Few politicians have fed their white saviour complex quite so cluelessly as Doug Ford
Doug Ford loves the Black community. And they love him.
To use his words, there is no politician in this country, including Black politicians presumably, who has supported the Black community more than he has.
He crashed a Somali community meeting on gun violence on Saturday, April 7, where he proceeded to tell the assembly that what they need to do to deal with the bloodshed in their neighbourhood is bring back the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, aka TAVIS, the police unit disbanded in 2017 over the practice of racial profiling known as carding.
Ford says he doesn’t support discrimination but feels that “certain carding is required.” Of course, the community won’t be able to clarify his current position on that since he has declined an invitation to the first official provincial leadership debate, which has been organized by the Black community.
So there he was Saturday, standing at the peak (or precipice) of his political success, staring down like a newly anointed populist king.
To his subjects and those disenfranchised by the crushing wheels of capitalism – and the fear that all politicians are the tools of corporate wealth – Ford is the agent of change through which to express their rage at the system. He’s one of them.
His manner of speech may be coarse and unrehearsed, but in their minds this makes him a straight shooter.
To others who feel their right to say “Merry Christmas” to a Jew is slipping away, or oppose taking in refugees from Syria because they fear “creeping Jihad,” his offensiveness is attractive.
Let’s call it the curious case of the Black populist. Where to begin?
It makes sense when you look at populism as a political idea supporting the rights and power of ordinary people against a “privileged” elite.
Even though Ford grew up in a well-to-do area of the suburbs in Etobicoke and his father was a politician and wealthy businessman, his years as a neighbourhood drug lord brought him into contact with all sorts of people. Oh, the drug years.
It may have been nothing more than a young man engaging in a lucrative hobby (albeit for several years), but it taught him the skills he would use later in life to run dad’s multi-million-dollar business after Doug Sr. died. It would also teach him the value of relationships to people who could do things for him in return for mere crumbs from his rich man’s table.
This loyalty is the backbone of his relationship with Black people. It’s why he didn’t mind the charges of buying votes from them when he showed up at a Toronto Community Housing building in 2013 to hand out $20 bills and cheap Walmart toys to residents for Christmas. For him, the giveaways were a drop in the bucket – but for locals, the act was filled with institutional racism, wealth disparity and self-loathing.
But Ford doesn’t need social skills to be ingratiating to the Black community, or to be anyone’s white saviour. He doesn’t even need to promise them anything concrete. All he needs to do is act the part of paternalistic missionary, and they would act the part of the children he perceives them to be.
Like the original Society of Missionaries of Africa who were commonly referred to as White Fathers, you can’t get much more paternalistic than Doug Ford, who boasts about how he has chartered buses to his big house in Muskoka so his pickney could dip their toes in the lake water.
But it was a different story once he had their votes and was elected to his God-given station, where he would go about the business of balancing the budget by cutting every program built to give the people he professed to represent any chance to escape the hand dealt to them.
He promised to not raise their taxes, but imprisoned them instead in their poverty. In fact, he would allow police more power to jail their Black bodies.
Still, he and his brother flaunted their history and connection with people of colour, even while some of those captured in photographs with them have turned up dead or ended up in other tragic circumstances. Others who have had the misfortune of being associated with them have had their doors kicked down and been taken away in the middle of the night by the police. But they will say that these Black people get up to all sorts of things.
Few politicians have fed their white saviour complex quite so cluelessly as Doug Ford.
Fewer still can claim to have had quite so many connections to disadvantaged Black youth, murdered or imprisoned, or claim a history of criminal behaviour and family members with criminal associations (including the KKK).
And no politician has used the optics of “Black poverty” as a political tool to further solidify his image as the populist voice of the voiceless.
All that aside, Ford very much knows and is betting on one thing: he loves Black people, and they love him.
Byron Armstrong is freelance writer and lifelong Torontonian who was raised in the Jane-Finch community.
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