If one more person tells me to posthumously respect Rob Ford I’m going to lose it. Even if we disregard him lying about smoking crack, he was objectively a bad mayor. He was accused of drinking in his city hall office, verbally and physically abusing his staffers, and frequently missing work. This is a man who said that he felt sympathy for cyclists, but stated that their deaths were “their own fault at the end of the day.” He claimed that he “didn’t understand a transgender … is it a guy dressed up like a girl or a girl dressed up like a guy?” and that Asian people “sleep beside their machines” and “work like dogs” (I believe this was an embarrassing attempt at a compliment). Here was a man who — as mayor of Toronto — skipped the pride parade almost every year of his term, despite the flag raising taking place directly outside his office. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Despite his controversial history, there have been calls to memorialize Ford. A poll demanded a statue of him in Toronto. His casket was displayed for visitation with an honour guard in city hall for the week before his full funeral procession. This is completely unprecedented for a mayor who did not die while in office.
This level of respect for the dead is selective. Media outlets had no problem portraying Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin — Black unarmed teenage boys — as suspect or criminal after they were killed. I’m willing to bet that Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe will not be gifted with sympathetic eulogies. Who we choose to honour posthumously has nothing to do with reputation or controversy. If it did, Ford would not be viewed as a remotely sympathetic figure. It has little to do with lifetime achievement, as Ford’s state funeral is eclipses other former Torontonian mayors, including others who were significantly more effective at their jobs.
I can’t even begin to fathom how it feels to prematurely lose a parent. However, dying does not absolve you of your sins.
Posthumous respect is dependent on race and power. Would we have cared about Ford’s death if he had been a crack smoking racist office worker? How would we have treated Ford if he was a criminal Black mayor? We seem to only be comfortable respecting the dead when they are powerful White men, regardless of virtue. This begs the question, why do we feel the need to absolve him in the first place? Do we feel sympathy for his family? Do we feel guilt for the ways we treated Ford when we was alive? We have nothing to gain from rehabilitating Toronto’s most infamous mayor, yet we have everything to lose. What does it mean when a city that prides itself on diversity and acceptance gives a full funeral procession to a racist homophobe? Why are we more sympathetic towards him than we are towards the people whose lives he negatively affected?
No one should have to suffer the impact of cancer the way the Ford family has. I can’t even begin to fathom how it feels to prematurely lose a parent. However, dying does not absolve you of your sins. In the age of information it is often easier to cling to uncomplicated narratives: a man is dead and he has left behind a family and a legacy. We feel we ought to mourn. Forgotten are the consequences of his actions. Behind every one of Ford’s ignorant comments was very real prejudice that directly impacted his constituents. His death has not changed this. Even if we can reverse the damage he has done, I will continue to speak ill of the dead.
Photo Credit: Maclean’s