Microaggression and the Consumption of Poverty: A community's resistance to invasive walking tours in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside
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From 2014 to 2016, Jenn Potter ran a walking tour called Tours by Locals, leading hundreds of people through the poorest neighbourhood in Canada, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). This tour focused on what she described as social enterprises in the community and cost $185 per person. Though Potter ran this walking tour with the hope that it would lead to more understanding and compassion towards the neighbourhood and its residents, residents of the community and activists did not see it this way. In response to this tour, anti-gentrification activists held their own 'Yuppie Gazing Tour' down the streets of Vancouver yelling 'The Downtown Eastside isn't a safari, drive away in your Ferrari!' Though protests around Potter's walking tour led to its end, there are still an estimated 25 to 30 walking tours in the DTES today. Guides justify their presence in the DTES in various ways and treat tours as benign sources of education and entertainment for tour participants. Based on interviews with 13 walking tour guides and attendance in 13 walking tours in the DTES, this research argues that walking tours in the DTES are not benign and are, in fact, invasive poverty tours. Walking tours in the DTES contribute to a narrative that erases its residents' rights- based histories and continues a politics of dispossession and displacement. Poverty in the neighbourhood is both made a spectacle of and obscured during walking tours creating microaggressions against the DTES community. DTES residents are epistemically backgrounded– "both targeted and 'sub-merged,' both identifiable and indefensible...hidden in plain sight" (Dotson, 2017, p. 420). Community members are not bystanders or backdrops in this process. Through acts of microresistance and everyday resistance against walking tours, DTES residents make claims about their rights to the city. These forms of resistance presented against walking tours both nuance and challenge traditional understandings of how resistance is legitimized and preformed.