The editor of Toronto Public Health’s monthly “core clusters” newsletter, Zara Singh Khanna, has responded to complaints about her controversial column on health and cultural survival skills.
In the post published on November 4, Singh Khanna wrote about teens who “shut down their sexual power by trying to match up their sets, refusing to wear boxers, and presenting themselves as desexualized sex objects to their peers.”
The column elicited backlash on social media, with people pointing out that men and women used the word “disco” as “considered vulgar sexual slang in the African American community.”
In her response, Singh Khanna said her column was intended to raise “conversations about cultural resilience and resilience in the face of the recent urban toxic masculinity crisis.”
She noted that this was not her first foray into the subject of toxic masculinity, referencing a post on October 7 that discussed “the challenges of masculinity under Trump.” She also wrote a piece about communities being “douchebags” in September 2017, prompting “recently published articles about desexualized sex symbols, or the real-life effects of such portrayal.”
“I wrote these articles with the intent of inviting readers to reflect on the narrative,” she wrote in the response. “I also want to be clear that my intent was to promote discourse, discourse that will take us closer to the truth of what’s going on around us.”
In the Q&A, Singh Khanna said that while she grew up in India, she developed a friendship with African-American teens and felt their struggles were “very similar” to those she was facing at the time.
“In fact, their connections felt much more genuine,” she wrote. “This shared experience informed the sociological analyses I’ve drawn upon (for example: for additional context on police action in Ferguson, I shared a social media post from another journalist documenting the cover of a Chicago magazine by an African-American soldier) because many of these connections between my friendships in Toronto and Ferguson were grounded in a level of familiarity that reached beyond my race or gender.”
Singh Khanna goes on to say that she recognizes her critics have taken issue with her article because of her gender, and stresses that she cares about opening up “discussions about cultural resilience and resilience in the face of the recent urban toxic masculinity crisis.”
The backlash against Singh Khanna was not limited to social media.
In response to a report from the Black Media Talk Network, former Toronto Public Health CEO Garry Kirkwood compared backlash against Singh Khanna to the outcry that greeted the news of Ralph Joseph, a youth volunteer who was later found dead in his Ottawa apartment in February after getting caught in a “vicious cycle of threats” online.
Kirkwood criticized Singh Khanna’s column, saying that “the public health department today has to remove any content and services that have the potential to worsen the lives of gay men and others.”
Singh Khanna has served as a member of the Toronto Public Health Leadership Team. She formerly served as president of the K-Rock Record Club and helped raise over $3 million for the Toronto Public Health Foundation.