Update: I’ve moved Who Pays Toronto Writers to its own page!
I’ve seen a few people lamenting that the focus is on Ford smoking crack in that video and not his racist and homophobic remarks, and it’s all just too precious. The hard truth is that for the vast majority of people, using an illegal drug associated with poor black people is more scandalous, more outrageous, more offensive, more disrespectable than looking down on people for being black or gay.
Ford has said racist, homophobic and transphobic things in the past. Ford has been publicly drunk and disorderly in the past. Ford has used drugs in the past. None of this proved enough to stifle his career; none of it attracted demands to step down from such a wide range of people.
The thing is? An awful lot of the people in politics and media who are now going after Ford for smoking crack have been racist and homophobic themselves. Toronto Sun editor Lorrie Goldstein trafficking in racist stereotypes of violent, hypersexual black men, city councillor Mike Del Grande parroting “welfare queen” myths, implying that the groups overrepresented in prison just commit more crimes, etc. Councillor Denzil “Boat People” Minnan-Wong.
It’s not just about conservatives. In the original Star story Doolittle and Donovan repeated “Somali” over and over, apparently oblivious to any repercussions to using the video owners’ ethnicity as shorthand. Members of the community, like Abdi Aidid, forced the paper to revise. (The ethnicity of another key player has escaped comment.) It’s not the first time major papers have previously made a mess of covering and commenting on issues in racialized communities. And it’s not just journalists, either. Today on CP24 I heard one leftist councillor — Paula Fletcher, I think — referring to “gangbangers” as she condemned the company the mayor keeps.
All these people, they smoke pot, they drink, they drop acid, they snort coke, and it’s all right as long as you do it on your own time and don’t come to work fucked up…but stooping to crack cocaine in Rexdale…that’s something else. That’s ghetto. It transgresses the social code of this very white and middle-class sphere.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t go after Rob Ford. He is unfit for office and he’ll never be able to do his job until he tackles his personal demons. But he shields himself with the bodies of young black men and they have been collateral damage in this hunt. (Maybe soon we’ll know if that’s what happened to Anthony Smith.)
I don’t expect much worthwhile discussion of all this in the mainstream media, where the vast hordes of straight white male journalists, even if they are not overtly bigoted, tend to be clueless and deeply uncomfortable talking about things outside their experience. While they occasionally get self-righteous kicks calling out blatant racism or homophobia when it’s not one of their own, the industry of political journalism and punditry is structured in such a way that “minority” issues simply don’t get talked about, and definitely not by marginalized people themselves.
So if you want to hammer the mayor on his racism and homophobia, that’s great, but if you want the masses to care you need to take the right angle. Make it about Ford’s hypocrisy, how he pretended to care about his football team in public and then speaks of them dismissively in private, because the kids are more sympathetic if people don’t have to remember they’re black. Make it about how “fag” is a bad word, so people don’t have to confront their own feelings about male effeminacy. And don’t act so fucking shocked when a heteronormative white industry doesn’t see what the big fucking deal is.
Note: In my experience, you often need a period where people are encouraged to rant, share frustrations, assure each other they’re not imagining things, etc., before you can get down to working productively among each other. This is a polemic to that purpose.
Since I got involved with municipal politics I’ve met and befriended a lot of people in journalism—a profession that I didn’t really know much about before. I’m consistently impressed by their hard work, tenacity, and commitment to journalistic ethics: fact-checking, research, protecting people’s privacy, respecting “off the record” information, speaking truth to power.
But (of course there’s a “but”) journalists and editors and columnists themselves have power. They play an important role in determining what’s newsworthy and what’s boring. They can change not only the media landscape, but the way we go about making media. They can change how we see the people and events they’re covering.
I only rarely see people in Toronto political media talking about this.