(AKA The Problem Isn’t That Adam Giambrone’s White, but His Whiteness is Part of the Problem)
Audra asked me to write a guest post on her blog based largely on two facts in my otherwise somewhat dull autobiography:
- I’m a white man.
- I spent the first 19 years of my life, and several chunks after that, living in the former City of Scarborough. (Motto: “Scarborough — City of the Future!”)
I don’t think this combination of things makes me exceptional, but it has blessed me with some perspective. When you grow up as a white person in an environment were you are the minority, it’s hard not to be screamingly aware of your own privilege all the time. You don’t always see it when you’re small, but by the time you hit your teens, it’s pretty hard to miss the fact that you are getting a lot of breaks that your friends are not, for no reason other than your lack of melanin. You are constantly reminded of the fact that your friends and classmates are experiencing the world differently than you are. No one shoves it in your face, or accuses you of oppressing them. It just comes up. Small reminders work their way into every social studies class discussion, every drama assignment, every basketball scrimmage.
Hopefully, this experience will leave you with a few things: an urge to lend out your privilege whenever possible to create a more equitable world; an ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes; and the firm knowledge that the idea of anti-white racism is completely laughable (at least in North America).
Audra was accused of something like anti-white racism in her recent blog post about Adam Giambrone, former TTC Chairman and Toronto mayoral candidate, and newly minted Ontario NDP candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood.
She received some flack from various corners of the Internet for pointing out that Giambrone is a white guy, and the woman he beat for the nomination — both encouraging her to run and announcing his own candidacy at the absolute last possible minute — is of South Asian descent. People seemed to think that she was using his “whiteness” as an all purpose insult, or as a self-evident reason that he shouldn’t have run against her or received the nomination.
I have three thoughts on this:
- It doesn’t seem completely ridiculous that a party which claims trumpets values such as multiculturalism, gender equality and inclusion would do everything possible to encourage people of colour and women to run for office. At minimum, you’d think they wouldn’t understand the bad optics of having white guy jump in at the last minute and bump a non-white woman who seemed to have the nomination all-but sewn up.
- Calling Adam Giambrone a white guy isn’t an insult. It’s a fact. I am also a white guy, as is Ryan Gosling, Prince Charles and Henry Rollins. I’m not offended when people call me a white guy, and I’m going to assume Ryan, Chuck and Hank aren’t either, although I haven’t asked them.
- Giambrone’s whiteness doesn’t mean he can’t represent the riding — which is over 65 per cent visible minorities — but it is part of the reason he is the most awkward fit imaginable for the job.
To put none too fine a point on it, Adam Giambrone isn’t just a white guy, he’s a fancy downtown white guy. He’s trying to represent a riding that is poorer than the provincial average, overwhelmingly non-white, and just about as far from downtown as you can get without leaving the city. (Pickering-Scarborough East is further, but as the name implies, two-thirds of the riding is in Durham.) He is a “transit guy” running in a riding where transit is so unreliable that car ownership is near-mandatory. He is a career politico/trained as an archeologist running in a riding where the most common job categories are manufacturing, retail and health and social services. He could not be more the polar opposite of the statistically average resident of Scarborough-Guildwood if he tried. And I feel like he may know it. Why else would he refuse to commit to moving to the riding if elected?
That’s the thing. Adam’s espresso fed, well-tailored, downtown fancy whiteness wouldn’t even be an unforgivable sin if he acted like he really wanted to be part of the riding. If he was stoked to buy a house off Kingston Road, if he told folks he spent 90 minutes taking the TTC from downtown, if he expressed outrage at Toronto Police Service’s practice of “carding” the neighbourhoods young men, it would be hard to take shots.
After all, it’s not like a white guy has never represented a majority-minority riding before. In fact, it’s happening in Scarborough-Guildwood at the federal level. Liberal MP John McKay is just about as pale as they come, and has been winning the riding, and it’s predecessor Scarborough East, by healthy margins since 1997. Here’s the difference between John McKay and Adam Giambrone. John McKay is a product of Scarborough schools who did his undergrad at UTSC. He’s forged links with the various cultural communities. He was a vocal opponent of Bill C-49, which essentially turned refugees into criminals. He’s gone out of his way to draw attention to the Sri Lankan goverment’s treatment of the country’s Tamil minority, and urged Canada to respond. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that John McKay is one of them.
Adam Giambrone isn’t. As far as anyone can tell, he’s never had any interest in the riding until he thought he could win it.
Chris Dart is a freelance journalist, political nerd and obsessive Raptors fan. He’s also a proud graduate of Scarborough’s Wexford Collegiate. He has the letters “COTF” tattooed on his right wrist. You can guess what it stands for. You can also follow him on twitter @ChrisDartCOTF [Also, Chris and I have been dating for nearly a year. But he did not write this post to rescue me. – Audra]