A picture has surfaced of Justin Trudeau, now the prime minister of Canada, wearing “brown face.” To offer a comprehensive description, he also has a brown neck and hands at an “Arabian Nights” themed event back in 2001. He is a 29 year old teacher– not a student– at West Point Grey Academy. It’s a group pictured in a yearbook. Sound familiar?
It’s at a private school and a private party, which only adds to my questions regarding the private lives of public figures, namely politicians. They are supposed to represent the best of us. They promise to represent all of us. But, time and again, we are reminded that they only represent some, who don’t want to be lumped in, grouped with or counted as part of us. No, all persons other than those socially colored white are mere costumes to be worn on special occasions, dressed up in on holidays and for one’s entertainment. It is part of a masquerade. Because the only real human being is the one underneath it.
And we have yet to peel back that layer and examine why persons continue to use the flesh of others for their amusement, why some hues warrant hubris and others our humiliation.
Why do human beings who share the same flesh and bones continue to make dressing in black or brown face an option on an Arabian night or any other? Why not question yourself as you smear the paste or cream on your face, neck and hands? What do you see when you look in the mirror when you are finished, when you have transformed yourself into the so- called other who is actually your sister and brother? What do you find so funny about it? Where is the humor in it?
And I cannot ask how would you feel if it happened to you because it won’t. In fact, persons from other cultures who “act white” are applauded, promoted and pointed out as fine examples, the right way to be a human being. Whiteness is a bully so you make fun of those who are not in your color click. Still, where do you think this is going when you mock the image of another human being, who had no choice in their skin’s hue, same as you? And really who do you think you are?
I ask again, “Who do you think you are?” Your skin will wrinkle and rot in death the same as any other. It does tear and bleed the same as mine. It does bruise and swell upon injury.
But then there is this belief in the color white and its immunity. It’s only social. The sociopolitical construct of race is not even skin deep. It only goes so far as the society would allow it and as the people in power would have it.
Trudeau has apologized. “I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better and I didn’t. I’m really sorry.” He didn’t think that the photograph was racist but he does now. But, because someone else pointed out or he has a different perspective?
At 29 years old, he still didn’t know any better? He didn’t consider it racist in 2001. But he darkened his face while at Jean Brebeuf High School. He was pretending to be Alladin at the annual dinner but this time, he was Harry Belafonte. And then there was that time when he is wearing blackface back in the 1990s. This one is on video.
Once, twice, three times a racist.
There is no need for a history lesson, diversity training, an apology tour, a dialogue with persons from the communities you have hurt, a town hall meeting on race relations, a new movie featuring two people from opposite sides of the track who crossed to the other side to find some sort of paradise in this divided world. And stop apologizing. Words are not enough.
Trudeau and others like him can talk a good game. But, eventually it is revealed that nothing has changed, that progressive is but a name, that in private, they have no intentions of co- creating a whole new world where all are treated equally. It’s just more of the same old racism.