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Why Are Black People So Committed to Supporting Rob Ford?

07/23/2014 08:51 EDT | Updated 09/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Anyone paying attention to the shameful circus that Rob Ford has made of Toronto's mayoralty has surely noticed that black Torontonians are among his staunchest supporters. The apparent support of black community members for Ford has even led Rob's brother and campaign manager, Doug, to boldly declare that in the coming October 2014 election, Rob Ford "is going to have more votes in the black community than President Obama".

In service of Rob Ford, we have seen black people being strategically staged to form the physical backdrop for an interview with Anderson Cooper, politically pawned in a 'white saviour'-sapped press conference, and made to form the impassioned plurality of cheering supporters at a community event. Indeed, the proportion of Black people that can be publicly seen and heard supporting Rob Ford on television and radio far outstrips the 8.4% that Blacks represent within the general population of the city.

The timidity with which we as Canadians are socially trained to tiptoe around issues of race within our borders has left mainstream media almost entirely mum on a critical question that tears at many Canadians' collective political consciences:

Why (the hell!) are black people so committed to supporting Rob Ford?

Recently, the Toronto Star demonstrated more moral courage than most when it featured an article on just this question. As the Star's article revealed, Black Torontonians' religious support of Rob Ford can be generally categorized along two distinct but interconnected streams:

Black people support Rob Ford because:

1. As the popularized falsehood succinctly articulated by Rob Ford's brother, Doug, goes: "No one in this city supports the black community more than Rob Ford. No one. Bottom line. Zing. Done. OK? No one."

and/or relatedly;

2. As poignantly summed up by Andray Domise (a current candidate for Toronto City Council), Black Torontonians "legitimately feel utterly let down by their government [which has acted as a] political class that, from [Black Torontonians'] point of view, could not care less about Black people's quiet struggle."

These two general statements reflect the dominant perspectives being expressed by and among Toronto's Black Canadian communities. So, whether true or not they represent the word on the streets.

But so what? Why should Canadians outside of Toronto care about all this?

I will tell you why.

The above-noted answers hint at a most troubling Canadian truth. It is a truth that makes national significance of the very local question of why Black Torontonians so ardently champion a mayor that is known to have referred to them as have-nothing"niggers" and "fucking minorities". It is a truth that has deep implications for Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

And what might that truth be, you ask? That, in socio-economic terms, Canadian multiculturalism is a failed national project.

That might seem harsh, but it benefits us all to be honest with ourselves and recognize that adopted in 1971, enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and further enacted in law in 1988, Canadian multiculturalism is a socio-economic failure that now stains our national mosaic.

There is nothing new in pointing out the failure(s) of multiculturalism. However, what has yet to be engaged as a public conversation is the consideration that, as our society's seeping open secret, the socio-economic failure of multiculturalism is what explains the festering phenomenon of black support for Rob Ford.

To illustrate, consider these statistics:

1. In Toronto, 40 per cent of Black Canadians live below the poverty line. The figure for white Canadians is generally 10 per cent.

2. In Canada, 28% of Black Canadian households are food insecure. This is more than double the national average (12.6%).

3. The 2006 Census reveals that unemployment for Black Canadian youth is the highest among any visible minority groups at 19.6 per cent. This Census report also demonstrated that Black Canadian youth in Ontario faced an unemployment rate of 20.7 per cent. The rate for white youth is reported to have been 13.3 per cent at that time.

And yet despite all these realities and their attendant features of Black over-policing, over-incarceration and educational under-achievement, crowds of Black people remain faithful to Rob Ford.

In light of this, it can be said that aside from the continual impoverishment and neglect of Indigenous communities across Canada, multiculturalism's failure on socio-economic terms finds no greater expression today than in black Torontonians being publicly featured as the city's most raving Rob Ford nationalists.

Rob Ford's exploitation of multiculturalism's failure is evidenced by, for example, him feeling free to claim that he is Toronto's biggest supporter of Black people in the city, while at the same time consistently voting against social programs that would help to address the economic marginalization of some of Toronto's most impoverished Black children and families.

The cruel genius of Ford has exposed the fact that Canada's economically visionless character of multiculturalism allows politicians to gain feverish support through demonstrating strong identification with and even acknowledgement of communities of colour, without having to meaningfully address the realities of their impoverished conditions. If that is not the case, Ford is at very least demonstrating that there is particularly strain of morally duplicitous multiculturalism that is reserved for black people in Canada.

Either way, black Torontonians' support for Rob Ford should spark a national call to change the way we do multiculturalism in this country. Indeed, we need a new multiculturalism. This new multiculturalism, or critical multiculturalism as some have termed it, must be grounded in an economic consciousness for change. It needs to recognize and militate against the structures that have produced and maintain a racialized hierarchy of economic inequality and poverty in this country.

Without a new multiculturalism this sort, we will not be able to do away with the old version of multiculturalism that normalizes the economic marginalization of peoples of colour and Indigenous communities, and instead forces us all to settle for an over-determined serving of saris, samosas and steel bands.

If we want to get rid of Ford(s) once and for all, we have to get rid of old-style multiculturalism.

Ford is not just Toronto's mayor. He is multiculturalism's mayor.

Without a revitalized new vision for multiculturalism, your city will be next...

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