Jagmeet Singh – Turning the Other Cheek – Demonstrating the Sikh concept of “chardi kala”
Turning the other cheek is supposed to be the Christian, or in this case, Sikh, thing to do. Yet, it’s an expectation unfailingly placed on racialized and Indigenous people who face the dual burden of facing the attack and then having their reaction unduly scrutinized and any slight used to indict their communities.
The problem with Jagmeet Singh ’s ‘love and courage’ reaction to heckler
On Sunday night, during the NDP’s eighth and final debate in the campaign to replace Tom Mulcair, leadership hopeful Jagmeet Singh introduced to many Canadians the concept of chardi kala.
Chardi kala is an important principle in Sikhism, which Singh learned from his mother. “It’s the idea of maintaining optimism in the face of adversity,” he said.
That certainly came in handy the previous night when a heckler confronted him at a campaign rally accusing him of supporting Sharia law and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The woman, Jennifer Bush, a supporter of the anti-Islamic group Rise Canada (no surprise), claimed later at an annual Ford fest (no surprise) that – surprise! — she knew Singh was not Muslim but was questioning his policies. She also claimed: “I’m not racist.”
Excuse me while I barf.
Now that’s pretty far from chardi kala. Then again, I am not on a stage trying to set an example for my supporters.
His “love and courage” reaction has since gone viral. He has been heaped with praise for taking the moral high ground, for inspiring people, and for showing his true mettle.
The reality is what choice did Singh have?
Imagine if he’d asked for her to be taken off stage.
Imagine if he’d challenged her (surely leading to a shouting match).
Imagine if he had used humour to defuse the situation.
Imagine if he did what a Canadian journalist suggested, and said, “I’m not Muslim.”
He would have been castigated for being high-handed, aggressive, not taking racism seriously or tacitly agreeing that the attack was warranted on Muslims.
Singh stated he didn’t clarify that he was not Muslim because he rejected the premise of the argument. “I didn’t answer the question because my response to Islamophobia has never been ‘I’m not Muslim.’ It has always been and will be that ‘hate is wrong,’ ” he said in a statementreleased on social media on Saturday.
We’ve seen this before.
Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was a presidential hopeful, the Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell lamented to NBC his party members’ suggestions that Obama was Muslim, as if it was a smear, because of his middle name, Hussein.
“Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian,” Powell said. “But the really right answer is: ‘What if he is?’ ”
Turning the other cheek is supposed to be the Christian, or in this case, Sikh, thing to do. Yet, it’s an expectation unfailingly placed on racialized and Indigenous people who face the dual burden of facing the attack and then having their reaction unduly scrutinized with any perceived slight used to indict their communities.
Were a Justin Trudeau or Stephen Harper in Singh’s place, their reactions, too, would be dissected, but they would not be seen as reflective of all white people.
The heckling incident was not Singh’s first brush with overt racism.
“You know, growing up as a brown-skinned, turbanned man, I’ve faced things like this before,” he said. Yet, his reaction has to pass standards set by those who’ve never experienced racism.
For eight years, Obama balanced a tight rope of not appearing weak but also not showing anger lest he be branded with the ‘angry Black man’ stereotype. Donald Trump, meanwhile, can go off the rails and not worry about representing all white people.
Anger expressed by white people is passion. The same emotion from a Black man or a turbaned man is a threat.
The position that calm forgiveness occupies on the moral high ground is indisputable. Some people may find it helps them heal and move forward.
But it’s important to acknowledge that it does nothing to end racism; on the contrary, it is the reaction that placates white comfort by leaving undisrupted the self-image of niceness and innocence.
All that the automatic expectation of forgiveness does is draw a tight boundary around expressions of pain and stifle the voices of those struggling to be heard.
Shree Paradkar writes about discrimination and identity. You can follow her @shreeparadkar