The big, racist, sexist, homophobic elephant in the room

Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, celebrates Pride Week in Toronto as supporters cheer on. (Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons)

Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, celebrates Pride Week in Toronto as supporters cheer on. (Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons)

Three white guys and a Chinese-Canadian immigrant woman walk into a mayoral debate.

A white, grey-haired, older male audience member stands up and takes the mike.

“With due respect, this is directed to Ms. Chow,” he begins. “I’ve heard you talk about your immigrant background and how important it was, etc. I presume, in this room, there are plenty of people with the same background. I, myself, am the son of an immigrant.

“However, what we have done…founded companies or (join) professions — what I do know indicates that you haven’t been in that position. You’ve been a city councillor — public person. You’ve been a member of parliament — public person. And unfortunately, I’m old enough to remember when you were a city councillor and living in (subsidized) housing for free. I remember these things. What I would like to know is, explain to me, what you think of these things that qualifies you to be mayor of the largest city in Canada, with a budget bigger than most provinces?”

I think it’s important to put that entire question on the page so I can get to the punchline.

The joke is that Chow, a municipal and federal politician for more than two decades, gets questioned on the legitimacy of her running for office given, among many reasons, that she’s a first-generation Chinese immigrant. Meanwhile, the white guys, Doug Ford, John Tory and Ari Goldkind, all get a free pass.

The most hilarious part: the moderator asks if any of the white guys — Ford, Tory and Goldkind — want to comment on the exchange between the Chinese-Canadian immigrant woman, Olivia Chow, and the older white man. They don’t.

Not a word in support of Chow as an immigrant, or someone who utilized subsidized housing. Nor did any of them label the statement for what it was: racism.

Toronto has a problem, and no one wants to admit it. We’ve become a city of bigots.

That’s not to say that every single person in Toronto is a bigot, or prejudiced. Unfortunately, the louder people (not to mention the current mayor, Rob Ford) are racist, sexist and homophobic. When Ward 27 Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam took office in 2010, it was the first time an openly lesbian person was elected to council, a historic moment met with little fanfare — to Wong-Tam it signified how the city had “transcended what we would call politics of identity.” In late September, Wong-Tam shared a threatening letter that said: “We don’t want any faggots like you in public office. I support Ford Nation.”

“This retrograde vernacular that (Ford) seems to banter around that’s very much steeped in hate-laced language has now, I think in many ways, emboldened people who claim to be his supporters,” she told me in a phone call.

But Rob Ford is not the only one at fault. Councillor and mayoral candidate Doug Ford, in the aftermath of racist remarks directed at Chow, announced at a press conference: “I don’t condone that.” This coming from the man who, months previous, said, “You can be racist against people that eat little red apples, you can be racist against people that have a drinking problem, you can be racist against people that are too fat. So that’s my answer to that.”

At the proudTOvote mayoral debate, John Tory was questioned about his comments that he’d defund gay pride festivities if the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was allowed to march.

He said he will make sure policies were changed to make the term “Israeli apartheid” a violation of the city’s human rights policy, which is nothing less than censorship against Pride Toronto. These are just a few of the innumerable transgressions of the so-called leaders of the city against marginalized groups. All of them legitimize prejudiced and hateful behaviour.

This isn’t even beginning to address the endless stream of sexist language used against women in public office, especially Chow. A Toronto Star investigation found that 1,756 “racist, sexist and other offensive posts” had been removed from her Facebook wall since the start of her mayoral campaign.

“The first thing that we need to do is acknowledge that it’s there, and to name it,” says Wong-Tam. “Especially to those who are allies, who claim to support diversity, who claim to support the celebration of tolerance, who claim they support multiculturalism.

Our leaders have inflamed a new wave of hatred and intolerance in Toronto and have allowed it to grow. That’s no joke.

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