Trudeau up to His Ears in Blackface, Brownface Scandal

By Justin Morgan

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scrambling to contain a growing controversy involving a yearbook photo of him in brownface makeup during a 2001 costume party.

Trudeau—following the publishing of the photo on the Time Magazine website on Wednesday—has apologized and begged for forgiveness from Canadians.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with his face and hands painted brown, poses with others during an "Arabian Nights" party
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with his face and hands painted brown, poses with others during an “Arabian Nights” party when he was a 29-year-old teacher at the West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver, Canada, in this photo published in the academy’s 2000-2001 yearbook. This image, published in The View yearbook, was obtained by Time. (Reuters)

The photo was said to be taken from a West Point Grey Academy yearbook—a private school in British Columbia—where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering into politics.

The photo shows a 29-year-old Trudeau dressed in a turban and robe with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.

Trudeau, who recently launched his reelection campaign, says he should have known better. “I’m pissed off at myself, I’m disappointed in myself,” he told reporters traveling with him on his campaign plane.

Trudeau brownface photo.
Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau reacts as he makes a statement regarding a photo coming to light of himself from 2001, wearing “brownface,” during a scrum on his campaign plane in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Sept. 18, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Canadian prime minister however, isn’t the first politician to face scrutiny over racially insensitive photos, and actions from his earlier days.

Earlier in the year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faced pressure to resign after an alleged picture of him surfaced wearing blackface. While Northam denied being in the photo, he did admit to wearing blackface to portray Michael Jackson at a 1980’s costume party.

Afterwards, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey both admitted to wearing blackface while in college.

According to the CBC, Trudeau claims the picture was taken at the school’s annual dinner, which had an “Arabian Nights” theme that year.

“In 2001, when I was a teacher in Vancouver, I attended a gala. The theme was Arabian Nights. I dressed up in an Aladdin costume and put makeup on. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better, but I didn’t and I’m really sorry,” he said.

Trudeau, who champions diversity and multiculturalism, said he didn’t consider it racist at the time, but said society knows better now.

“I take responsibility for my decision to do that. I shouldn’t have done it. I should have known better. It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do and I am deeply sorry,” he added.

Trudeau also admitted to wearing blackface during a performance of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” during a talent show.

“When I was in high school, I dressed up at a talent show and sang Day O with makeup on.”

Canadian media outlet Global News, also reported on a third incident involving a video of Trudeau in blackface while raising his hands in the air and sticking out his tongue. It is unclear where the video originated from.

Following the release of the brownface photo, Trudeau claimed he would talk to his kids in the morning about taking responsibility.

Reactions

“It is insulting. Any time we hear examples of brownface or blackface it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live, for what their lived experiences are. I think he has to answer for it,” said Leftist New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban and is the first visible minority to lead a national party.

Trudeau brownface photo.
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh comments on a photo from 2001 surfacing of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing brownface at a party, as he makes a statement in Toronto, Sep.18, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer says brownface was racist in 2001 and is racist in 2019.

“What Canadians saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country,” said Scheer.

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said he didn’t think the photo’s release would cause people to vote differently. Wiseman said race and blackface play a much bigger role in U.S. politics than in Canada.

“I don’t think this will swing the vote, although the story will get a lot of media play for a couple of days,” Wiseman said. “The Liberals may very well lose the election—they almost certainly will not do as well as in 2015—but this is not the type of scandal that will drive voters to the Conservatives.”

AP contributed to this report.