The mayoral campaign: a discomfiting reality

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday October 08 2014 in Opinion
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One of the underlying mysteries of this mayoral campaign is that prior to his withdrawal from the race, Rob Ford was one of the leading contenders. Apart from his drug-related behaviour and his behaviour at council, over the past four years he is reported to have made remarks – some caught on tape – that are, to say the least, disparaging to the community he is supposed to serve. Yet, his popularity, especially among those to whom he has disparaged, remained high.


Thankfully, he will not be the mayor of Toronto after October 27th.


His brother, Doug, who now seeks to be the mayor in his place, brings some of his brother’s disparaging elements of race to the race. Based on some of the comments made in a debate last Sunday, and previous comments, particularly in support of his brother during his term as councillor, it would seem to me that Doug lacks the capacity to understand racism and racist behaviour.


In response to a challenge about Mayor Ford’s use of a derogatory term referring to Jews, Doug Ford began rattling off professionals who are Jews and with whom he purportedly has a relationship. This kind of response is one of the most pathetic defenses used by people who claim they are not racist – “Some of my best friends are (fill in the blank).”


Up to and including the early stages of her campaign, Olivia Chow was identified as a leading candidate for the mayoralty – indeed, the leading candidate. According to recent polls, Chow is trailing John Tory and Ford. I suspect that a significant reason for Chow’s loss of popularity has to do with the strategies of her campaign. But, she has had challenges as well, which are racist in overtone, if not directly racist. Only last week, Chow was forced to respond directly to an audience member’s racist taunts, suggesting that she “go back to China” – or words to that effect.


If elected, Chow would be the first non-White elected mayor of Toronto. She has served previously as a councillor, before stepping away to federal politics. It is likely that she may have faced racist reactions in her previous campaigns, but her successful electoral record suggests that it was not a factor. Now, with this city-wide campaign, one cannot help but wonder to what extent her race has an effect, now that the campaign is in full swing and electors begin to concretize their support.


The problem is not that we are unaware that there is an element of racism that exists in this city that will not go away. With practice, it has largely gone underground, rearing its ugly head on occasion. We have seen some of the comments that surface in response to news articles as racist snakes choose to stick their slimy heads out under the anonymity that the comment section provides. The troubling part of this is when these snakes feel comfortable to shed the anonymity and boldly make their statements in public.


This trend seemed to have become bolder since the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. Behind the claim of free speech, these snakes have taken the liberty to be more outspoken in their attack on Obama, frequently invoking his race – often only his race. In some cases, just the mere lack of respect for his position as president that is often shown, seems to suggest a racial overtone.


As noted before, while we are not as often faced with outspoken racism, we do have them and they seem to have a correlation to the growth in the United States. But conditions in this country at times give one the impression that disparaging and racist attitudes are “creepingly” becoming more tolerable. From the treatment of immigrants and refugees to foreign policy emphases, to reducing support for social programs, to crime and punishment, and more, suggest that there is a change in attitude that is being fuelled by government policies.


We have seen many attempts to understand the phenomenon as to why, in spite of the racist and disparaging comments that Mayor Ford has uttered over the past few years, members of the Black community supported his campaign for re-election as mayor. And while he will no longer be the mayor, this support for someone who expresses these attitudes cannot be dismissed.


When we should be rejecting these attitudes – including Doug Ford’s “some of my best friends” kind of comment – with a concerted outrage that would essentially force them into hiding, we tend to laugh it off.


Admittedly, over the years of facing discrimination and racial abuse, we may have developed a kind of turtle shell. We have had to. However, that does not mean that we let these insults and dehumanizing comments go unchallenged and laud those that insult us. Our right – our humanity – is being challenged. /Twitter: @pghntr

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