Dear Allies: The Oppressed Have Every Right To Be Angry & Defiant
Allies shouldn’t need a reason to be allies; they should be cognizant of the injustices rampant in the world and want to change the world for the better.
By Sarah Khan
Recently, Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh was heckled by a white woman while he was conducting a meet-and-greet in Brampton, Ontario. Singh, who is Sikh, faced against a woman who has since been identified and tied to local white supremacist groups in Toronto; he endured her ignorant claims that he was going to bring about sharia law–an Islamic ideology, very much different from Sikhism–to which Singh responded with impressive patience and compassion.
Claiming that he and the attendees didn’t want to be “intimidated by hate” and that no one wanted “hatred to ruin a positive event,” Singh began calming talking over the woman with phrases like “We welcome you. We love you. We support you” and “We believe in your rights.” Putting aside the problematic idea of welcoming or supporting yet alone loving someone who believes in a racial hierarchy, Singh’s level-headed handling of his heckler is being touted as the ideal way to deal with those with whom you disagree.
It goes back to the fact that people don’t seem to realise that anti-Islamic or racist or sexist beliefs are not just something with which to disagree. A difference of opinion is over something that doesn’t negatively affect the lives of millions of people and doesn’t continue to uphold a system of oppression for pretty much anyone who isn’t a rich, white cis male. Whether apple or pumpkin pie is better is a difference of opinion; believing that every brown person is Muslim and thus an misogynistic fanatic or terrorist is a human rights issue. Pumpkin pie will be okay if people hate it — people of color will not.
This story has been shared by many people as well as written on by many major news sources, and all of them seem to state the same thing: love conquers all. It reinforces the narrative that kindness, patience and love is all that is needed to change the world; it implies that anger is not useful or appreciated; it reinforces the idea that allies will only care about an oppressed group if the members of that group are inherently nice to them and patient with their ignorance. It puts the onus of change on the oppressed and it’s the oppressors relieving themselves of the responsibility to use their privilege to change the world so people don’t need a reason to be angry.
A lot of my own (often white) friends have shared the video of Singh’s reaction to the heckler with captions boasting how love is all we need and kindness conquers all. This hippie-dippy bullshit coming from people who otherwise consider themselves (and usually are) staunch intersectional feminists yet fail to view this interaction with an intersectional lense. White allies now hold Singh as an example of how the oppressed “should” handle their oppressors rather than realising that Singh’s handling of the heckler was his personal choice & not a one-size-fits-all model for the oppressed.
First of all and most obviously, he is a cis man and was being heckled by a cis woman. That along gives him a small advantage. Secondly, he’s being heckled at a meet-and-greet organized by him and his team. Therefore, all the attendees are more or less his supporters and presumably are willing to jump to his defense if necessary. Third, he’s a celebrity, albeit a local one, and therefore has more protection than the average Sikh man in Brampton would. Singh can afford to be kind and compassionate and preach love and courage to his heckler because he is in a position of power.
Singh can afford to be kind and compassionate and preach love and courage in the face of a heckler. At the same time, though, he’s a brown man running for a political position on a left-wing party in a country that still clings to Britain’s apron strings. Singh also can’t afford to be anything but kind and compassionate. An angry or hateful reaction would tarnish his political career.
Allies shouldn’t need a reason to be allies; they should be cognizant of the injustices rampant in the world and want to change the world for the better. And a big part of that is acknowledging that people are oppressed in various ways and that they have every right to be angry.
Allies need to stop holding people like Jagmeet Singh on a pedestal because they like how calm he was without acknowledging all the privilege that allowed him to be that way. They need to consistently put their own feelings aside when called out and take the time to do some self-criticism because we can’t all afford to be Jagmeet Singh and we shouldn’t have to in order to be heard.
Author Bio: Sarah Khan is a Toronto-based editor and writer, a Marxist of the Groucho tendency, and raging intersectional feminist killjoy. You can follow her on Twitter @sarathofkhan.