A column published in the Toronto Star on Thursday made the case that a recently uncovered photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in “brownface” is as “Canadian as hockey.”
This week, Time magazine published an old photo of a then-29-year-old Justin Trudeau in black body paint and a giant turban, which Trudeau later clarified was taken at an “Arabian Nights” themed dinner at the private high school where Trudeau was a teacher.
Subsequent images rapidly surfaced of Trudeau wearing blackface to perform the Harry Belafonte hit “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” and of a man believed to be Trudeau wearing blackface and making faces on a separate occasion.
Writing for the Toronto Star, contributor Cheryl Thompson, an assistant professor at Ryerson University, argued this week that Justin Trudeau’s controversial “brownface” photo should not be shocking to Canadians.
“If we keep it real for a minute, Trudeau is not the first (or last) white male to darken their skin in supposed jest,” Thompson wrote. “As someone who has spent the last 10 years studying blackface in Canada, the one thing I know to be true is that blackface is as Canadian as hockey. It literally was (is) performed everywhere.”
Thompson recalled attending high school in Canada in the 1990s. She claimed that one of her white teachers came to school dressed in blackface. In that era, according to Thompson, no one demanded that the teacher be fired:
When I was in high school in the 1990s, for example, a white teacher showed up in blackface dressed as a Rastafari from Jamaica. Students were outraged. I was outraged. But no one screamed racist or demanded that he was fired. While it sounds like a cliché, the times truly were different. The collective consciousness had not caught up with the social-cultural change that was taking place during that era — such as the rise of anti-racist and diversity training.
Thompson argued that the social media era has changed everything. Now, private moments from a person’s past can be spread around the globe instantaneously.
“With social media, these private spaces now get thrust into plain sight. With the click of a button and an upload, racist moments from the past suddenly become part of the contemporary discussion about race, racism and white privilege,” Thompson finished.
Trudeau, currently weeks away from a tightly contested national election, issued a second apology after new images surfaced on Thursday, telling reporters he could not guarantee that more images of him wearing blackface did not exist and refusing to resign from the leadership of his left-wing Liberal Party.