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Photo on Humanities Washington

Anu Taranath


University of Washington




University of Washington









What makes Anu Taranath a Global Shaker?

Dr Anu Taranath is a professor and racial equity consultant at the University of Washington Seattle, and describes herself as a cultural “in-between and go-between.” Her body of work, which has a strong focus on tourism, challenges us to question deeply-held assumptions — that travel naturally makes us more empathetic, caring individuals, by questioning how present and conscious we are in the travel exchange.

In one interview with National Geographic, she said that travel is a step in the right direction towards opening people’s minds and making them empathetic. “It’s an invitation to think more carefully about our good intentions and where they really need to be challenged,” she said.

But her book, ‘Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World’ — selected as one of Oprah Magazine’s 26 Best Travel Books of All Time — is aimed at unpicking this further. It’s described as a “short but essential book about navigating one’s privilege as a Westerner traveling to low-income countries.”.

Sharing personal travel stories alongside questions about identity, race and difference, the aim is to help readers better understand feelings about who we are, where we come from, and how much we have. It’s intended to be read and discussed with friends, classmates and colleagues.

On her website, Taranath explains that as an educator she’s taught more than 6,000 students over the past 25 years, helping to “foster and advance the transformative power of awareness and empathy.”

In one feature, for the magazine AFAR, Taranath weighs in on questions such as whether travelers should donate money or food when abroad, and what makes a good voluntourism programme. Her answers are inevitably focused on being a thinking, conscious element of the travel environment, stressing that it’s “important to remember that the global privileges we travel with don’t get erased just because we pick up a shovel.”

She says that when noticing inequality abroad, it’s important to reflect on hard questions before going, such as “What does it mean for me to lead an intentional life, knowing that I have more? How do I want to use what I have? Then giving or not giving in the moment isn’t a quick, transactional thing, but part of a larger ethos of how we live.”

She also weighs in on thorny issues such as whether travelers should visit destinations with a repressive government or discriminatory laws. She notes that there’s “not one place I have traveled to that has been an oasis of justice and dignity for all — the US included.” She says that marginalised people around the world are marginalised by similar processes, and it’s important to remember that a Government official’s stance might not reflect the thought processes from everyday folks. “Travel can offer opportunities to grapple with these hard issues,” she adds.

As a storyteller, Taranath also explained her view that the best way to make sense of the world around us is through “the stories that we tell about ourselves and the world around us.”

Tags: Responsible Travel, Sustainable Tourism, University of Washington

Last updated: October 2, 2020