Thu | May 28, 2020

Why blackface matters

Published:Monday | September 23, 2019 | 12:07 AM


Recently some images and a video surfaced showing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing black and brownface on at least three separate occasions.

What is troubling is that he was a young adult at the time. As someone who preaches against racial inequality and injustices, understandably, many found the images shocking and disturbing.

Trudeau could not confirm if there were other occasions when he wore blackface and apologised repeatedly for his insensitivity and lapse in judgement. These past incidents could now tarnish his global image and appeal.

While some found the images racist, others argue it was trivial, and if his policies aren’t racist, then he isn’t racist. Interestingly, Trudeau deliberately chose not to inform the committee vetting candidates about his ‘blackface’ past when he sought leadership of the liberal party. He was obviously ashamed and knew it could hurt his image and prospects in politics.

Re-election campaign

Trudeau now faces a major crisis in the midst of an election campaign, which could cost him being re-elected on October 21, 2019. Early polls show his party locked in a dead heat with closest rivals, the conservatives. Worse-case scenario – he could be forced to resign, which in itself poses other problems.

For those who don’t know, the history of blackface goes back to the early 19th century in the USA, post-slavery. It became more popular in the early years of Hollywood in the 1920s and later, when persons would darken the skin and wear costumes for fun to mimic, characterise and exaggerate the look and behaviour of black people.

Though some may see this as pure fun, it really dehumanises, mocks and belittles a race and feeds into racist stereotypes, since it is based on characterisation.

Dressing up as a character for fun is one thing. Adding race to the mix is another. We never see blacks doing ‘white face’, and we rarely see other races engaging in this act for fun. Therein lies the bigger problem and why many still find ‘blackface’ offensive.

P. Chin