight black and brown men from the geographic focus of the tours; they are also all former gang members. They provide the main voices on the tours, sharing personal narratives of life in South Central with the tourists. In the popular media, the gang tour is positioned as exploitative or revolutionary. But neither of these positions addresses the material implications of a tour bus driving through the ghetto. I argue the bus's physical movement through South Central reproduces racial relations for Los Angeles, and these relations are always connected to mobility. On the tour, whiteness is reproduced through the tour's ceasefire, which allows the tourists to move through the community unharmed for three hours. This replicates racial relations, because South Central has always been viewed as a black space that whites can move through for play or even to abuse black residents in the mid-20th century. Relatedly, as the tour bus moves, the demographically brown South Central area of today becomes imagined as black, as was the case demographically roughly 40 years ago. There is no essential blackness here, but the tourists--with their privileged movement, questions, and the tour's catering to them--are allotted a classificatory power that lets them redefine South Central based on their imaginations via rap music, sensationalized news, movies, and the area's history of antiblack racism. In spite of this, the tour guides and residents remake themselves in the face of white classificatory power. For the tour guides, mobility is central to questioning the normalized relation of violence in their community. They articulate the gang violence they face daily with the systematic violence that white supremacy implemented on them. Ultimately, this project articulates LA Gang Tours to a history of race relations, revealing that mobility is not secondary to subjectivity, but central to the way in which people are raced in society.