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It’s been two weeks now, and the entire right-leaning media is stunned – stunned! – that people have so quickly moved on, forgiven and forgotten the scandal that was our Prime Minister darkening his skin for a dress up party some 20 years ago.
It would appear that the only individuals with any interest in making a big deal out of this were his political foes and the media who support them, as even the average conservative Canadian didn’t see this as much more than a tempest in a teapot, and that includes people of colour who had more reason and justification than anyone to voice their disapproval. The truth is that nobody cares that much about an old case of brownface, as it is called by Canadians, or blackface, as labeled by our neighbours to the south.
All the obvious points have been made – that it was an Asian-nights theme party, that Trudeau was dressed as Aladdin, that it was 2 decades ago, that the moral landscape was different, that he was a drama teacher who went all out for events such as these and mostly, that his policies and decisions as the leader of this country have been, through and through, the very opposite of racist. The sum total of these points should sufficiently demonstrate why this incident needs to be put to rest.
These same people will, of course, insist that the practice would not be acceptable in this day and age. Today’s society, after all, is woke and fully aware of the political incorrectness of such an act. Some even know about Jim Crow and the way blackface was used a hundred and fifty years ago, with its mocking quality and degrading way of presenting African Americans at a time when the N word was still freely used and slavery was still legal. Indeed, if Trudeau were to demonstrate this lack of judgment today, there would not be enough Sorrys in all of Canada to get him off the hook. That, at least, appears to be the consensus.
I’m prepared to take a step in the other direction.
While I agree that the incident was greeted with the proper eye-roll by the majority of the population, I disconnect from the idea that it would be disrespectful to engage in this type of activity today.
Bear with me.
In many cases – though certainly not all – brown/blackface is something that is done by Caucasians who simply don’t see colour – in other words the least racist people of all – and only when an occasion warrants it, such as Halloween. These are people who have engaged with friends, co-workers and clients of many different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds, and they truly don’t care what you look like and just treat you based on your qualities as a human being.
It’s highly unlikely that a racist would want to dress up as a black person any more than a homophobe would want to dress up as a drag queen. (I’m excluding anyone with the questionable common sense of wanting to dress as a slave.) But if the idea, on Halloween, is to disguise oneself – translation: “look like someone/something else” - then you go all the way. You want to be Jimi Hendrix? Without the darker skin you’re just a hippie. You want to be Aunt Jemima? Without the matching skin colour, you’re just a lady with a towel around your head. You want to be Michael Jackson – ok, bad example. You can be Michael Jackson and look like him regardless. But you get my point. Of course you don’t have to make yourself any darker – every Halloween party includes people having to explain exactly what they are supposed to represent because it just wasn’t obvious – but it should be perfectly OK to match the person or character you are trying to resemble.
The very definition of equality is not treating people differently based on colour. Should certain people be exempt because of a 150 year old practice that bears some resemblance to a joyful and fun party ritual many people engage in today? Halloween, the one occasion that screams “anything goes”, has become so politically-correcticized and regulated – no guns if you’re a cowboy! – that the fun has been completely diluted, on many levels.
Of course this doesn’t mean that no costume is ever in poor taste, but if you want to be Charles Manson or Hitler and that’s what floats your boat, then knock yourself out. We are stuck with our bodies and our looks 364 days out of the year. We should have free reign over any choice of costume we choose without worrying about whom we are offending or being made to apologize 20 years later.
Something to consider with Halloween being exactly one month away.
Sandra is a blogger, life coach and activist.