The author is a former advisor to the Trudeau government. As a Globe subscriber, I saw this and felt it was important enough to share with you in its entirety, which is not something I do often.
The photographs reveal the contours of a mask. By now, millions of people have seen the image: a man wearing dark brown makeup and a turban on his head, grinning into the camera. A spirit of conviviality and blissful unawareness reigns. Other people are present, but no one else has blackened their skin.
The man in question, of course, is Justin Trudeau, 29-years-old at the time and living one of the most privileged lives in the entire land. The pictures are horrifying, and each one unmasks the man with the darkened skin.
A brown friend sent me the photo. “This is how you lose an election,” he said. I saw the picture and my throat constricted. Anger, shame and hurt pulsed in my temples. I had supported Mr. Trudeau, admired his tenacity and goodwill, and worked for his government. His father was the reason my father was even allowed here. And yet, there he was, native son of wealth and privilege, having sung all the right tunes about diversity to get elected, caught engaging in one of the most humiliating forms of racist mockery. It felt like a personal betrayal.
These photos and video are not to be taken lightly. They are extreme manifestations of racist derision. Brownface and blackface arise out of minstrelsy and colonialism, taking the ancient form of domination by humiliating people the white man has conquered, wearing their distorted faces as masks for one’s amusement.
Wearing brownface is an intentional act, satiating the white man’s fetish for appropriating the colour and the attire of the dispossessed, to serve his own fantasies. British culture, wrote the historian Nupur Chaudhuri, had a “long heritage of negative sentiments toward dark-skinned persons. The ultimate negative symbol is the devil – black, hairy, horned, and hoofed.” An ugly history bellowed out of Mr. Trudeau’s gaze.
The question is not whether Mr. Trudeau was filled with racist hatred, and the response to this cannot be, “But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is worse.” The Liberal Leader wore blackface. Let’s start there. He said on Tuesday that he has not worn it since 2001, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was an adult who mocked people of colour for sport. He was innocent in a way that would be touching if it were not so repulsive. He is innocent, just like the country that seems to be shrugging this off. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime, a punishing innocence that cannot be easily forgiven.
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