BY TOMMY DESORMEAUX
Many people are talking about Justin Trudeau’s apology and the impact his shocking blackface photos could have on the election. However, to Canadians like Sheridan Professor and Coordinator Michaelann George, this moment is about more than politics.
George feels the damage done is less about the scandal “‘in and of itself.” She says the blackface photos are “indicative of who we are as Canadians.”
On September 18, TIME Magazine published a story revolving around a photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed as Aladdin with full body brown make-up.
The Prime Minister was quickly condemned — Twitter users to international politicians decried the photos and insisted Trudeau must apologize.
Since the original TIME article, two new examples of Trudeau dressing up as other races were uncovered, including a high school performance of a Harry Belafonte song where he wore black make-up.
In the weeks since the story broke, much of the discussion around Trudeau’s past has involved speculation about how the photos will affect his chances of being re-elected in October. However, national polling since the incident shows that there has been little difference in the popularity of the leading candidates, although there has been some data showing that left-leaning voters might be more likely to vote NDP.
Much of the commentary in the ensuing weeks revolved around the idea that these photographs make Trudeau’s stated views on racial equality and inclusion hypocritical. Detractors are comparing this instance to Andrew Scheer claiming that he should now be considered more suitable for the Prime Minister’s office. On the other hand, Liberal supporters are pointing to Scheer’s checkered history with LGBTQ issues as a means to defend Trudeau.
Jagmeet Singh, federal NDP leader, believes that discussing politics in this moment misses the point. In an interview with Global News, Singh sent a message to young Canadians who are experiencing racism across the country and implored them to, “not give up on Canada.”
What is disturbing according to George is how little has changed in Canada over the years. To her, there is little difference between using makeup to imitate an African American and imitating any other oppressed race.
“Whiteness is still dominant,” she says, “this country has a history of racism and degradation.”
White anglo-Canadians dressing as minority groups for entertainment is nothing new in this Country. Performers from the U.S. and Canada held shows in Toronto in 1841, mocking African Americans with their faces painted with charred cork.
George believes that politically, Trudeau’s apology was pitch perfect, describing it as “humble” and “heartfelt.” What’s more important to her right now though, is to see this as a “teachable moment for the nation.”