The author of this article is also the Constituency Assistant for the Edmonton-Strathcona Constituency Office of the provincial NDP party. Although ideologically associated, Alberta’s NDP is not a subsection of the federal NDP party.
Partisan politics aside, Jagmeet Singh’s victory as the federal New Democratic Party’s new leader this past Sunday was a huge win for all people of colour. For the first time in Canadian history, a turban-wearing Sikh will be in the running for Prime Minister.
Growing up as a young person of colour, I didn’t have very many role models in politics. In high school I was one of the few women of colour who aspired to work in governance. When people questioned my career goals I never had anyone I could point to and say, “look at them, they look like me and are doing what I want to do.”
Singh is not only an inspiration for youth, but for racialized bodies as a whole. He will be the first to represent the diverse voices of Canada at the head of a federal party. Having faced many of the same struggles we go through, he is not only relatable but has a deep understanding of our pain. He has been stopped by the police simply because of the colour of his skin and ridiculed for his religious beliefs. We saw this firsthand when a heckler showed up at a recent campaign event.
Furthermore, the reaction Singh’s victory has received in the media reflects the ignorance and prejudice that’s still prevalent across our country. Margaret Wente, a journalist for the Globe & Mail, describes Singh with words like “exotic” and says his turban is “a brilliant branding device.” She completely fails to recognize the religious significance of his turban and kirpan. Yes, his image may have helped him win but it is also a part of his identity. The way journalists have framed Singh’s win is an incredible disappointment. As Vice puts it, “Canadian media aren’t sure how to handle a non-white party leader yet” and it’s a problem that will sadly only get worse as Singh gears up for his federal campaign.
In contrast to questionable media coverage, Singh’s win was also quickly recognized at the world stage. People all over the world have been reacting to the news and showing solidarity on social media sites. The New York Times and Time Magazine are closely following Singh’s rise to power. Hopefully this kind of coverage will encourage other countries to elect people of colour to their governments and be willing to openly discuss issues of race.
Simply put, Parliament and its policies have been too white for too long. I have high hopes for Singh and the fight to make the Hill more accurately reflect the Canadian population. His stances on social justice issues are promising and have made me optimistic about the future of Canadian politics. Singh has empowered young activists of colour and mobilized communities to start important dialogues. Hopefully these conversations will come to the forefront of Parliamentary discussions in 2019.
I never thought a Sikh man would have a chance at becoming our next Prime Minister. So my fellow people of colour, as Jack Layton once said: “Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.” Have wild dreams and fight for your rights because who knows, maybe you’ll have the privilege of leading our country someday.