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Was it brownface or playing Aladdin?

Posted in View Point

Published on September 27, 2019 with No Comments

Last week, Time magazine managed to dig out a two decade old picture and published it that showed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing brownface at an “Arabian Nights” theme party. In the yearbook photo that dates 2001, Justin Trudeau who was 29 years old then and was working as a teacher is seen posing with four women. He is the only person in brown-face and appears to have both arms around the woman closest to him.  The origins of blackface date back to the mid-19th century when white performers would darken their skin using shoe polish or the burnt end of a cork to imitate African-American slaves.  

The purpose of have this picture out with hardly one month to the federal elections was manifold. Raise questions, cause embarrassment. And soon, the Prime Minister was corned. At a press conference on his campaign plane shortly after the news broke, an ashen-faced Trudeau said he was “sorry” and “pissed off at myself” and identified the woman as “a close friend.” The damage was done. Pressed by reporters, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed that there were other times where he might have dressed up in an inappropriate way. He said there was a time in high school when he dressed up with makeup and sang “Day O” — an admission that will almost certainly send the war rooms of opposition parties into a frenzy and journalists digging further into Trudeau’s past. And soon another picture emerged this time, in brown face with two Sikhs by his side.

For someone who is contesting to retain his position with odds stacked against him, the timing couldn’t have been worse. The parties have been busy digging out social media dirt on opponents. Many of whom are young and have had a digital footprint from almost the time they were born. The two brown face photos are devastating for Prime Minister Trudeau’s campaign. This research by so far undefined and unknown political party, has exposed the Liberal party of double standard.

The attempt by any political party to dig out a picture dating way back to 2001 is disturbing on a number of levels.  First, Trudeau is the only person in makeup! The other partygoers who are pictured too have the same kind of supposed to crime committed as by Justin Trudeau. Since he is re-contesting an election, it now seems that a man’s entire life even his actions in his teens and 20s can be under scrutiny and of interest to people. Minor pranks of the youth can follow you for the rest of your life and cast aspirations on even good deeds of yours.

The question that is lost in the outrage that the politicians have expressed is paramount. Aladdin had dark skin. And if someone has to play Aladdin’s character, he/she would have to don a tan. Instead of saying that young Trudeau donned a brown face, won’t it be appropriate to say that he played the role of Aladdin? Then the subsequent questions can follow. Did young Justin Trudeau mock Aladdin? Did he act or make any racist remarks? If he was depicting a character from a story, why give it a racial tone?  Was the great actor Laurence Olivier a racist because he played “Othello” in dark makeup? Every year at Halloween millions wear certain kind of dress and mask, that doesn’t mean that they endorse that character or are racists.

Given Trudeau’s attempt to be a champion of diversity and for minorities, many people of color seeing his pictures with caption “Brown Face” must have felt  traumatized by their racist nature. Had they been captioned as “in attire of Alaadin, it would have not been that harmful.


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