(Canadian Press, Time.com photos)

How to react to Trudeau’s racist photos? With humility, B.C. prof says

‘We are now treating racism as a crime that you cannot recover from’

A sociology professor at the University of British Columbia is urging people to consider another approach when reacting to the racist images of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau – one of reconciliation and learning, instead of punishment and aggression.

“We are now treating racism as a crime that you cannot recover from,” professor Rima Wilkes said in a phone interview Thursday, after two photos and a video surfaced this week showing a younger Trudeau in brownface and blackface.

“Other crimes, you can serve your time and you are allowed to come back into society. But what we’re doing with racism is that, if we find any indication that you have ever been overly racist, then you should lose your job.”

The images, which Trudeau himself has dubbed as racist, are having an impact beyond the campaign trail, prompting many people to question how they react to people in power committing acts of racism, especially ones made decades earlier.

READ MORE: Racist incidents in B.C. spark concern among defenders of tolerance

Wilkes, who studies radicalization and racism in the media, said labelling people as racist and shaming them leaves little room for mistakes to be resolved and learning to be had.

“If you stay racist and you’re promoting racism on purpose, that is one thing,” she said, but society needs to accept someone when they act racist and apologize for it, and examine how they themselves can create a more accepting society.

READ MORE: Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal Stephen Fuhr sings vandalized with blackface

Trudeau was in front of the media issuing an apology within hours after Time magazine’s story broke on the internet, featuring a 2001 photo of him in brownface posing as Aladdin while a teacher at Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy.

“I’m asking Canadians to forgive me for what I did,” Trudeau said. “I shouldn’t have done that. It was a dumb thing to do. I’m disappointed in myself. I’m pissed off at myself for having done it. I apologize for it.”

But another instance of Trudeau in blackface was released by Global News shortly after, in addition to a second incident Trudeau himself admitted to from when he was in high school.

Trudeau apologized for a second time Thursday, saying he didn’t recall some of those earlier images, he didn’t see at the time that it was wrong because of his privileged upbringing and he deeply regrets his behaviour.

Just as quickly to react were Trudeau’s foes, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, the first visible minority to lead a national party in Canada.

Rather than condemn Trudeau, Singh told the cameras that his opponent’s actions will hurt Canadians who endured racism 20 years ago, and more importantly, will hurt young people facing discrimination now.

READ MORE: ‘Troubling, insulting’: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh reacts to Trudeau’s brownface photo

“I want to talk to all of the kids out there, all the folks who lived this and are now grown up and still feeling the pain of racism,” Singh said Wednesday night. “I want you to know that you might feel like giving up on Canada … I want you to know that you have value, you have worth and you are loved.”

Satwinder Kaur Bains, the director of the University of the Fraser Valley’s South Asian Studies Institute, applauded Singh’s reaction, and said that while the photos are “very disheartening,” they should prompt a national discussion, rather than political division.

“I feel like times like these, we all go into our silos,” Bains said, but instead, politicians should come together.

The photos can help Canadians learn why dressing up as visible minorities is unacceptable, she said, and how that is linked to the barriers and racism faced by people of colour.

READ MORE: Trudeau brownface photos are ‘teaching moment,’ UFV prof says

Both Bains and Wilkes acknowledge that an apology doesn’t instantly rid the harm and pain that’s been caused.

Countless electoral candidates and community leaders, including those at a meeting of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations in Vancouver on Thursday, have rebuked Trudeau and called for his resignation.

Joan Philip, NDP candidate in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, has called for Trudeau to resign from his leadership position.

“His apology is hollow. There’s two parts to the apology. There’s the apology and then there’s, ‘How do I make it right?’ Just like Canada when they apologized for what they did to us. They have to make it right,” said Phillip to The Canadian Press.

But Michelle Corfield, the Liberal candidate in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, said that though she is disappointed, she believes everyone deserves forgiveness when they ask for it.

“I hope the country learns a lesson from this,” she said. “He has asked for forgiveness, he has said sorry. It is now time for us as a country to look at that and take something from it.”

– with files from Tyler Olsen at The Abbotsford News and The Canadian Press


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Haida Gwaii libraries resume inter-branch deliveries

Users can once again access materials from entire Vancouver Island Regional Library system

Masks mandatory in Old Massett as Haida Gwaii COVID cases total 26

Old Massett Village Council says curfew will be enforced with community service

All-Islands Protocol Table working to restore Haida place names

List of 12 priority names created; Queen Charlotte, Port Clements councils vote to support changes

B.C. premier ‘not going to be apologetic’ about closure of Haida Gwaii fishing lodges

Horgan says ‘public health takes the priority’ over business in implementation of travel restriction

B.C. mogul sells private Naikoon properties to parks system in $1 million deal

NIHO founder Rudy Nielsen sells 320 acres to BC Parks; Ministry statement expected in ‘coming months’

53 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths cap off week of high infection rates in B.C.

Roughly 1,500 people are self-isolating because they either have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it

VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island

Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic

Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world

On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

3 Vancouver police officers test positive for COVID after responding to large party

Union president says other officers are self-isolating due to possible exposure

New mothers with COVID-19 should still breastfeed: Canada’s top doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam made the recommendation during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Collapse of Nunavut ice shelf ‘like losing a good friend:’ glaciologist

The ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent

Most Read