Saturday, October 11, 2014
Conservatives like John Tory seem to suffer from ideologically-driven mental blocks when it comes to "privilege"...
Ugh, just when he was doing so well, just days after I endorsed him on this blog, Toronto mayoral frontrunner John Tory told reporters last night that he doesn't believe "white privilege" exists.
It happened in a media scrum after a Jane-Finch area mayoral debate, the only one specifically dedicated to issues facing neighbourhood improvement areas (the term the city gives to its disadvantaged communities) and topics of poverty, racism, policing, and housing reportedly took centre stage.
Writes Ben Spurr of NOW Magazine:
"John Tory, who polls place as the frontrunner, has thus far avoided the kind of unforced error that has sabotaged his previous runs for office. But in a media scrum after the debate, a reporter asked him, "Does white privilege exist?" Tory's response: "White privilege? No, I don't know that it does."
"There are people who are left behind," he continued, "I think what they need is a hand up from people of all different skin colours and religions and backgrounds. That's what really I've been all about for the last number of years."
"The online backlash to his answer was swift, but the truth is he was flirting with this kind of language all night."
This took the wind of my John Tory sails last night for sure. I heard today from a friend of African-Canadian descent who had been a Tory fan all year who now thinks he can't in good conscience vote for the man.
For me, I know that white privilege exists. Without asking for it, I benefit from it everyday. I have all my life. When I walk down Toronto streets and a police car or police officers pass by, I don't flinch or worry or get scared I'm about to be carded. Such isn't the case for all black men. I can safely assume to be able to be treated decently and with respect in virtually all corners of this city (and most parts of North America, if truth be told.) I know that my country's health authorities have all the statistics long gathered on how a healthy Caucasian male my age, height and weight should live, all of which is easily obtainable online. I can turn on the TV at any given moment and find faces and stories that somehow reflect my culture and family upbringing on probably 80 to 90 per cent of the channels. I can go see a Hollywood movie and 95% of the time find that it has a sympathetic Caucasian protagonist or hero, most of them male as well.
To me, white privilege is about as deniable as gravity. Progressives like me don't want white privilege (or other forms of systemic privilege) to exist; we just can't help but notice the world for what it is. But conservatives like John Tory seem to have ideological blinders that make it impossible for them to acknowledge such realities. For them, white privilege is just an invention of the lazy or the people who prefer to engage in what they call, "victimology," or people looking to blame others for their problems.
For conservatives believe that everybody can be successful simply by working hard. They believe there are no barriers to any advancement. This position alone stems from a misconception based on their privilege. Perhaps they refuse to acknowledge all of the privileges they received in their lives (either from their families, or their higher class, or from being inside the establishment, or the Caucasian race, or being male, or being able-bodied, etc.) For them, they just worked hard, found success and since they can do it, anyone can do it. And if some people can't do it, well they're just lazy or they didn't apply themselves enough, etc. Sure, some people need a hand up, as John Tory or others might at least acknowledge.
As Spurr writes: "These kind of statements, in which Tory emphasizes his own supposed role in improving the lives of disadvantaged people over the efforts of the people themselves, make it sound like he believes marginalized people can't advance without the help of rich, goodhearted people like him. They also ignore broader issues of systemic discrimination."
Will this kind of talk hurt John Tory's campaign? I'm not sure. Toronto is 50% people of colour. It certainly has hurt his reputation in my eyes. I would've hoped that a sophisticated Toronto man of his age might've noticed by now that most Toronto black men find it difficult to hail cabs compared to white men or Asian men. That there are real barriers based on racial discrimination that people of colour have to stare down every day in this city.
In the end, Tory is just another conservative. He's made it a bit harder for me to vote for him. He's given progressives more reason to be indifferent to whether or not he can beat Doug Ford. One commenter said on this blog some progressives see benefits to DoFo winning as DoFo will be unable to achieve much of his agenda due to his poor leadership skills and personality, so into that leadership vacuum will jump other progressive council colleagues and some things may still end getting done (as we've seen in the last couple years.)
I don't buy that. A Doug Ford win would be telling the world we think the Fords have been just fine, which they have not! The city needs to move forward and take action on pressing issues, especially the transit crisis we face. John Tory could still provide that leadership. Stopping DoFo is still my top priority in this race. But I do feel more now that I will have to hold my nose tighter in order to vote for John Tory. Olivia Chow looks better in my eyes, by comparison, because she obviously understands the reality of white privilege and systemic discrimination. I don't support all of her positions either, but on these issues she's obviously far and away Tory's superior.
But she's in third place for a number of other reasons that remain valid. Consider me still a reluctant Tory supporter who'll be watching the valid polls (Nanos particularly) like a hawk until voting day on October 27th.