Racism, intolerance as campaign issues

By Pat Watson Wednesday October 15 2014 in Opinion
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In case you’re wondering what the polar opposite is of Toronto’s optimistic motto “Diversity our strength”, it is, as Canadian-born candidate for councillor in Ward 2 Etobicoke North Munira Abukar learned recently, “Go back home.” Campaign posters bearing Abukar’s picture were found defaced recently with those very words, adding yet another piece to the racial intolerance that has surfaced during this municipal elections period.


Posters for Andray Domise, also a Ward 2 candidate for councillor, have been similarly defaced.


In this city, where all the peoples of the world now congregate, it is now no secret that a good portion of us are not willing to participate in the great experiment of living in racial and cultural harmony. Yet, this seems an odd place to practice intolerance. Why live here if that is not one of your guiding principles?


Tolerance and acceptance, by the way, means more than enjoying the wide and varied types of cuisine afforded this city by our wealth of ethnicities and cultures.


Sometime ago, when Domise confronted Rob Ford, who infamously issued a string of racial slurs while under the influence of either drugs or alcohol, about his use of this offensive language, Ford reportedly shrugged and replied, “It’s complicated.”


The outgoing mayor, Rob Ford and his brother, one-term councillor Doug Ford, now among those running for the post of mayor, have fostered an atmosphere where those who harbour hatred towards others they consider “different” feel free to brandish their intolerance with impunity.


This is indeed a sad time for Toronto. But we can also see this uncovering of intolerance as an opportunity to air this open wound and to carry anti-racism dialogue forward. If people are going to put their hatred on display, whether towards Blacks, or Jews, or gays, then they should stand ready to begin to have the uncomfortable conversation that gets to the heart of their intolerance.


At the same time, when times are tough, when people are starved for employment opportunities, there is more of this kind of antagonistic and hateful behaviour. It may be a nice piece of news that job growth took an unexpected upturn recently, showing the best numbers in Ontario and across the country since 2008. However, the reality of that good news, those 24,700 new positions in this province, has not trickled down to the areas of the city where these types of hateful eruptions are more likely to occur, whether on the posters of people who are so-called visible minorities or during mayoral debates.


To this end, the people who are asking for our votes, specifically the front-runner mayoral candidates, have not been strong enough in their rejection of this kind of behaviour from disruptors who attend these debates with the intention to spew this toxic energy. Even Olivia Chow was at first tepid in her response to one noted racist expression at a recent debate.


It could be argued that campaign debates are not the forums to raise the matter of race relations, but if people are bringing these issues into the debate settings then it demands such a discussion, or rather, discussions.


Yet, such discussions cannot overlook the matter of rising poverty in this city. For it is among those most disadvantaged neighbourhoods that these voices of intolerance are most heard.


Municipal government is by far the closest we have to grassroots influence. Councillors come to our doors to ask for our votes and we expect that they have a good understanding of the character and needs of the areas they seek to represent. But it would benefit every person who is seeking to be elected to get to know the entire city. Everyone needs to get the whole picture, so they are all on board in addressing this growing intolerance. Poverty and joblessness are the cancers at the root of this problem. Make no mistake.


A note on Thanksgiving Day…

The kids call it “Turkey Day” but call it what you will, is it best to have one day to feast and express one’s gratitude for what we are given? Studies show that people who practice thankfulness every day, as a way of life, experience a better quality of life. Let’s commit to counting our blessings.


Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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