Jordan: The photo of prime minister Justin Trudeau wearing brown face makeup. Sorry. The photos of Justin Trudeau wearing brown apologies. It’s the photos and video of Justin Trudeau wearing brown face makeup at various times in the 1990s and early 2000s are the biggest story in Canadian politics the biggest story in Canada. This is a story that broke on Wednesday evening and it continues breaking as you listen to this podcast
News Clip: political shock waves continue tonight after liberal leader. Justin Trudeau admitted to wearing blackface this morning video of a third instance surface wearing brown face is an act of open mockery and racism and what Canadian saw this evening is someone with a complete lack of. And someone who’s not fit to govern this country when I was growing up. I thought recently. I dealt with them myself and I fought back but I got a message from a friend who reminded me that there’s a lot of people out there that couldn’t do that. I think that it’s going to hurt to see this. It’s gonna hurt them on the nature of the photo is too had it been a different candidate. The Liberal Party would be now saying you have to step down people who live with the kind of discrimination because of the color of their skin face on a regular basis, and I didn’t see that from. The layers of privilege that I have and for that I am deeply sorry, and I apologize.
Jordan: No doubt. There are a lot of things being broken right now both in The Newsroom definition of the word and you know metaphorically because the past couple of days have been horrible for millions of Canadians. So if you want to know what’s broken right now go to Twitter. If you want to understand what the conversation around this story reveals about the election about the Canadian media about partisan politics and about the country that nobody wants to talk about but that we live in anyway, stay right here because here’s the thing this election has always been about race. It was about race since before the Writ was dropped was about race way before the first Brown face photo surfaced. It just had to become really really obvious for a lot of us who don’t deal with racism everyday to understand that. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is the big story. Fatima Syed is a reporter at the national Observer. Today. She becomes the first ever back-to-back big story guests under circumstances. She probably wishes were different Hi Fatima.
Fatima: Hi Jordan.
Jordan: What was the first thought that went through your head when the news broke on Wednesday night that there was at least one Brown face photo of Trudeau out there.
Fatima: I kind of did a double take I I kind of looked at the photo and. Ask myself is this real or is it fake news? Um are we sure that the photo has been thoroughly vetted and in fact checked and that it’s actually him behind that dark-skinned. So yeah, I was I was very shocked when I saw the photo and it was like a Floodgate Of past memories of you know, hearing every single bully call me whatever they did and then seeing a photo of the Prime Minister of Canada. Sort of encompassing that in that sort of manifestation in that costume. And yeah, it was it was a strange feeling very conflicting
Jordan: Was that reaction different because of the way Trudeau has projected himself.
Fatima: Absolutely, I think you know in every community of color that I interact with personally or professionally no matter what they think about Trudeau’s policies. One of the things they are always quick to say is that you know, he respects us like, you know, he’ll come he’ll hang out with us. He’ll talk to us. It seems like he cares about us. Like there is a seems to be a universal agreement that Justin Trudeau really truly cares about the diversity in this country. But then you see a photo like that and suddenly you question. Well was a genuine was it all part of the political theater, and I think that’s sort of the kind of questions that these communities are dealing with at the same time. These communities aren’t surprised like, you know, whether you’re on social media or just talking to people communities of color have seen this and and sort of expected on some level .And you know Justin Trudeau on paper, if you sort of take away the fact that he is the prime minister of Canada fits the privileged white guy with a great education of private schools big fancy trips, you know, that luxury lifestyle.
Jordan: He’s admitted that himself
Fatima: He has and he just did just a little while before we recorded and I think. You know any other guy in that situation if or woman in that situation if photo was surfaced like that of them, I think people wouldn’t be surprised but it’s The Duality it’s the apparent hypocrisy of a prime minister that you know boasts about multiculturalism who you know puts himself out as the champion of diversity on the global stage. For him to have a pass like this for him to not have admitted it before for him to not have actively said that hey I sucked back then but I’ve worked on it and I’m okay now and I’m going to keep trying to be okay in the future and be better than I was then that is what’s shocking and jar.
Jordan: Tell me about Trudeau’s initial reaction to it and not just his comments, but the scrum on his plane because you tweeted about it and it puts it in a larger picture.
Fatima: So it should be noted that when I tweeted about it. It was after the scrum. Well, it was in towards the end of the scrum. So, you know, I I sort of jumped on the new cycle a little late last evening, you know a credit where credit’s due and I give this very hesitantly but. He didn’t shy away from saying that it was racist and I appreciate that. You know the first you know, when a reporter asked him was it racist. He said yes, I appreciate that. He looked very visibly shaken. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him, you know that nervous in a press conference before like this is a guy who knows how to work the cameras and his answers were curt they were to the point. And I think because the news just broke there was not a lot of explanation there and that’s why I tweeted what I did because I think the reporters on the plane they were also reacting to the news and this is me being very generous. They didn’t ask for an explanation right there. And then and that’s what we needed in that moment.
Jordan: What was your observation about the Dynamics there
Fatima: look since the election campaign started we have been made aware that the Press Corps that travels with the prime minister or with the opposition leaders is not exactly representative Canada. There was a picture that went around of the reporters on the prime minister’s plane and there’s not a single person of color among them and I think when a story like this comes out, Don’t think people think to ask some of the questions that you know, those familiar with racism and homophobia want them to ask no one thought to ask him. For instance the question that I put forward which was you know, how does he go back to into a mosque and stand in front of a congregation and say hey, I’m still your guy. Hmm and how does he convince them to believe it considering that he had this kind of passed without offering an explanation to it. Having said that fast forward not even 24 hours. He did an extensive press conference just this afternoon Thursday afternoon, and he spoke more. He said that he has a blind spot. He said that he has privileged. He said that. He made a mistake and he wish he hadn’t I don’t know how communities are going to respond to that. Maybe they’ll think that that was enough and that that explanation really satisfied the questions they had at night, but the fact is right. This is a white rich prime minister who was able to do something like that who was able to paint his face brown or black take photos? And then he was able to take it off and then still succeed at life. Whereas someone like me or a person of color anywhere in Canada will have a diary filled of instances where they are attacked for their skin color. They cannot take that off. And succeed at life they have to face that every single day and I get the sense from Thursday afternoons, press conference that the Prime Minister knows he’s done something wrong and knows that he shouldn’t have but I think there’s going to need to be a rebuilding of trust at least a little bit like do we really believe that prime minister Justin Trudeau is the best guy to go in front of the world. To go in front of Canadians and say Canada is the most Multicultural country in the world and I can and will and am able to do everything I can to protect it to strengthen it and to defend it and that question is a big question right now
Jordan: have Canadian politicians. Trudeau or any of his opponents or even the ones that came before them ever really grappled with the experiences? You just described that Trudeau can play at and then take off.
Fatima: No, this is the first time I think racism has manifested in such a big way in Canadian politics not to say that it doesn’t exist. My personal opinion is that this entire election has been about race from the very beginning because. Before even this photo of prime minister Trudeau’s Brown face came out. You have the People’s Party of Canada talking about you know, The fact that diversity isn’t a thing that immigration shouldn’t you know should be cut back majorly. You have the Canadian nationalist party, which is a far far-right group. That on their website says that Canadians quote must maintain the demographic status of the current European descended majority they’re an official political party this election, even though they’re tiny you have Andrew Scheer who has obvious connections to a groups that are anti-immigrant borderline white supremacist in their views and their beliefs and he has not denounce them and he has not removed them. The guy who is running Andrew Scheers campaign was the same guy who ran a website that created a video defending blackface. There is obvious racism in our political institution and nothing is more evident of that than the fact that we are seeing the first racialized candidate for prime minister. Defend people of color at every turn instead of talking policy. That is the unfortunate position that he is being put in whether it’s with Trudeau’s brownface photos. Whether it’s with the fact that members of his party left his party to join the green party saying that they don’t think the NDP can win because Jagmeet Singh is not white. We’re Reckoning with race in this election and we’ve been doing it since day one. We I would say we’ve been doing it for at least since the beginning of this year since 2019 race has slowly been becoming an election issue. We just have been looking away from it or not realizing that it’s such a big deal until this bombshell photo and I don’t know where we go from here.
Jordan: That’s too bad. That was my next question.
Fatima: I don’t know where we go from here except the fact that if we are concerned about race and racism in this country, we have to ask hard questions. We have to ask about the political. And media and structural systems that we are surrounded by and how it’s making it okay to be racist.
Jordan: Have you seen those questions being asked more in this campaign or even in the last say 24 hours since the started or are we just focusing on how many photos of blackface are there? How many photos of brownface are there?
Fatima: I think we’re just trying to figure out right now. I think the top few questions right now? Is there any more evidence right? That’s the Prime Minister Trudeau has done this before mainly because every time he’s asked he’s like there might be more. I can’t remember the I’ve told you everything that I can remember at this time. And also how did it take this long for us to find out about this about someone who’s been in the public eye for his entire life.
Jordan: I mean, that’s the biggest mystery to me to just be honest with you. Like I wouldn’t imagine that it could sit out there for 18 years. It was just in a yearbook.
Fatima: But for me Jordan. The question is that we’ve seen a 47 percent rise in hate crimes in Canada. And in I get the photo I get the fact that you know, you can be young although, you know, Justin Trudeau was almost 30 years old when this photo emerged. But you can be young and do stupid things and grow from that. I believe in growth. I believe in correcting your mistakes, but there’s been a 40% increase in hate crimes. We have anti-immigration sentiment in this country. We have issues and immigrant communities, you know, they’re not getting jobs. They’re not, you know, it’s taking longer to become a Canadian. There are structural barriers for immigrants and refugees across this nation. And there’s disproportionate incarceration carding is on the table at the federal election for the first time and we’re not talking about it. There’s poverty there’s crime but instead of asking those questions from a racialized lens. We’re focusing on a photo.
Jordan: How do we change it so that we’re focusing on those racial issues rather than on who’s racist and who’s not
Fatima: we change it by changing the narrative. So the reason why I wrote a story saying that this election has always been about race is because it’s more than a photo. It’s the fact that it’s in every aspect of Canadian Society, but we are so blinded by this glorious idea that Canada is so good that we welcome refugees that we are so diverse that you know, everyone can come to Canada that we don’t take a minute and say hey, we’re not perfect. We actually have a lot. Of work to do we are not doing right by our indigenous communities. We are not treating black people well. The candidates that we are running are barely representative of the Canadians that we are asking to serve.
Jordan: How so.
Fatima: So I did an analysis and it’s a quick little I wouldn’t say it’s quick and dirty but I did an analysis of the time that I had of candidates across the five political parties and found that while statistic Canada says that 25% of Canadian Society identifies as a visible minority which means black indigenous or a person of color. The only party that clears this bar is the NDP at present, which is also being led by the first racialized leader, which is interesting. So 32% of the NDP’s candidates are visible minorities. They have 20 indigenous candidates and 22 black candidates, which is amazing. The Liberals only 20% of their candidates are visible minorities only 18% of the conservative parties. Candidates are visible minorities and the green party is very far behind only twelve percent are visible minorities. These numbers are very low because if you consider the fact that not all of these candidates are going to be elected that it’s a hard race in every riding and the fact there’s so few diverse candidates running that means that the end result isn’t going to be representative of Canada.
Jordan: And the way the ridings are spread out means that those writings are disproportionately located in major Urban centers, which have an even higher percentage of the population that are visible minorities. So I mean if. We wanted to go down that road. I could even argue that taking that 25% figure probably isn’t representative of where those candidates are running based on where the population lives exactly.
Fatima: I’m not the greatest at math. But if we want 25% of Parliament Hill to be visible minority, I would say when we’re running an election we’d want 50% of our candidates to be representative of those communities so that we increase the chances of them making it to Parliament Hill. We’re doing the bare minimum not even we’re just we’re trying to do the bare minimum and it’s not good enough.
Jordan: What impact does this scandal in particular or other scandals that have racism at their core have on those numbers it is talking about this because Trudeau was caught wearing brown face a good thing or are we getting distracted?
Fatima: It depends on how we’re talking about it if we’re talking about it merely to say that this is indicative of a guy who’s not. Going to do anything for diversity then maybe that’s constructive. If we’re just doing this as sort of a attack on the Prime Minister, you know, as opposition research is the technical term, then it’s not constructive.
Jordan: What do some of the people who represent minority groups think of Trudeau’s response, but also just about the conversation that we’re having as a result of this.
Fatima: There’s a mixed response. I think some people are happy with the apology. Some people recognize that it happened a while ago and since then the work he’s done is enough for them, you know, his open arms for refugees and immigrants his active work in communities his Outreach programs to each Community is enough for them. And the apology has worked others are more skeptical. I received a message from one of my friends who’s told me that he personally wouldn’t forgive Trudeau for. Admittedly, he also said that it’s for each individual to decide but he was of the view that the conversation is centered around Trudeau as opposed to being centered around the people who were most hurt by this photo and even now the narrative is focusing on the Prime Minister as opposed to going to the communities that were most aggrieved by this the fact is that the ones who were the target of his. Of the insensitivity of the apparent insensitivity in that photo have not been centered and they have not been asked what someone like Trudeau someone like Andrew Scheer someone like Elizabeth May someone like Maxine Bernier can do. To dismantle their privilege that has institutionalized racism both in Canada and globally no one’s going to them and asking them. Okay. Now what what do you want us to do too bad to do better and it’s early days. It’s not even been 24 hours. So maybe maybe they will maybe they’ll you know, these leaders will Rectify their path and do it. But the fact is every single leader reacted with outrage and disappointment to Trudeau’s photo, but every single leader barring one is white. Is privileged and has problems with racism in their own parties and in their old circles and have their own privileges that they have not addressed there seems to be a blatant hypocrisy and duality in the narrative right now. That is saying that okay Trudeau is apologize. So it’s fine racism is over or okay, it’s ok Scheer thinks that this photo is racist. So it’s fine racism is over conservatives have nothing else to talk about. But it’s not. And everyone says oh this is the photo that’s going to start the conversation. The conversation has been happening for a long time. People are just not listening and people are just not going to the communities that are having it. And that’s the problem when this photo came out. You know just in a little while ago I saw on Twitter that reporters were doing we’re on the streets talking to people about this photo getting their reactions every single person. They talked to his white. That’s a problem. You know last night the panel on CBC was white when they were talking about the photo. It is a problem when the communities that are most hurt by a political Scandal are not spoken to. And are not folded into the conversation and that’s the ultimate problem with the narrative around this photo. It’s not about prime minister Trudeau with all due respect to him. It’s not about him right now. It’s about the countless visible minorities in Canada who are questioning everything about the relationship with the Prime Minister and wondering who did they vote for do they vote for the Prime Minister who apparently cared about them but really in the past. I was able to put on some black paint and in mockery or you know, derision of their cultures and communities. Is it the Tory leader who thought that photos sucked but it refuses to denounce and remove, you know racism from his own party.
Jordan: That’s a shitty choice for them to have to make.
Fatima: And it shouldn’t be the choice on the table. We should expect better. We should demand better and every Canadian should really realize that this is a more nuanced conversation than just a photo that we didn’t know existed.
Jordan: We talked about Jagmeet Singh earlier being the first racialized leader of a federal party do people consider him more as a result of the disillusionment. They might feel with Trudeau. Do we get over some of those people? Who were. Concerned of maybe not voting for him because he couldn’t win because of the color of his skin.
Fatima: I think we’d have to go and ask them that but I think of all the leaders who responded Jagmeet Singh was the only one who spoke to Canadians who said I know exactly how you’re feeling looking at this photo because I have been there and he has been there. And he said don’t let this be an indicative of what Canada is and that was a poignant message that differentiated him from all the other leaders who just focus on the photo because he by nature of who he is by nature of the life. He’s lived recognized that this was bigger than just a photo. Because there’s a lot happening in Canada right now that if you connect the dots is very troubling and very frankly frightening for a person of color or an indigenous member of the community in this country and if we don’t connect the dots and if we don’t ask the hard questions, and if we if the leaders don’t speak to all Canadians in the language that they need to hear. To be assured that Canada is not going to go down the path that certain countries have gone down when it comes to racism then it’s not going to be a fun ride until October the fact is that one of the great things. And there’s not been a lot in recent American history. But one of the great things that has happened South of the Border is that voters have demanded better and they got it. They have racialized members of government at the moment who are fighting for their cause who get it and that didn’t happen just by chance that happened because they’re like we’re done we want people who can actually represent us who we are what we believe in what we want. Why is that not happening in Canada?
Jordan: If this conversations going to go in a productive direction from here where we’re talking about this photo and his apology and move towards addressing the things that are frightening for minorities in this country and the future of representation in politics what me, I’m not going to ask you how it gets there in six months or whatever, but what needs to start happening over the weekend and into next week as the shock wears off and we move on with the campaign.
Fatima: Every reporter on the campaign Trail needs to start asking more difficult questions. It can’t just be like did you realize it was a mistake? It has to be forward-looking questions. You are running for prime minister. We now know that you did something that is apparently racist back in your past. How do you rebuild trust? Where do you go from here? And how do you assure Canadians that a this will never happen again from any member of your government. B, what will happen if any member of your government does it C, how will you remove racism from all the structural institutions of our society? And if he if that candidate does not provide a roadmap you keep asking them and if you’re not getting sufficient answers, you don’t vote for them. That’s how democracy works right but it starts with asking the right and the hard questions and whether that comes from a voter a journalist whoever else. We’re not going to have that conversation. So if we’re serious about grappling with racism, I’m ready if this is if this is the good thing to come out of this photo, let’s have it. Let’s have a Reckoning with racism until October 21st, but let’s do it right then. Let’s do it in a way that come October sept 22nd. We are confident that our government has the the right people the right skill set and the right motivation. To address all the problems that we want them to you know address whether it’s the disproportionate policing of communities or the disproportionate ways children are you know taken away from their families and put in the child welfare system, whether it’s the lack of access to water and resources in indigenous communities that we forget exist. Let’s ask those hard questions and let’s prepare to talk about race until we get the government that we.
Jordan: Hope we do that
Fatima: I hope so, too.
Jordan: Thanks very much.
Fatima: Thank you Jordan.
Jordan: Fatima Syed reporter at the national Observer back-to-back guest on the big story. She works for us now. At least. I wish she did if you want more big stories including a discussion with another frequent guest Andre Domise’s about the cultural history of blackface head to thebigstorypodcast.ca and search for it or you can find it on our Twitter feed which is @thebigstoryfon and you probably know by now that we are in every pod catcher you could ever hope to find us in Apple or Google or Stitcher or Spotify or Pod Magic. That’s a fake one Claire Brassard is the lead producer of the big story, Stephanie Phillips and Ryan Clark are our associate producers, Annalise Nielsen is our digital editor, and I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. Thanks for listening. Have a great week and get some rest. We’ll talk Monday.
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