September 19th 2019 it was unearthed that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed up in an Orientalist “Arabian Nights” outfit. His face and hands were also darkened.
The photograph appeared in the 2000-2001 yearbook of West Point Grey Academy, where Trudeau was a teacher in a private day school.
He responded in a public apology: “It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist, I am deeply sorry.”
Trudeau continued: “I have worked all my life to try and create opportunities for people to fight against racism and intolerance, and I can just stand here and say that I made a mistake when I was younger, and I wish I hadn’t.”
This is massive due to who not only Trudeau is, but also the politics he espouses. Trudeau believes himself to be the example to which the rest of the world should follow, eradicating all the common “ism’s”. Racism, sexism and the many other forms of discrimination.
Should Trudeau be judged on his past?
If it was not for the findings of this blackface, he more than likely would not have admitted to it, as it would hurt his liberal credentials.
Trudeau in the same breath wanted “mankind” to be changed to “humankind”, more gender-neutral language to not be sexist towards women, yet this highlighting of blackface can serve to undo all of his liberal groundwork, as society seems to remember the negatives more than any positives.
Unpacking this issue deeper, we realise Blackface is more than the action of just one individual. It, unfortunately, has become a socially acceptable event or party trick encompassing many others. Further highlighting the sheer racial ignorance of whiteness.
Blackface Black Pete and the Golliwog
The Dutch Christmas character ‘Black Pete’ (Zwarte Piet) is an important figure for the Dutch Sinterklaas celebrations on December 5th.
‘Black Pete’ is black because he travels through a chimney, with soot covering his face. Every year ‘Black Pete’ was protested, as it was said to be a racist relic of the era of colonialism, before finally being removed from Netherlands TV Screens in 2018.
Black Pete is similar to the ‘golliwog.’
The Golliwog is an anti-Black caricature in the United States. Golliwogs are grotesque creatures, with very dark, often jet black skin, large white-rimmed eyes, red or white clown lips, and wild, frizzy hair.
Golliwogs often reflected negative beliefs about Black people — thieves, miscreants, incompetents. It is very popular in European countries.
The Golliwog alongside Black Pete is racially insensitive in the contemporary climate. The Golliwog was even used by one of the worlds most popular children’s authors ‘Enid Blyton’ who wrote three books primarily about Golliwogs: The Three Golliwogs (1944), The Proud Golliwog (1951), and The Golliwog Grumbled (1955).
An excerpt from The Three Golliwogs is illustrative:
“Once the three bold golliwogs, Golly, Woggie, and Nigger, decided to go for a walk to Bumble-Bee Common. Golly wasn’t quite ready so Woggie and Nigger said they would start off without him, and Golly would catch them up as soon as he could. So off went Woogie and Nigger, arm-in-arm, singing merrily their favourite song — which, as you may guess, was Ten Little Nigger Boys.” (p. 51)
Enid Blyton, Justin Trudeau and the Dutch Christmas celebrations have one thing in common, the common universal racially insensitivity of Black caricatures. It is woven into the European culture which is inherently racist, and insensitive, alongside seeing nothing wrong until modern-day society challenges it.
We universally can agree it is wrong. Each demonstrating the landscape of the time, but now we are coming to terms with such deplorable and outwardly racist actions.
To be liberal is almost to be self-righteous and to come from a place where you believe everything you say and do is morally upstanding and correct.
As Malcolm X once said: “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.”
Trudeau has apparently changed and through his own words “I made a mistake when I was younger, and I wish I hadn’t.” He has superseded his Blackface past and is the liberal beacon of hope across the Westernised world. He was unaware of his actions and he now knows it was wrong.
He should not be judged of his past actions, rather his current actions. However, if he was conservative the situation would have been largely different, the equal application of moral outcry and shaming should be distributed equally across the political spectrum. Trudeau reminds us no matter our political view, racism is a deeply conditioned element of the current human existence. He will outlive this blackface and will be forever red-faced when it is brought up again.