During the leadership race of the New Democratic Party of Canada, there was a great deal of racism directed towards the man that eventually won, Jagmeet Singh. You wouldn’t know it from the way it was covered, though. Jennifer Bush and her heckling were what got the attention of the general public, something that the general public could decry. That was the story that got international attention. But that wasn’t remotely the only racism Singh’s campaign dealt with.
No, the bigger issue was the subtle racism, disguised as concern or politely intellectual questions. The racism from people that aren’t racists. The way the media handled every story about Singh, like how his fundraising slowing, even when it was still more than any other candidate had raised, was depicted as a failure. The white liberals that want the NDP to win, and think that only a white person can make that happen, because can a man that wears a turban win in Quebec?
Growing the membership of the party can only be a good thing for it. And yet there was a noticeable difference in the way Singh’s supporters were treated vs the supporters of other candidates. Voters that were inspired to join the party because of Singh – many of them people of colour drawn to him because of his work to end carding in Toronto – are considered less committed or reliable members than those who joined for another candidate. No one accused members signed up by Angus, Caron, or Ashton of only being committed to their candidate, but Singh’s supporters were accused of trying to “take over” the party, as if they didn’t have as much right to a seat at the table and a voice in the vote as anyone else. The NDP allows people as young as fourteen – below the voting age in actual elections – to vote in their leadership race. Yet instead of questioning the dubious wisdom of such a policy, they questioned Singh’s adult voters.
It became a question of some people not wanting to vote for him, not out of any issue with his policies, but because he’d be too big a risk – not because they’re racist, but because other people are. He should stay in his place and wait his turn, because the country isn’t ready for him, as if that’s a problem with him and not with racist voters. Newsflash: the closest the country has ever come to electing the NDP was in 2011. After Jack Layton’s death, Tom Mulcair was a “safe choice”. That safe choice lost the party a huge number of seats. Maybe not so safe.
Singh’s candidacy was treated as an insurgency, ostensibly because of his status as a provincial politician, but seemingly more because of him being a Sikh man. It’s silly to suggest that somehow, Singh is a huge risk and going to harm the party’s chances. We’re talking about the NDP. The best they’ve ever done was official opposition under Layton, and they lost a huge number of those seats in the 2015 election. Singh has proven himself to be a very effective campaigner. And we should never underestimate his intelligence – oftentimes, the claim is that he’s all flash and no substance, but that claim has little merit. It stems from the media focus on his clothes and social media presence, and ignores his law degree, policy positions, and ability to motivate people to get out and vote. He has the ability to inspire people as well as the drive to win. Arguably, he’s a safer bet with a greater chance of returns than any of the other candidates were.
Of all the major political parties in Canada, the NDP is the one with the most consistently progressive stances. But sometimes it feels to me like a party of white liberals. People that support minorities, because they’re not racist, but are reluctant to give us a seat at the table in terms of political representation. In a lot of ways, we’re votes, not people. We’re viewed as a threat, rather than part of the team.
Singh and I share a hometown. I haven’t lived in Windsor since I finished grade eight. It’s been struggling economically for a long time, with its lack of ability to establish any lasting industry. It’s not what I’d call beautiful. There’s a huge wealth disparity. Despite all of that, it’s home. It’s where I grew up. It’s far from perfect, but I want it to be better, because it’s home. I’m all for challenging bad policies. I fully support people that voted for other candidates because they sincerely believed they had better positions. I’m not currently eligible to vote because I’ve been out of the country for too long. But had I been able to vote, I would have been reasonably happy with any of the leadership candidates. I don’t agree with Singh on everything. But I do think he is a good man. He recognizes the good and acknowledges the bad and believes that we can make it better.