Apology Not Accepted: The Fall of Trudeau

BY: CAMILA CISNEROS

After Trump’s election, many sad Americans fled to the Canadian immigration website to the point where it crashed. According to a BBC News article from 2016, “Officials have confirmed that the cause was a higher than normal level of traffic…it has been suggested this may have been caused by US citizens exploring their options following Donald Trump's victory.” There was a cultural wave of “Trudeau stans”—those who idealized Canada for its leader who was the complete opposite of Trump. Whether it be for his looks, or his rainbow socks with “Eid Mubarak” printed on them at Toronto Pride, or simply as an escape from Trump, many Americans idolized him.

That all changed when when a photo of Trudeau in blackface surfaced last week. His piercing blue eyes served as a sharp contrast from thick, brown paint. The Right Honorable Justin Pierre James Trudeau, the leader America wanted, was just another ignorant politician in brown face.

The story originally broke on Sept. 18 in a TIME article titled “Justin Trudeau Wore Brownface at 2001 ‘Arabian Nights’ Party While He Taught at a Private School.” The piece serves as an exposé of Trudeau’s publicly racist actions and continued to update as more yearbooks were opened and more photos were brought to light. 

The article exposed photographs of him in brownface for an “Arabian Nights” theme gala at West Point Gray Academy in 2001, in blackface first for a concert where he performed a Jamaican folk song “Day-O” by black singer and Civil Rights activist Harry Belafonte, and again in an unknown setting. 

In other words, he is no longer right or ‘honorable’. The Canadian benchmark for inclusive and liberal leadership looks no different from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam or Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring when in blackface. This not only serves as a backhand to the POC community, but it holds political implications as well, as we can see with Trudeau trying to push it down as he campaigns for his re-election

Election day in Canada is October 19 — almost a month after the photos were published. That may be would be long enough to do damage with the voters but short enough to keep it fresh on the public’s mind and on the news cycles.

One thing is for sure, we know that Justin Trudeau was that one kid who took Halloween costumes a little too seriously. Unfortunately, no one from his private school education taught him that blackface is a big no-no. Speaking of private school, it is worth noting that Trudeau, in his campaign, has downplayed his time as a teacher at a private school, West Point Grey Academy, the most expensive private day school in Vancouver, and puts more emphasis on his time as a public school teacher. Just some food for thought. 

Is blackface not enough in your book to question someone’s common sense? Then maybe pair it with some cultural appropriation with a sprinkle of entitlement. During a trip to India, the Trudeau family posed for various photo-ops with prayer hands and dressed in traditional Indian garments. During the same trip, Trudeau met with Bollywood stars dressed in a golden traditional outfit, while many Bollywood stars dressed in black-tie attire. 

The TIME article also explains other instances of racial and cultural insensitivities. One example is the tattoo on Trudeau’s left arm, which is based on Haida tribe member Robert Davidson’s work. Davidson said in 2016 that the Trudeau government’s approval of a natural gas facility opposed by the Haida showed the prime minister was not genuinely sensitive to concerns of Canada’s indigenous population.

After the TIME article, the Toronto Star, Canada’s highest-circulation newspaper published “‘I should have known better’: Trudeau apologizes for wearing brownface in 2001”  The article covers Trudeau’s unscheduled and nationally televised apology in his plane on a Halifax tarmac. Trudeau expressed his regret and apologizes 19 times in English and French. 

"Darkening your face, regardless of the context or the circumstances, is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface," Trudeau said another instance, this time at a news conference Thursday in a Winnipeg park. "I should have understood that then and I never should have done it.” 

It is difficult to believe that someone with an education from McGill University (the Harvard of Canada) would not have enough knowledge to know that he should not have done blackface. If it wasn’t acceptable in 1960s, why would it have been acceptable in the 2001?

How do you say, “We do not accept your apology,” in Canadian French?