Blackface- racist origins and contemporary issues

Blackface- racist origins and contemporary issues

Justin Trudeau is seen as one of the world’s foremost progressive leaders. His election as the Prime Minister of Canada was met with great cheer among the liberals of the world, who deified Trudeau. As with any mainstream political leader, however, the Canadian’s track record was hardly blemish-free. While admittedly talking a great deal about environmentalism and a future full of green policies won him plenty of supporters, his subsequent actions left many to be desired. Building oil pipelines for profit across Canada showed that perhaps he wasn’t quite the fresh breath of air that people wanted. Despite returning to power, albeit with a reduced mandate, Trudeau was found and tried in the Kangaroo Court for something he did years ago- blackface. The context was that for a Halloween party, a fair while ago, Trudeau dressed up in a garb resembling traditional Middle Eastern outfits and, the crown jewel, he had painted his face black.

 

Blackface is nothing new. It is understood to have stemmed out of old white men and their fascination with different coloured people. As far back as 1441, captive West Africans were displayed in Portugal and were commodified, not just as slaves, but also as circus attractions. It is tragic but colonial power dynamics played out in a manner that objectified people of colour and treated them as objects of attraction. In the United States, a theatre company popularised the act by putting white actors with their faces painted on stage.

 

Northeastern University’s professor Moya Bailey argues that the very act of darkening one’s skin, regardless of when the offence occurred, is indicative of an offender’s belief system, which shapes the way he or she makes impactful and far-reaching decisions. It is difficult to argue against this. Some people think that since it is no longer prevalent, we can forget about it existing. However, this would be doing a disservice to the pasts that have shaped our lives today. Those times may have gone, but they must never be forgotten. As responsible citizens, we must continue to call out those indulging in blatantly racist activities today and those who have done so in the past. If nothing else, we must at least acknowledge the mistakes that we have made in order to learn from them.

 

Aryaman Sood

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Aryaman Sood

aryaman.sood_ug21@ashoka.edu.in

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