An issue not so far from home.
As many may know, Jagmeet Singh was recently chosen as the new leader of the federal NDP party. His election comes after a highly publicized campaign, with many cheering him on as the first visible minority leader of a Canadian party. But, while many are celebrating his win and the representation and significance it holds, others are not. On any recent Facebook post by the federal NDP party or Huffington Post, racist comments abound. From calling Singh a ‘diaperhead’ to predicting the end of the NDP party, from claims of rigged voting to questions about how his religion will govern his politics (with one commenter claiming he and other Sikh men abuse women), the ignorance and intolerance is profound and disappointing.
And these beliefs can be found not only on Facebook. The National Post uploaded an article discussing how many believe that Singh’s religion will lose him votes. Maclean’s wrote an article about how he has to “win” Canada over, specifically Quebec where religious headgear is a political problem, and I am sure that most have seen the video of Singh being accosted at a rally by a woman yelling about his involvement with Sharia law and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The reality for Singh is that although he has entered a revolutionary position as the first visible minority party leader, many Canadians were not prepared to deal with it. We claim to be a tolerant country, but our first possible election of a non-white man is highly contested. We are a multicultural country that cannot accept a turban because it evidently signifies terrorism. We are “better than America” yet still cannot endure minorities in public spaces. We can let them into our country if they understand their place, but once they begin to recognize their humanity and encroach on our lives, they must be gone.
“The reality for Singh is that although he has entered a revolutionary position as the first visible minority party leader, many Canadians were not prepared to deal with it.”
Sadly, this is not the case solely for Jagmeet Singh. It is something that occurs right here as well, on campus and in Kelowna. A second-year Indigenous Studies major shared a story of racism that she experienced right in her own residence building; she left her room one night in her first year and encountered a drunk individual, who looked at her and asked: “Do Indians still scalp their enemies?”. The student was so uncomfortable and shocked that she turned right back into her room, not feeling safe enough to leave when that group was outside.
Another second-year student shares an experience that happened to him in Kelowna, “When I was walking around the mall trying to catch my bus I noticed a gentleman looking at me and laughing at me. I approached him and asked, “why [was he] laughing at me?” He responded “get away from me or else,” while he rolled a fist in his hand. As I walked away from the situation all I heard from the back was “why do you cut that off?” I didn’t want to engage with this man, so I continued to walk the other way and avoided any other comments he was yelling at me.”
It is shocking to hear of these stories, both Singh’s and the UBCO students. They serve as a reminder to all of us that Canada is not entirely tolerant, not entirely accepting. We may believe that our country, and our campus, is better than others, but the reality is that racism exists in both. Singh’s position as the first visible minority party leader is significant and important, as are the organizations on campus for minorities (APS, IPS, and the like). However, there is a lot of work to be done before we can claim our country and our campus as completely tolerant, and the sooner we recognize that, the better. As one of the second year students says, “The only thing about racism is that we are all people at the end of the day, and if we look at the colour of our skin, there [are] only a slight variations in our genes that change the colour of our pigment. If someone stands in the sun for a longer period of time, the colour of my skin changes, so why is this a problem? Why is there a discrepancy that I am a bit darker and wear a religious headdress, while someone might be a lighter complexion and wear a cross around [their] neck?”