Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s effort to apologize for freshly discovered photos and videos of himself in blackface was vehemently rejected on Thursday by Rev. Al Sharpton, who the leadership of the U.S. Democrat Party considers an important arbiter of racial affairs.
Sharpton said Trudeau’s handling of the incident has been “disingenuous.”
“I think it’s insulting,” Sharpton said of Trudeau’s blackface antics when asked by a reporter for TMZ. “I think it’s offensive. I think that if he wanted forgiveness he should have said that when he was running the first time. He knew then that he had done it.”
Trudeau has addressed this point in several different ways. On Thursday, he said he “never talked about” the blackface incidents during candidate vetting interviews because he decided he has essentially become a different person than he was in the early 2000s, when the most recent of the embarrassing photos is known to have been taken (the blackface video remains undated at press time).
“Quite frankly I was embarrassed. It’s not something that represents the person I’ve become and the leader I try to be,” Trudeau said.
The embattled prime minister also claimed he cannot remember all of his blackface incidents – which might be even more numerous than those uncovered thus far – because his “privilege” blinded him to the hurtful and insulting nature of his actions, inducing a form of acute long-term memory loss.
“I think the question is, ‘How can you not remember that?’ The fact is, I didn’t understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination every single day. I have always acknowledged that I come from a place of privilege, but I now need to acknowledge that that comes with a massive blind spot,” Trudeau mused.
“Now he’s saying he did it more than once,” Sharpton said in his response on Thursday. “I think that you can’t have different rules for different people.”
“I took the same position against the governor of Virginia, who is a Democrat,” Sharpton recalled, referring to Gov. Ralph Northam, who remains the Democrat governor of Virginia despite the discovery of his own youthful blackface photos.
Like Trudeau, Northam was traumatized by his encounter with dark-colored face paint and has reported suffering significant brain damage, but in Northam’s case he said he falsely remembered that he did wear blackface before remembering that he did not and denying that he was the person wearing blackface and identified as “Coonman” in the incriminating yearbook photo.
The Democrat Party accepted Northam’s self-diagnosis of cerebral damage, accepted the possibility Northam was merely the student in the photo wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit instead of the one wearing blackface, and allowed him to remain in office.
Sharpton did indeed criticize Northam as a “blackface user” and said the practice constituted “mocking” African-Americans and “making us minstrels.”
Sharpton said Northam and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring should both resign for wearing blackface: “If you sin, you must pay for the sin.” Neither of them paid for the sin in any way, and Sharpton quickly stopped asking for them to do so.
Sharpton agreed with the TMZ reporter’s suggestion that all of the Democrat candidates for U.S. president in 2020 should be asked at the next debate if they have ever worn blackface.
“I think that they should be asked whether they used blackface, and then I think they should be asked how many real black faces will they put in the White House, because we have very few now,” Sharpton said.
Most of the 2020 Democrat presidential candidates attended an event hosted by Sharpton in April – two months after Sharpton denounced Gov. Northam and Attorney General Herring as sinners, called on them to resign, and declared the state of Virginia was experiencing a “constitutional crisis” – so it seems odd that he did not ask them about their own blackface history when he had the opportunity.