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Blackface reaction reveals Canada’s racist core

Left JAB by John Bell

September 21, 2019

The federal election campaign still has a month to go and we have already reached peak hypocrisy.

Today I witnessed Tory leader Andrew Scheer call on Justin Trudeau to resign over a string of blackface and brownface images released to the media. Maxime Bernier, whose entire political existence is based on racism and white nationalism, is denouncing Trudeau.

The sight of these two bottom feeders struggling to claim the moral high ground is beyond infuriating. 

Equally wretched is the media response. They focus on gotcha moments and dragging mea culpa contrition from Trudeau. Long before the blackface incident, a photo circulated on social media that encapsulated the real racism issue of this election perfectly. I refer to the selfie of the press corps traveling on Trudeau’s campaign plane. Every face was white.

The CBC responded to the release of the first Trudeau photo by assembling a panel of “experts”–all white. CTV upped the ante by including Conrad Black on its all white panel. 

All of the major mainstream media reported about how the Trudeau revelations played outside the country. Oh no, Colbert made fun of us! What will the neighbours say!

You could almost hear the sighs of relief at the CBC when, after a day of damage control, the Trudeau campaign changed the channel by making a policy announcement on gun control. An attempt to “get back to business” as CBC News Network anchor Heather Hiscox said. 

Trudeau’s choice of the gun control issue is deliberate and clever. For the Tory base, it’s like waving a red flag in a bull’s face. If anything will get them scurrying off on tangents, that’s the one.

Few bothered to point out that gun violence is intimately connected with systemic racism and the poverty it generates. Not a different issue, a different facet of the same issue.

As a further exhibit of the casual, systemic racism I offer a CTV story from September 19, entitled “Some voters question whether Canada is ready for a PM with a turban”. The story was about NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s appearance at a ploughing match. The story was salted with quotes from NDPers who won’t support Singh, an observant Sikh who wears a turban. Typical was Marcel Betty: “He could explain something why he has to wear that here because we are not familiar to have a guy like that with a position like that. If he would take it off, and be normal like us, I would vote right away because I am a (New Democrat) myself.”

Rather than belittle Betty, we should thank him for frankly exposing the mindset that runs to the core of the colonial state of Canada, a racism that casually defines “normal” as white and calls a symbol of religious observance a “hat”.

As for CTV, let me fix up that headline for you: “Singh campaign reveals depth of institutional racism.” You’re welcome.

As a public service, I am going to forego my usual opinionating, and allow a few people most effected by Trudeau’s scandal to have their say.

To begin, many people of colour are standing behind Trudeau, for a variety of reasons. Some say that a few instances of bad judgement should not invalidate what they see as a positive record on multiculturalism and diversity. 

One woman on facebook recounted a conversation with her daughter:

“She: ‘but it is racist to wear a blackface’ 
Me: ‘That's absolutely NOT the racism I'm concerned about. I am more concerned about these different racism
1. where over 86% of visa applications from sub-Saharan Africans are rejected in Canada 
2. where school principals call the police on black kids systematically thus throwing them in the criminal justice system, but for other kids they just call the parents and talk it over 
3. where landlords refuse to rent to black people especially Black single mothers in ridiculous numbers 
4. where International aids to African countries are cut and the money is diverted to wars 
5. where Universities reject or restrict black kids’ applications in medicine, aerospace, other stem.
6. where most governments only have 1 black cabinet member even when they have more elected representatives to choose from
7. where Crown prosecutors demand trials systematically for Black kids instead of mediation, knowing that they can’t afford lawyers 
8. where the hiring processes are rigged to decrease the number of Black people who access a higher level of positions  
9. where only one Black organization gets funded per cycle no matter how many apply.” 

There’s a lot of wisdom there.

A Mohawk activist I follow on twitter had this to say: “If you think JTs costumes are racist, you should see his policies.”

Another Indigenous voice: “The question now is: Are Canadians willing to vote for a guy who wears Black and Brown face before they will vote for a guy that actually has one? Let that sink in.”

How has Jagmeet Singh responded to all this? His first statement to the media is nothing short of brilliant, the authentic voice of someone who deals with systemic racism every day:

“Seeing this image today, the kids who see this image, the people who see this image, are going to think of all the times in their life they were made fun of, that they were hurt, that they were hit, that they were assaulted, that they were made to feel less because of who they are. And I want to talk to those people right now. 

“You might feel like giving up on Canada. You might feel like giving up on yourself. I want you to know that you have value, you have worth and you are loved.”

Instead of spite, a call for solidarity, for Canadians to take care of each other.

Singh has repeatedly refused the media’s offers to either attack Trudeau or “forgive” him. He has lot’s to criticize Trudeau and the Liberals for. But at every turn he has called for a deeper conversation about the systematic racism faced by so many Canadians, and for real programs that move to address wrongs hidden behind our multicultural rhetoric.

We can all learn something from this.

I’ll begin, I never knew that O Canada was written by Calixa Lavallée, a minstrel show performer who regularly appeared in blackface. That is somehow symptomatic of the shameful state we’re in.

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