Justin Trudeau: racist at twenty-one?

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, is thigh-deep in controversy as he faces into a tight general election next month. The man whose good looks, parentage (his father Pierre Trudeau was also Canadian PM) and ability to shake hands with Donald Trump and not allow the orange-faced one to best him, has just had three skeletons come rattling out of his cupboard and give him dangerous grins.

What has he done? He has ‘black-faced’.  In 2001 at an Arabian Nights costume party, when he was twenty-one and a teacher at a private school in British Columbia, a picture was taken of him in a turban and robe, with dark make-up covering his face and neck.  Two similar incidents have been discovered and Trudeau has apologized: “I’m pissed off at myself, I’m disappointed in myself”.

I remember the BBC’s Black and White Minstrel Show,  which was  hugely popular and featured singers in black-face.  I remember the distinguished British actor Paul Scofield blacked-up to play the lead in Shakespeare’s Othello, to general critical acclaim.  In short, there was a time when blacking-up really didn’t feature as a problem. Today, it looks as though it could destroy the career of the Canadian prime minster.

Why? If he was performing a part in an Arabian Nights drama, it seems reasonable that he dress up and make up to resemble an Arab. When Dustin Hoffman dressed up as a woman in Tootsie, his performance was applauded to the echo. Shouldn’t an actor be allowed to play any part he or she wishes, and to play that part by dressing and making up in a way that matches the part?

I’m sure there are clowns who black-up in order to mock black people; but there’s no suggestion that Trudeau was deliberately mocking Arabs back in the day. Why is it that for white people to play the part of black people in a stage production is considered racist, but when American Renée Zellweger played the part of an overweight English woman it was accepted and applauded?

Final point: I sometimes think the news manufacturers produce these controversies so we’ll be distracted from the fact that a racist misogynistic liar is in the White House and a lying, over-privileged man-child is deciding the economic fate of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England and some countries in the EU. With, of course, the help of the DUP, among whose number there are those who deny climate change and detest gay people.

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