Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
Oct. 3, 2018
Each Sunday morning, I ride the subway to Harlem to train a couple of clients. On that commute, I encounter hordes of tourists all along the way -- jamming up subway platforms and trains, often on their way to “tour” Harlem. This means large groups of white Europeans -- affluent enough to afford a trip to the Big Apple -- are Instagramming their way through a traditionally black neighborhood like they’re on a safari.
Tourists are usually led by a guide who uses a small megaphone device to tell his charges (in German, French, Spanish, Italian, and more) minor details about their exotic locale -- with no apparent concern about making so much noise at 9:30 on a Sunday morning. On top of that, the white tourists seem to have a particular affinity for black churches. On average, 9,000 tourists attend services at black churches every Sunday. Every week, I marvel in particular at the long lines near the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Recently, I decided to look into this situation. I discovered that, as this video shows, the white tourists go to black churches because they hope “they’ll sing some songs for us.” After all, they’ve come thanks to sales pitches like, “Experience the soul-stirring power of Gospel at a church worship service.”
It reached the point where the Abyssinian Baptist Church had to create a specific page on their website to deter at least some of the inherent exoticization. It states, for example: “Worship at the Abyssinian Baptist Church IS NOT A GOSPEL PERFORMANCE or entertainment of any kind.” (Bold and all caps in the original.)
Tourists are charged about $50 to attend, wait in long lines, and only one service per week (at 11:30 a.m.) is open to such outsiders. Even so, the Abyssinian has been forced to lay down rules like:
Two of the FAQs include:
How long does the 11:30 a.m. Worship Service last?
Tourists should plan to be in worship for approximately 2 ½ hours. Once seated in the Sanctuary, tourists are expected to remain until worship has concluded.
Are photos and audio/video recordings allowed?
No. Worship is sacred in the Abyssinian community. Photos and audio/video recordings are not permitted in the Sanctuary. However, CDs of sermons can be purchased in the Abyssinian bookstore.
By the way, when I typed “so many tourists in Harlem” into a search engine, the entire first page of results guided me to articles wondering how “safe” it is to visit Harlem. General consensus: It’s safe enough to visit but watch your back, e.g. “During the daytime, almost all areas of Manhattan are safe for walking -- even Harlem, though the uninitiated may prefer to avoid these neighborhoods after dark.”
But then again, “they” may sing some songs for you…
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When white tourists visit Harlem’s black churches by Mickey Z. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://worldnewstrust.com/when-white-tourists-visit-harlem-s-black-churches-mickey-z.