The political mastery of Singh’s dramatic House stand

    Jun 24, 2020

    OTTAWA—Canada is the mediocre white guy in middle management who thinks he’s Walter White. So basically, Canada is Thomas Mulcair. 

    This lack of self-awareness, fuelled by the aromatic scents of white supremacy, is why Canada thinks it’s not racist (in fact, I just spit out my coffee laughing at such a preposterous notion). To be honest, it is racism that creates this false sense of security. Furthermore, any country where the Indian Act is still law and where blackface is excused as a youthful indiscretion, is a racist country. Asked and answered, Canada. 

    It is within the confines of the legislative arm of the white supremacist state of Canada, that the first racialized (I honestly hate that descriptor, it sounds like a skin disease … oh wait) federal party leader, the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, was ejected from the House of Commons on June 17 for refusing to apologize for calling Bloc Québécois MP Alain Therrien a racist. With a masterful stroke of political theatre, Singh broke down what had happened, how he felt, and what brought him to that conclusion, ensconced in a bold statement that made the hearts of many people of colour in this country sing. “Anyone who votes against a motion that recognizes the systemic racism in the RCMP … is a racist,” said Singh.

    Unfortunately for the Bloc, Therrien “loves everyone” (as Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet described him), except Muslims. According to PressProgress, “as an MNA for the Parti Québécois and a member of the government that pushed forward Québec’s controversial ‘Charter of Values,’ Therrien promoted anti-Muslim content on his official Facebook page.”

    WELP. It’s almost as if people of colour know what racism is and how to identify it better, and more honestly, than white people. What a concept. 

    Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet pictured with Bloc House Leader Alain Therrien, right, in the House on March 24. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

    The denial of racism is a form of racism; it is a defence mechanism whose underlying catalyst is a sense of superiority. The denial, usually coming from those with racial privilege, i.e. white people, serves to centre and protect them from the experiences of others who have less racial privilege. Without understanding power dynamics and how they work relative to one another, you can’t understand racism. In fact, most people don’t know what it is, which means they definitely don’t know what systemic racism is. 

    But as usual, Canada is more interested in the vanity of its global brand than dealing with issues that affect those who don’t look like the white majority, which is a big reason it lost the UN Security Council seat bid, again. Just because we don’t sweep under the furniture doesn’t mean that the dirt is invisible. 

    Singh, however, seems to be hoovering from top to bottom. 

    Singh has never been particularly good on the issue of race. He’s done what racialized people in positions of power do constantly: they diminish themselves to appease the white masses by becoming agnostic to an issue that dominates their lives. Instead, his actions sought to comfort white people who were uncomfortable with his race and religion. It is the price of entry into positions and spaces of power: either strip your identity to become more like the white professional culture, or perish. 

    As we wrote in Policy Options, almost three years ago: “Regardless of their gender, people of colour have always been expected to be subservient to white people, which is why the myth of the model minority is so pervasive. A ‘model minority’ is a minority who are perceived by white people as quiet, who don’t rock the boat, who ‘succeed’ based on the erroneous but ubiquitous myth of immigrant groups coming to North America and ‘pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.’ Subservience by minority groups is expected and fetishized, and when people of colour speak out or challenge inequity it is misconstrued as aggressive, rather than being admired or even revered as it is when white people challenge an unfair system.”

    And Singh has played that role well. Until last week, that is. 

    It’s a new day and the world is changing beneath our feet with a quick, sharp pivot, and many of us racialized Canadians are done placating whiteness for acceptance. This is why #IStandWithJagmeet was trending on Twitter the day after the incident. 

    The Liberals have enjoyed the voting largess of the Black community almost exclusively for the last 40 years or so, a largess that began with Trudeau Sr. after his signing of the Immigration Act of 1976 (the same year my parents immigrated to Canada). The importance of this legislative change was that it “established for the first time in law the main objectives of Canada’s immigration policy. These included the promotion of Canada’s demographic, economic, social, and cultural goals, as well as the priorities of family reunion, diversity, and non-discrimination.”

    As one Black voter during the 2019 election confirmed: “I like the Liberal Party, I like the Trudeau family. His father did a lot for the Black community and immigrants migrating to Canada, so I take all that stuff into consideration.” This voter isn’t old enough to have lived during Trudeau Sr.’s time, but it just goes to show the strong bonds the Liberal Party enjoys in the Black community—bonds that have been extended to the son. 

    However, we are in the age of disruption. 

    And that’s what the NDP intend to do: disrupt Trudeau’s unearned enjoyment of the Black vote, the Indigenous vote, and support of other voters of colour. And that’s what last week’s declaration of the existence of systemic racism—in a House of Commons not meant for us—was intended to initiate.

    And that it did. It’s a clever piece of political mastery: Singh must’ve known there would be dissension (the fact that it came from the Bloc is not surprising) and must’ve known his words could get him kicked out. But that was the point. By taking such a dramatic stand and doubling down he’s sent a message to Canadians of colour: I stand for you. And we’ve never had any leader treat our needs with that level of respect, much less risk their reputation for us. And there’s not enough Budget 2020 money that can overcome that impression. 

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.