Response to Trudeau’s blackface scandal reveals a societal sickness

Voices of minorities must be elevated to address systemic racism

Through the response to Justin Trudeau’s brown- and blackface scandal, it is obvious we are living in a society that is deeply ill.

On Sept. 18, Time magazine released images of then private-school teacher Trudeau wearing brownface to an Arabian Nights-themed gala.

Subsequently, it was revealed that he similarly wore blackface on at least two other occassions.

Although some positive discourse occurred — with those like New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh who have faced similar racism — this was by far the exception to the rule.

The most common form of discourse surrounding it by far was an overabundance of Conservative, and generally white, people weaponizing this scandal as a way to simply indict Trudeau and build support for the Conservative Party of Canada and its leader.

Disturbingly, a new report from McGill University, which looked at tweets from Sept. 17 to Sept. 28, found that within three days of the initial release of the photos, discussion online diminished significantly. Basically, people stopped caring.

Furthermore, polling from Abascus Data taken during the week of the scandal has shown Canadians’ voting intentions remain entirely unchanged.

A truly alarming fact was that 42 per cent of those surveyed said they were not really bothered by the photos, while only one quarter — two-thirds of whom identified as Conservative voters, which historically has not been a diverse coalition — said they were “truly offended” by the photos.

Essentially, white conservative people are explaining why what Trudeau did was wrong while the largely white liberals simply do not care. This is the discourse of a deeply sick society.

It is no secret that Canada has a deeply racist history, but Canadians have been slow to accept the residual aftermath of the past.

Though Canada is becoming more diverse — with some estimates predicting a one-third visible minority rate by 2036 — this has clearly not always been the case.

Today, visible minorities make up just over a fifth of the population and this is reflected in the policies and discourse being had around the country.

People who come from these diverse backgrounds and make up this percentage of the population have a great deal of importance to add to Canada’s dialogue, but are seemingly more often than not ignored.

This reality is seen in so many aspects of Canadian society.

People who do not belong to a visible minority all too frequently fail to consider the voices of different cultures.

Why has the discourse on the European-settled land surrounding dominant language revolved solely around English and French when Canada occupies land that was lived on by Indigenous peoples belonging to 12 linguistic groups for over 10,000 years?

Even now, hundreds of years later, Canada has two official languages which are the the only two languages children hear during their K-12 education, with few public schools attempting to infuse the countless other languages Canadians speak into the curriculum.

Similar to language, it seems there are so few examples of attempting to introduce different cultures to children in school. And yet when they do — like attempting to expose children to Indigenous smudging — parents have taken school districts to court over it.

With a lack of any kind of cultural awareness, there is little wonder why many people have no issue speaking truly disgusting, racist sentiments — like telling Singh to “cut off” his turban to look Canadian. By ignoring these experiences and not addressing them with broad cultural solutions, Canada is perpetuating this type of racism.

It’s obvious that a significant percentage of Canada’s population is truly afflicted with the sickness of a lack of empathy.

In an empathetic society, Trudeau’s display would have been disqualifying and career-ending. But in a truly healthy society this active display of racism would never have been tolerated to begin with.

To solve this problem, Canada must do far more to raise up the voices of those who have historically been silenced or ignored.

Only after Canada begins listening to the minorities it has victimized for so long will the systemic racism it was founded on end.