When Jagmeet Singh won the NDP leadership race, the Canadian Green Party leader pulled a Becky as fuck move on Twitter
Last weekend, Jagmeet Singh became the first person of colour to become the leader of a major federal political party in Canada. Yes these are settler politics, so all this is still colonial nonsense to the nth degree, but I have to admit that in terms of optics and my selfish personal gain I like this news. Singh knows how to work the political scene in the age of social media. His fundraising campaign was on point, and if by some miracle he became Prime Minster of Canada (super wishful thinking, but a nice fantasy), people around the world would continue to tell me that my nation’s leader is hot. He has shown us that he knows how to control the narrative, a skill that won him the leadership race.
For anyone who isn’t Canadian, you may have seen Singh in a viral video where he’s verbally attacked by a vicious white woman at an event. At this point in the campaign, he was a distance third in the leadership race. The reason why the video went viral? He responded by acknowledging the woman’s rights and sending love and support her way. I loved his response because I am always striving for loving kindness because my default when encountering these racist situations is rage. Pure rage. If that had been me, I would have probably punched her in the face out of fear that she was about to attack me and I would be in jail now.
But celebrating his response can be problematic, a suppression of the legitimate feelings that POC experience when enduring a traumatic experience. In an essay for Maclean’s, “Why should Jagmeet Singh have to meet racist heckling with ‘love and courage’?,”Rachel Giese writes:
When I think of Bush [the racist heckler in the video], up in Singh’s face and itching for a fight, I think about how frightening and hurtful that must have felt for some people in attendance, how in her attempts to demean Singh, Bush was also trying to demean them. I think about the power dynamics at play: Bush’s entitlement in accosting a public figure, because as a white woman, she doesn’t get routinely harassed or questioned by police, and Singh’s careful restraint, because he is someone who has been routinely harassed and questioned due to his race and his turban. (He’s been stopped by police close to a dozen times, beginning when he was 17.) The stakes of what could be perceived as a less-than-perfect reaction are so, so much higher for Singh, both as a politician and a person.
Which brings me to this: Singh winning the NDP federal leadership is a threat to white supremacy, so of course a “nice liberal” had to jump in and smear shit all over Singh’s celebratory moment.
Let’s break this down. Singh, a Sikh man, has a huge moment on the national stage. He writes a celebratory tweet announcing that he intends to work towards becoming the next Prime Minister of Canada. As the new leader of the NDP, this is now possible if the party wins the majority of seats in the next federal election.
Elizabeth May, a white woman who is the leader of the Green Party (for anyone who isn’t Canadian, it’s probably similar to the Green Party in your country in that they make a lot of noise while having no chance in hell of ever winning the majority of seats in Parliament), comes in with a “bless your heart” kind of welcome, and immediately explains Canadian politics to Singh.
May had the opportunity to simply say, “Congratulations and welcome to federal politics.” If she wanted to pull an Art of War kind of move, she could have also written something along the lines of “I look forward to besting you.” Which, if you’re familiar with the Art of War is what she has to do because her party has zero fucking power and “All warfare is based on deception.” May has to puff up and appear big because she’s so small she’s a just a mere speck on an island on the west coast of the country, a place that’s a political dead zone. I would have no problem with her if she did this straight up sort of gangsta chest thumping.
Instead, she goes for a racist micro-aggression, using the white supremacist tactic of condescension. The interjection “…but Canada does not elect Prime Ministers” can be read in two ways: it casts doubt on Singh’s intelligence/competence or it implies that he doesn’t understand the Canadian system because he is other, foreign. Whichever way you want to interpret this, she is putting a person of colour who has achieved a big success in his place. Every POC has experienced this at some point. Sometimes it is getting pulled over for driving a nice car and other times it’s being treated like the help when you are a guest at a party. Any time a POC gains any sort of power, someone immediately shakes her fingers in our face telling us there’s no room in the club for us. I cannot imagine May would have the gall to write that tweet if Niki Ashton had won the leadership race.
Before you tell me that this is politics as usual, May could have called Singh out on a legitimate matter: the new NDP leader backed Wab Kinew despite the latter’s domestic assault charges. She could have taken it as an opportunity to amplify the voices of many Indigenous women who have taken Singh to task on this matter. But she chose to show her true Becky self. In doing so, she became the socially acceptable version of a racist heckler.