COLUMN: The racism only one leader has to deal with

Jagmeet Singh’s grace is laudable, but shouldn’t be necessary

‘I loved his response.”

“He’s a class act.”

“I can’t fathom how he can be so disarmingly kind.”

These are the comments I received on my Facebook post when I shared the video of an exchange between a Montreal man and NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh. In a 27-second interaction, during which Singh remained calm and respectful, a random man at the Montreal market took it upon himself to inform Singh that if he ‘cut off his turban’ he would ‘look like a Canadian.’ The ‘advice’ was given almost in a conspiratorial manner.

The man leaned in as if to let Singh in on a secret. Perhaps this man thought he was being helpful – maybe giving Singh some pointers he hadn’t thought of during his campaign, or perhaps his lifetime. After suggesting to Singh to do as the Romans do, this man called after him, “I hope you win!” It doesn’t matter how many times I watch the video, I feel like I am in the twilight zone when I do.

The kind comments my friends left on my Facebook post, praising Singh for his grace, bothered me. Or rather, not the comments themselves, but the fact that Singh had no other choice but to hide the pain that any human being would feel in that situation. Please tell me how else he was expected to react. What tore at my heart more than the blatant ignorance shown by the Montreal man was Singh’s chuckle at the end of the exchange as he walked away.

That uncomfortable laugh was every person of colour who has heard this garbage one too many times and exhaustedly just rolls with it. I commend him for being able to do it, but I also know he has no choice.

Not because he’s a public figure but because, really, when you’re up against someone who believes that Canadians look a certain way – even when, on the daily, they encounter at least some of the different cultures that make up our country – what can you possibly say that will change their mind?

The idea that there is a prototypical Canadian infuriates me because it is so steeped in ignorance, it has no place in a country like ours. We are a nation of settlers and immigrants, making a home on unceded indigenous territory.

To insinuate that a real Canadian looks a certain way is not only bogus, it carries so much colonial baggage that it is impossible to unpack it all in one conversation. And so, many of us walk away from it either because we feel we have to or because we see no point in pursuing it.

Thinking of how much Singh has had to face during this election period – and throughout his lifetime – simply because he wears a turban in alignment with his faith, fatigues me. As a public figure, the camera is on him and we all sit and watch and applaud his reactions.

Just a reminder that the real story is the racism dripping from every statement uttered by the Montreal man, and the expectation of a person of colour to take it in stride.

Columnist Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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