Quantcast
Connect with us

Trudeau in blackface: A symptom of Canada’s widespread anti-Black racism

Published

on

The news that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau performed in blackface when he was a student and a teacher has once again made blackface the topic of the day — this time in the middle of a Canadian election campaign.

The revelation that, as a 29-year-old teacher, Trudeau appeared in blackface at an “Arabian Nights” fundraiser at his school has made news around the world. Other images subsequently surfaced that showed a young Trudeau performing in blackface at high school talent shows.

ADVERTISEMENT

The controversy over Trudeau’s actions should be front-page news. Blackface, wherever it occurs, is a racist practice, rooted in deeply anti-Black motivations, regardless of whether those who commit it and enjoy it realize this.

But in these instances, what we most need to pay attention to is not the intent or the level of ignorance of the person who wears blackface. Rather, our focus needs to be on the embedded racial logics that drive blackface and the negative impacts of the practice on Black people.

An alluring practice

We must ask ourselves why blackface has been, and continues to be, such an alluring practice when non-Black people want to have fun — and why this continues to be so, even though Black communities have always vociferously objected to blackface.

As someone who researches the phenomenon of contemporary Canadian blackface, I have always been troubled that mainstream responses to blackface have focused on the sensational rather than the need to do something about the anti-Blackness that undergirds it. I am particularly troubled now that this incident involves a political leader and occurs just before a federal election.

ADVERTISEMENT

In other words, it occurs at a time when meaningful decisions can be made about the direction the government might take to address the issue of anti-Blackness.

When speaking to reporters after the blackface photos emerged during the Canadian election, Trudeau said he was ‘more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate.’ Trudeau was criticized for cultural appropriation during his 2018 India visit when he and his family dressed in traditional Indian clothing.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

These recent incidents, like those before it, confirm the existence of a widespread anti-Blackness. This is what informed Trudeau’s return, again and again, to blackface: he was assured his friends and colleagues would enjoy his shenanigans.

Widespread anti-Blackness

This anti-Blackness is also systemic. That’s why it occurs so often in institutional settings. For example, it recurs in educational settings, as it did with Trudeau. It recurs among police officers.

ADVERTISEMENT

Where anti-Blackness is not expressed as wanton violence against Black people, it is often expressed as a complete disregard for the histories, the lives and the voices of Black people.

Our criminal justice systems are virulently anti-Black — which explains why we tolerate the over-surveillance and disproportionate Black deaths at the hands of the very law enforcers who are supposed to protect us, at least in theory.

Our education systems are virulently anti-Black, which explains why blackface recurs where Black people have to go to school. It also explains the pervasive omission of our histories, our scholarship, our perspectives and our stories from education curricula.

ADVERTISEMENT

On and on … it’s entrenched

Our child welfare systems are virulently anti-Black. Arts and entertainment is virulently anti-Black. Media is virulently anti-Black, and on and on. Anti-Blackness is entrenched, and we are all implicated.




Read more:
The problem with blackface


When we choose to individualize blackface incidents, when we make them solely about labelling the person who wore blackface as “racist,” when we suggest that blackface says more about personal failings than about the systemic anti-Blackness of which blackface is only a symptom, this serves to absolve everyone else — primarily ourselves — from thinking about our implication in anti-Blackness.

ADVERTISEMENT

We lose sight of our individual and collective obligation to demand and take action against anti-Blackness.

The appropriate response to Trudeau’s blackface cannot be the politics of deflection. On the one hand, it cannot be about empty apologies that claim little more than ignorance, “insensitivity” or even “privilege,” which rectifying very little. On the other hand, it cannot be about finger-pointing, “disappointment” or “shock,” which deny the endemic nature of anti-Blackness.

It cannot be about claims that we are unimplicated in anti-Blackness — either because we have never worn blackface or because it has been some time since we did.

The appropriate response to Trudeau’s blackface would be for all leaders seeking election to ensure that their campaign platforms contain commitments to name and disrupt institutional anti-Blackness.

ADVERTISEMENT

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democrats and the first person of colour to lead a major Canadian political party, has said the fallout from the Trudeau blackface scandal should lead to a wider discussion about racism.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

These commitments need to be more than flowery value statements. They need to be meaningful, substantive policy statements — developed in consultation with Black communities — that will make a discernible difference, and upon which leaders will follow through after the election.

Posing tough questions

The appropriate response should not be for the electorate to cast their votes based on a cult of personality. Instead, they should scour the party platforms for evidence of commitment to counter anti-Blackness, to pose tough questions and vote accordingly if there are none.

Remember, anti-Blackness is made of disregard. Silence in the party platforms about the issues that Black people face would be evidence of that disregard.

And what might some of these commitments look like? Here are a few suggestions:

ADVERTISEMENT

  • Commitments to expunge the criminal records of the disproportionate numbers of Black people criminalized for marijuana possession.

  • Commitments to concretely hold law enforcers accountable for the disproportionate incarceration and death of Black and Indigenous people, and to provide better access to justice for Black, Indigenous and racialized people in Canada.

  • Commitments to halt the removing of disproportionate numbers of Black and Indigenous children and youth from their families by child “protective” services.

  • Commitments to appropriately incentivize and fund Black studies and the hiring of Black professors in universities in a manner that suggests that Black lives actually matter in Canada.

  • Commitments to not just speak out against but act boldly against policies that blatantly contravene the rights of those who wear religious symbols in Québec (instead of dancing around the issue for political expedience).

    ADVERTISEMENT

It would take only a little imagination and consultation with Black communities to come up with several more.

Unfortunately, this may ultimately not be what the majority of the electorate will demand, but it would be the right thing to do. Trudeau needs to be held to account for his love of blackface, but the intervention cannot end there.

The most anti-Black outcome from this latest story would be for it to eventually blow over without any substantive change to what Black people might expect from elected officials.

Black people and our issues cannot continue to be pawns in a grand chess game that ultimately serves to deflect attention from what Black people really want.

ADVERTISEMENT

[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]The Conversation

Philip S. S. Howard, Assistant Professor of Education, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

CNN

Biden finally unloads on Trump for smearing his son: ‘Release your tax returns or shut up’

Published

on

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Wednesday blasted President Donald Trump for an ongoing attack on his son Hunter.

At a press conference in Ohio, Biden was asked if he had done enough to stop his son from taking a retainer from a company in Ukraine.

But the former vice president insisted that "corruption" in Trump's government should be the immediate focus.

"He is running the most corrupt government in the history of the United States of America," Biden charged. "He is running the most corrupt government in the history of the United States of America."

Biden then turned to the camera as if he were speaking directly to Trump.

Continue Reading

Facebook

Trump rants about Christopher Columbus during press conference with Italy’s president

Published

on

President Donald Trump on Wednesday insisted that he would never stop celebrating Christopher Columbus.

"The United States and Italy are bound together by a shared cultural and political heritage dating back thousands of years to ancient Rome," Trump said during a joint press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

"Over the centuries, the Italian people have blessed our civilization with magnificent works of art, science, philosophy, architecture, and music. On Monday, we paid tribute to the Italian explorer who led a voyage of discovery to the new world. A gentleman known as Christopher Columbus. To me, it will always be called Columbus Day. Some people don’t like that. I do."

Continue Reading
 

Facebook

Chelsea Clinton accidentally scorches Meghan McCain while dismissing congressional rumors on The View

Published

on

Chelsea Clinton dismissed the rumors that she's considering a run for Congress -- while taking a subtle swipe at fellow political daughter Meghan McCain.

Clinton filled in Wednesday as co-host on "The View" for Joy Behar, who's been out all week, and was asked right away to comment on rumors that she might run for the House seat vacated by the retiring Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY).

"I understand why people are asking, and someone has asked me some version of this question for literally as long as I can remember," Clinton said.

Continue Reading
 
 
Help Raw Story Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1 and go ad-free.
close-image