Anu Taranath, a professor at the University of Washington and recipient of a UW Distinguished Teaching Award, is known for her courses on global literatures, race, gender and identity. She often travels abroad with students and colleagues and has held multiple Fulbright Fellowships. She is also a racial equity consultant.
In this book, Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World, Dr. Taranath draws upon her extensive experience and her scholarly expertise to craft a guide for those of us who travel, volunteer, or study abroad. Often well-intentioned, curious people, from the West and Global North find themselves in the Global South in unsettling, confusing, and complex experiences. In many cases, we never even require a passport to travel because we could find ourselves in situations in our own “home” territories where we have to confront our racial, ethnic, economic, or gender disparities and inequalities.
How then do we navigate these mindfully and be attentive to our own emotional states as well as our positionality in relation to the other? These are the topics that Taranath writes about candidly, engagingly, and astutely.
The book begins with the need for us to begin our work even before we buy our tickets and pack our bags. We need to examine the “Luggage we take with us” as the title of Chapter 2 proposes. Using her own experiences as a woman of color mother, educator, and scholar who has traveled extensively, Taranath tells us compelling stories. She writes of her young daughter’s instant connection to a black couple at a local gospel choir event when the child gravitated automatically to the only other people of color in the room and how they responded to the child.
With this story, she models how we unpack our luggage before we pack our bags. In another story, she writes of Katherine and Ali, two college students who are preparing to go on a trip to Togo to teach by going to a school in their town that is predominantly black and had to confront the limits of their project. Each chapter has deep scholarship woven into practical advice and ends with a section called “Holding Space Together” which offers exercises/tips for the prospective traveler. The Appendix is addressed to program directors, educators, and leaders who accompany students abroad or plan study abroad courses. She compels us to explore structural problems in our approaches and to consider our own blind spots in working with students.
As a fellow academic who also works with students on global literature, race, gender, and equity, I find this book immensely valuable for its scholarly yet deeply honest material. Her tone is conversational and she models the deep work she wants her readers to do before they embark on their trips. Discussing inequities and racial disparities often makes people defensive, but Taranath’s book compels us to approach difficult questions in community with one another. This book is valuable for anyone who is an educator, a student, a traveler, an NGO worker who might find themselves crossing borders.
Anu Taranath will be in conversation with Nick Barr at Elliott Bay Books on May 29 at 7:00 PM.