Oh, Just Apologize Already

by Guest Contributor Stacey May, originally published at the Shameless Magazine blog

Some of you may have heard that Toronto city councilor Rob Ford recently got himself into some trouble by saying the following (moronic and offensive) thing in a speech proposing that stores be allowed to open when they wish:

“Go to Hong Kong, okay? I’ve been there. You want to see workaholics? Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out … that’s why they’re successful in life. … I’m telling you, Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over, because there’s no excuses for them. They’re hard, hard workers.”

My sincere apologies if you just spat your drink all over your keyboard. Toronto’s Mayor David Miller rightly demanded that Ford apologize and Ford refused. Victoria Shen (Co-President of the Toronto Chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council) wrote a brilliant open letter in response to Ford’s comments, stating, “It is not enough to deride and be outraged by racist comments. Words are empty. Sanctions are merely palliative. We challenge those who are genuinely offended by Councillor Ford’s comments to run for office at the next Municipal election. It is the only way.”

(I’m still trying to figure out the image choice that accompanies BlogTO’s reposting of Shen’s letter, but I’ll leave that alone.)

Now, Rob Ford is not exactly known for his ability to come up with the best ideas or say the most tactful things. Torontoist lets us know he had this to say about why Toronto shouldn’t fund an AIDS prevention program:

“If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you won’t get AIDS probably. That’s bottom line.”

Of course, when it was pointed out that heterosexual women are the fastest-growing group of AIDS patients, Ford postulated

“How are women getting it? Maybe they are sleeping with bisexual men.”

For reals? How is this man allowed to serve the city of Toronto? I’ll tell you how. There are so many people who just don’t see what the big deal is when leaders say these kinds of things. There’s been a lot of arguing on the blogs about how objection to his most recent statement is “nitpicky” and people who think he should apologize are overreacting. There are even people in the “media” who say crap like this:

“This preoccupation with what people say and how they say it and finding offense in everything said is happening, I suspect, for the same reason that dogs lick their genitals. It’s because they can.”

Again: for reals? But no, there’s more. Apparently those of us who appropriate words for self-identification are hypocrites. Again, from the Canada Free Press:

“Most recently radical feminist women have begun using the C-word (which to me is probably one of the most offensive words in the English language) as an identity tag. I recall an article by the columnist Barbara Kay wherein she quoted a woman who had emailed her a proud proclamation that ‘women are c–s.’ Kay was appalled at the idea that women would be using that term as a self-descriptive term.”

You know what, cunts? I’m not even going to go there. What I am going to say is that the reason we have to call out and condemn public officials for what they say is because they have the very public power to indicate what kind of speech is okay. And hate speech is never okay, regardless of the intention (Ford said he meant it as a “compliment.”)

Just to give you an idea of why I think public officials need to be called on their hate-filled bullshit before everyone feels like they have an all access pass to spew vile rhetoric – Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern didn’t know that she was being recorded in a meeting when she launched into a speech about what she thinks of her gay and lesbian constituents. What results is a real indicator of why it’s important that public officials be held accountable for their words:

As for Rob Ford:

“I don’t know why I should (apologize),” Ford said. “People aren’t asking me to.”

Well, why don’t you go ahead and ask him to? Email councillor_ford@toronto.ca

UPDATE: From The Toronto Sun

Councillor Rob Ford says he has apologized to as many as 20 people who objected to his comments about “Oriental people.”

Ford, who is considering running for mayor in 2010, sparked controversy at last week’s city council meeting when he made comments which included “these Oriental people work like dogs, they sleep beside their machines.”

Called on by Mayor David Miller to apologize on the floor of council, Ford chose to say sorry personally to those who were offended.

Ford said yesterday that he has apologized to “15 to 20” people who contacted him.