• Steven Nalls

Trudeau, Blackface, and Racism.


The remorseful Canadian Prime Minister, holds a press conference to apologize for blackface photos.

I woke up this morning to a whirlwind of reports on the Canadian Prime Minister. TV, radio, internet articles... It was everywhere. Apparently, the big story in current news is that the PM Justin Trudeau was photographed in blackface (and brownface) on at least three occasions, dating all the way back to his high school years. Amid the incensed clamor from a myriad of offended citizens, the demands for his resignation from office by Conservative Canadian political groups, and the shadow of a looming national election, the embattled Trudeau was able to compose himself for the cameras and deliver a heartfelt explanation for his past behavior - and an apology.

Justin Trudeau insisted he's not a racist. Why then would he commit such an offensive act? Why indeed would anyone other than a racist do such a thing? Here, I'm going to wade through the indignation, and see if I can't apply at least a little bit of logic to this malaise, and attempt to answer this question.

Firstly, I believe that the terms racist and racism are way too often applied as though they are succinct, and they're not. They're broad. Think of them as umbrella terms. Under the umbrella of racism there are subcategories in which certain behaviors more neatly fit. I'm going to call these subcategories Racial Ignorance, Racial Intolerance, and Racial Hatred. While it is possible for one single person to harbor all of these categories simultaneously, it's definitely not a given that such is the case.


Racial Ignorance is when I don't know (for example) that:

  • Black people can and do get sunburn.

  • Not all Hispanics like spicy food.

  • Asians aren't born with amazing mathematical abilities.

  • White people aren't predisposed to hate others.

Racial Intolerance is when:

  • I'm put off by the physical features characteristic of other racial types.

  • I'd prefer people of other races not enter my work, living, or play environs.

  • I minimize the pain, embarrassment, or fears of people of other races, because I believe they're hyper-sensitive and simply need to lighten up.

Racial Hatred is when:

  • I believe that other races are innately physically, mentally, and spiritually inferiority to mine.

  • I don't believe other races deserve the same measure of freedom, justice, and equality that mine does.

  • I engage in or approve of the efforts to oppress, subjugate, and disenfranchise races that are not my own.

I'm certain you can come up with many other examples, and some of you will disagree with mine entirely. In any case, I believe you can see that what I'm driving at here is simply, not every racist act connotes racial hatred. To my way of thinking, when the Canadian Prime Minister posed for those photos and that video decades ago, he was doing so out of ignorance at best, and intolerance at worst (but I lean toward the prior since he was actually posing with people of color). I personally don't see those as any evidence of hated of people of color. However, wish it though we might, none of us can go back into a person's past to see what they were thinking when they did what they did. What we can do is accept within ourselves that an act of ignorance is just that, and nothing more. The affects of racial ignorance can be remedied through fraternity. The affects of racial intolerance can be adjusted by social mores. The affects of racial hatred can be stifled through legislation.

Plainly put, just like the words "mentally retarded", that were once in prolific use in medical journals, but has since become the height of offense to today's developmentally challenged individuals, blackface is one of those tropes that has emerged over time to be far more offensive than it used to be. A cursory search of the internet will yield even black actors and musicians in... (you guessed it) blackface. People who put on blackface today are far more aware of its ramifications than the majority of those of previous generations were. I don't know what else Prime Minister Trudeau may have said or done, and I'm sure investigative reporters will suss it out for us over the coming weeks, but personally, based on what I know today, I'd give Trudeau a pass.

As I've mentioned, Justin Trudeau has indeed apologized, but in today's cancel culture, apologies don't buy one much absolution. People would much rather have their pound of flesh and hoist you up as an example of what could likewise become the fate of others, should they dare to commit a similar offense. Today's Western society derives more than a bit of schadenfreude at seeing our offenders' last twitches of life as they are gurneed off into oblivion. Thus, the political fortunes of the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau are ultimately in the hands of his public. They'll be deciding in about a month whether his explanation and apology are enough to allow him a chance to redeem himself, or if he should leave that distinctive office in disgrace and shame for the past deeds he so deeply regrets today.


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