Justin Trudeau's face against a dark background.

We Hate Everything About Justin Trudeau’s Blackface Scandal

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Over the last day or so, photos and videos have come out showing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing blackface on what appears to be three different occasions (so far!). At least one was while he was in high school but another shows him dressed, complete with dark brownface makeup, as “Aladdin” at an “Arabian Nights” party at a private school when he was a 29-year-old teacher.

Trudeau has been called on from multiple colleagues and advocacy organizations to apologize and for what it’s worth, he did. And then he apologized again after the other photos came out, which he said he didn’t remember. “And I think the question is ‘How could you not remember that?’ The fact is, I didn’t understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination every single day,” he told reporters Thursday.

As a non-Canadian white person, it is extremely outside of my lane to deem those apologies acceptable or unacceptable. I do know that this is incredibly disappointing to see from over here in America, where we’re so caught up with our own outwardly, even proudly racist monster in the White House that many of us have been content to view Trudeau as the hunky, wholesome, liberal leader he appears to be from this distance.

For those more closely affected by his actual leadership, though, the history of blackface might still be disappointing and upsetting, but it’s probably not the shattering of a beautiful illusion some abroad might think. For one thing, Trudeau has long been accused of breaking or just plain forgetting campaign promises he made to indigenous voters.

BuzzFeed News’ Scaachi Koul has a good explainer of the differences in how many Canadians view Trudeau vs. his image abroad:

As for how this will impact voters looking ahead to next month’s federal election in Canada, I don’t know. But so much of the conversation happening online regarding Trudeau’s past is depressingly universal. On one side, you have people dismissing the “youthful indiscretions” of a 29-year-old man, asking who among us hasn’t made mistakes—apparently assuming that all of our mistakes can be placed on the same level as repeated public blackface, and that all of us think those sorts of mistakes wouldn’t preclude us from running an entire country.

Then you have the people trying to argue that blackface isn’t “real” racism. There are a lot of people that appear to be Americans in that conversation arguing that we should be focused on those racists, like Trump. As if 1) These weren’t two separate countries and that Canadians are not allowed to care about the person who runs theirs, and that 2) Racism is some limbo bar that you either clear or you don’t, rather than a spectrum of actions and systems that we can ask our leaders not to uphold, let alone celebrate.

(image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.