Heather Hates Stuff: Poverty Tourism in the DTES

 

UPDATE: On October 13, the Gastown Gazette removed their article and issued an (unsigned) apology to the "people who were offended." In it, they allege threats made against their writer – which I have never seen anywhere online despite following the conversation quite closely, and would obviously never condone. 

They have also deleted the tweets to my employer; to my friend's former employer; and those threatening legal action against my friend. No acknowledgment of or apology for that, though.

Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to voice their support; shed light on the Gazette's general conduct; and more importantly, reflect on poverty tourism and media portrayals of the DTES. 

Signed,

Heather Stoutenburg

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Earlier this week, the Gastown Gazette posted a really gross 'ironic' (their words) article about the DTES. I won't bother linking to it because frankly it doesn't deserve more traffic, but the long and short of it is it was really exploitive.

There is a reasoned critique to be written, about how the DTES is not a zoo; how people obviously in the throes of addictions don't need to be mocked; and about the history of colonialism repeating itself as well-off people occupy and take over the few remaining spaces in that neighbourhood where low-income people can hang out... But at the time, I didn't bother writing it. I did, however, giggle when a friend of mine wrote a, shall we say colourful, tweet retort.

No, it wasn't a reasoned critique nor was it maybe very nice, but it was cathartic to see someone calling out that stereotypical “ha ha look at the junkies” bullshit and so I "favorited" said tweet.

Now, the Gazette has gone on an all-out attack and tweeted at my employer and the non-profit I chair because I "endorsed" that behaviour. Fortunately, my DTES-based employer always has my back (and so does their social media manager; what up colin) and the non-profit works with many youth from the DTES to eradicate that kind of oppressive colonialist bullshit the original article dredges up. I’m not getting canned tomorrow, presumably to their chagrin.

But that’s because I have privilege in spades. Something a lot of people in the DTES don’t have. The Gazette can call me out and try and get me canned and I will face basically zero consequences, but it’s a real shame to think that someone actually talked about, or photographed, in the original article probably wouldn’t be so lucky. Voicing their dissent would not be an option. And that’s a real bummer.

There’s not really a point to this except to say speak out, if you can. When you see people being assholes to marginalized people, say something, because maybe that marginalized person isn’t in a position to do so themselves. Oh and also, I’m not saying DON’T read the Gazette, but I am saying there are many other local publications who don’t bully people in the community they’re supposed to represent.