Justin Trudeau’s blackface reveals the ugly side of a ‘liberal’ prime minister

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Pictures of Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, have surfaced. Taken in 1990 and 2001, they show Trudeau adorning blackface, notably one where he dressed as the character of Aladdin for an ‘Arabian Nights’ themed party. It seems insane that this level of insensitivity is still present in modern culture; as though people have not yet understood the problem with blackface.

These incidents tend to have people defending them as mere childish mistakes, yet Justin Trudeau was 30 years old in 2001. His father had already been the Canadian Prime Minister on two occasions. There is a point where people have to stop using youth and innocence as an excuse for racism.

I remember when Trudeau was elected, in 2015. The media blissfully reported how good this was for Canada, what a liberal icon he was to become. Many commented on his youth, on his good looks. I remember people would say: “Wouldn’t this be great if we had someone like that?” Admittedly, I was happy when he got elected, too. Surely, this would be the most left-leaning Prime Minister Canada could have.

While Trudeau apologised, citing innocence and ignorance to the racist underlying aspect of blackface, this still rings false. Surely the son of a Prime Minister would know what was racist and what was not. Indeed, the 1990s are not the 1950s. It is too late to claim ignorance now.

The problem with Trudeau seems to be the disparity between the image he sends out and the reality of his policies. When he was appointed in office, he nominated a gender-balanced cabinet. He sent out an open, multicultural, generally friendly image that people associate with Canada. After all, Canada is not the United States. They are supposed to be the good guys over there, are they not? Except, much like Canada, Trudeau’s underlying, hidden racism started to rear its ugly head. After making empty promises to First Nations and then to indigenous people, Trudeau approved projects for pipelines throughout indigenous land. $15 billion worth of arms were shipped over to Saudi Arabia, and corporation taxes were cut by $10.5 billion.

The reality is that, much like Emmanuel Macron, Trudeau and his policy were conservative, heavily capitalist, classist policies disguised in a conservative box with a bow on top. This has become a trend in international politics. With the rise of far-right extremism, right-leaning centrist groups superficially advocate for social issues yet fail to address them.

The problem arises when the public buys into it. Trudeau, Macron, and the likes are appraised in the international press as the future of liberal politics – as the new face of the left – when there is not really anything ‘social’ about their policies. The problem also comes when people like them are mistaken for the ‘left’ and deteriorate the actual electoral hopes of the actual left. Just a month before the general election in Canada, set to take place on 21 October, this scandal has caused the Conservatives to gain ground on the Liberals, by as far as 3 to 5 points.

The New Democratic Party leader, Jagmeet Singh, has noted that blackface from Trudeau is part of an “ongoing behaviour [...] backed up with policies that continue to hurt people”.

This is one of the most nauseating news of the week, and perhaps the most nauseating aspect of it is how common stories of this kind have come to be.