Unless you’ve been living under a rock (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you’ve seen the news that our oh so handsome Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was revealed to have dressed up as a character from Aladdin – complete with painting his skin brown. He immediately issued an apology that was actually half decent (although not everyone seems to agree). He took responsibility and didn’t seek to deflect or make excuses. He also said it wasn’t the only time. Soon, new images emerged of him doing the same thing in other situations, including one of him in black face.
Naturally the Prime Minister’s opponents jumped on this – as well they should. That’s politics. Andrew Scheer wisely pointed out that outside of the political realities, he was not well qualified to address this issue. Instead he urged Canadians to listen to Jagmeet Singh, who as an ethnic minority is a person who can speak credibly on this. Singh’s reaction was eloquent and focused on the impact of these kinds of actions rather than on political realities. To be honest, it was a rare moment where political opponents reached to something higher instead of lower. I hope we can see more of that this campaign.
Even still, this is something that will be a major factor in this election. It is also something that as Christians, we have to wrestle with. I know, seems like a lot of fun. Like something that someone would bring up at Thanksgiving dinner which would be your cue to leave. But this actually matters. We can’t simply move past it and start doing more Buzzfeed quizzes. Plus, it’s not like the title of this blog wasn’t enough warning about what you were getting yourself into.
First a word of caution. This is one of those posts where I will struggle with tone. This site seeks to mix religion and politics and terrible humour. But when the Prime Minister is revealed to have painted his face black and brown on multiple occasions, it’s hard to find the humour in that. It’s also hard to say anything about this that hasn’t already been said many, many times. So, if what I have to say has been said before, then please assume that it’s blatant plagiarism. If it’s not funny or the tone of this is inconsistent, then please assume it’s because I am not funny and know that you aren’t the only one that’s disappointed – my parents got there first.
One more thing. I’m a white guy. I know I keep my identity anonymous on here (check here for my reasons for doing that), but it’s important to state this up front. I have never experienced racism of any kind. As a white, Christian, straight male, discrimination is not a part of regular experience. So when I sit now and talk about racism and how we should respond, it’s important to know that I am coming from a place of privilege.
Ok, disclaimers out of the way. Here’s a hot take on Prime Minister Trudeau’s actions. You ready? It’s going to be shocking…. He was wrong. Wow. I can already see your eyes widening with revelation.
To be fair, not even the Prime Minister himself is defending this. Everyone recognizes this was wrong. But the questions don’t stop there. They multiply. Just how wrong is it? Was it as wrong then as we consider it now? Is it something that makes him unqualified to lead? If it were a conservative would the Liberal party be this forgiving? Should his record on diversity matter more than this? And ultimately, all of these questions end up at one overarching question: Is Justin Trudeau a racist?
No, Justin Trudeau is not a racist. And yes, of course, Justin Trudeau is a racist – just in a different way than is convenient for the rest of us.
First thing is first. The Prime Minister is not an overt racist. The man had a massive error in judgement on multiple occasions. It was very wrong. It is fair and just to call him out on it. But he clearly values diversity (some would say too much) and while his actions here are a blight on that record, it doesn’t cancel that record out entirely. We can debate how much it hurts it, and like everyone (even you), he clearly has more to learn, but accusing him of being an out and out racist is clearly an overreaction.
Except, he probably is an out and out racist – just in a different way. He’s a racist the same way that I am. The same way that you are. As the leader of our country, he’s a racist the same way that Canada is. All of us collectively and, just as importantly, as a single entity.
Here’s where I start preaching. Sorry… occupational hazard.
This scandal is less about Justin Trudeau than it is about all of us. We allowed this. We did this. This country has a massive problem with race that we consistently ignore. We look to the United States and then pat ourselves on the back because we think we aren’t as bad as them and that alleged fact completely exonerates us.
Newsflash: We are a super racist country. We always have been. I imagine we always will be. Because unfortunately, the way that society works is that we are always marginalizing someone. We try to get better. We make changes too slowly and then we too slowly realize that we have been disenfranchising a whole other group of people (or possibly the same group of people in new ways).
As a pastor, I have to acknowledge that my people have been at the forefront of this. Christians have used scripture to justify everything from residential schools to banning refugees fleeing violence (often at the hands of other Christians).
And Christians who see these acts as wrong still more often than not fail to call it what it is: sin. We have perpetuated a sinful, evil system that allows people to be subjugated and discriminated against. For even the most well intentioned, woke Christian our sin is one of silence. And we must acknowledge that there are things we are doing today that one day someone will explain to us are discriminatory and we will get defensive. We will say we didn’t know better, that it was a different time.
This is what privilege is. We excuse our actions because of ignorance. Again, let’s call this out as the sin it is. We are privileged people, which itself is not sinful. It is when we use this privilege to excuse our actions that we turn against God. Our job as Christians should be to rebuild the system constantly into a more equitable one for everyone.
Justin Trudeau grew up as the son of a Prime Minister. He went to the best schools and had the best teachers. He comes from a family that is known for being a progressive voice. He has championed inclusion and diversity. And perhaps the reason this is such a big story, is because for many people he was supposed to be better than this. He was a beacon of antiracism, and he failed us. Just like Canada.
Canada has this reputation as a culturally diverse, welcoming country where your ethnicity or gender or orientation don’t matter. But the reality is that is a misleading reputation. We have so much work to do to be better. We aren’t some kind of ideal of cultural inclusion. We try and fail.
But the key is in the trying. We identify our blind spots and then we attempt to correct them. That’s where there is hope in all of this. Canada, as a whole, seems to at least be trying to get there. We can be so much better. We can be so much more.
But to do so, we have to look inward. We can’t simply copy and paste a funny meme about the Prime Minister in brownface and then pat ourselves on the back for being better than that. Because we’ve already established that we’re not.
It is here that I need to highlight people whose voice is more diverse than my own. As someone who rarely experiences discrimination of any kind, I cannot possibly be an authority on how to avoid it. That’s not to say that white people can’t be good sources on how to be antiracist, just that there are many voices from within minority communities to amplify. At the end of this post is a list of easily accessible web-based resources to check out on this subject. Please check them out, you’ll be better for it. And let them lead you to more voices on this subject.
This scandal is less about Justin Trudeau than it is about all of us. And it can be the wake up call we all need to once again commit ourselves to building a better Canada. But first, we have to focus on the log in our own eye rather than the speck in our political opponent’s. Start here:
Ibrahim Kendi: https://mashable.com/article/how-to-be-antiracist/
Jennifer Louden: https://thewritersoasis.com/yes-racist/
Beth Carlson-Malena: http://www.bethcarlsonmalena.com/
Lisa Salazar: https://lisainbc.blogspot.com/