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Diversity In Politics Is Another Reason I'm Grateful To Be Canadian

Our next prime minister may very well be a turban-clad Sikh man who can both proudly observe his religion and represent his country.

10/10/2017 17:23 EDT | Updated 10/10/2017 17:24 EDT

While I scrolled through my Instagram feed this past weekend, I was served a hearty helping of turkey dinners, pumpkin patches and family feast shenanigans. While many of us shared the highlight reels from our Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations, I couldn't help but think of our friends south of the border.

Yes, there is always something to be grateful for — but this year, more than ever, I feel the vast differences in our two countries and how difficult the holidays will be for so many Americans that have lost their homes to hurricanes, lost their loved ones to gunfire (93 lives taken daily through the barrel of a gun) and lost hope in a government that cares little about them or their rights. Always a fiercely proud Canadian, I feel an abundance of pride and gratitude in calling the True North my home.

Mark Blinch / Reuters
New Democratic Party federal leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh shakes hands with a woman at a meet and greet event in Hamilton, Ont. on July 17, 2017.

Diversity and inclusivity in Canadian politics

Just over a week ago history was made when Jagmeet Singh became the first ever non-white leader of a major political party in Canada. Singh, a criminal defence lawyer and the son of immigrants from Punjab, India, became the leader of Canada's New Democratic Party winning 53.6 per cent of his party members votes.

His victory made headlines worldwide as a groundbreaking step toward diversity and inclusivity in Canadian politics. It was monumental not just for Sikhs, but for all South Asians across the country. It allowed us to envision what the emerging face of leadership in our country can look like — one that is both diverse in culture and thought. And it demonstrated a move towards minorities becoming part of the mainstream.

He wants to celebrate his religion rather than try to fit in.

Singh is a proud Sikh and his cultural identity has always been a key facet in how he represents himself. Known for his vibrantly coloured turbans, he explained in an interview for GQ magazine that he deliberately wears such bright bold colours because he wants to celebrate his religion rather than try to fit in:

"Throughout my life, I realized that people would stare at me because I stood out. Some may feel awkward about that. Being stared at makes you feel self-conscious. I felt that if people are going to stare at me, I might as well give them something to look at. [laughs] I saw it as a chance to transform an awkward situation into an opportunity to show people who I really am. I wanted to show that I was confident and sure of myself — that I wasn't afraid of who I was."

He went on to explain:

"A beard and a turban sometimes conjure up negative associations, but if you see someone with a lime-coloured, bright orange or pink turban, it disarms people's stereotypical notions of this image and it disarms people from those stereotypes. It became a way for me to extend my platform as a politician."

According to a new Angus Reid poll, much of Canada is in agreement with his sentiments. Seventy-seven per cent of Canadians agreed with the statement that "ultimately, a politician's religious or cultural identity shouldn't matter — only their policies should." On the flip side, half of respondents to the poll said "some or most" of their family and friends wouldn't vote for a party led by an observant Sikh man. Much of the resistance comes from Quebec, with 47 per cent claiming they wouldn't vote for an observant Sikh man.

HuffPost Canada
Then a leadership hopeful, Jagmeet Singh speaks at the NDP leadership debate hosted by HuffPost Canada on Sept. 27, 2017.

Part of Singh's appeal, though, is that he is not letting hate get in his way. During a campaign event, Singh was heckled by a white woman who accused him of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and trying to impose Sharia law in Canada. Singh didn't respond to her racism or even explain that he wasn't a Muslim. Instead, he plainly replied:"We believe in love and courage, we don't want to be intimidated by hate."His response was caught on video and went viral online with over 35 million views. It is that type of attitude that is overcoming the hate and will hopefully also change the outcome of the next poll to a more optimistic one.

Much like Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, Singh has gained quite a lot of popularity for his fashionable attire, social media savvy and charm. In line with his party, his political priorities include reducing income inequality, increasing access to affordable housing and tackling climate change. And as a man who has been discriminated against because of the colour of his skin and even carded by the police, he hopes to play a role in preventing racial and cultural discrimination.

Our next prime minister may very well be a turban-clad Sikh man who can both proudly observe his religion and represent his country.

Don't get me wrong: with Singh's win, I haven't become disillusioned with reality. I'm not living in some sort of maple-syrup Utopia where I believe all hate has been eradicated and white supremacy no longer exists. Diversity in politics has actually been painfully slow — think molasses. Over a century in the making, William Hubbard, the son of slaves, became the first non-white person to hold political office in a major city in Canada in 1894. Since then, several other non-white politicians have made their mark, but never to such high levels of leadership. So, yes, this is a pretty big deal and I will celebrate this win loud and proud.

Singh's win marks resounding history-making progress

I am grateful to live in a country where diversity in politics is embraced — to live in a country that, save for its treatment of Indigenous peoples, understands that we are a land of immigrants — and where it is a reality that our next prime minister may very well be a turban-clad Sikh man who can both proudly observe his religion and represent his country with 100 per cent Canadian love, courage and respect.

Additional highlights from my Canadian politics gratitude list:

  • I am quite confident if our country is faced with natural disaster, our prime minister won't be hurling insults and/or paper towels at us in our desperate time of need.
  • We may have to worry about our breasts, but not the health-care bills that take care of those boobies.
  • We recognize that women's rights are human rights.
  • We respect LGBTQ as a community, not as criminals.
  • We have a Second Cup, not a Second Amendment.

Meera Estrada is a Fashion & Culture Expert. Follow her on Instagram @meera_fusia and Twitter @MeeraEstrada.

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