(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

Buildings demolished in Fort Langley core

The site at Glover and Church street has been proposed for eventual development

‘Suspicious’ fire at Langley property listed for $3M

Invesitgators were at the scene Tuesday morning

Aldergrove drive-in theatre appeals COVID-19 concession rules, 50-car limit

With 50 cars and the removal of concession sales, drive-in owner says theatre might have to close

Langley pubs, restaurants can expand patios

Council approved a plan for more spread-out outdoor dining

Fire-damaged Villa Fontana to be torn down

Owners of Langley City building considering replacement

Dr. Bonnie Henry given new name in B.C. First Nation ceremony: ‘one who is calm among us’

The provincial health officer was honoured in a May 22 ceremony at elementary school in Hazelton

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping the Aldergrove Star to continue its mission to provide trusted local news

B.C. man with Alberta plates gets car keyed and aggressive note

Some out-of-province people are finding hostile reception due to COVID-19 worries

COVID-19: B.C. grants aim to stabilize sexual assault recovery programs

$10 million fund not yet ready to take applications

B.C. mom’s drug-pricing petition on behalf of son garners thousands of signatures

Petition geared to gaining access to new medicines drew support of Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl

Gabriel Klein’s sentencing delayed until September

Man convicted of killing Abbotsford high school student Letisha Reimer was set for June

‘Paralyzed by fear’: B.C. woman details anxiety, grief at Italian relief hospital

Sheila Vicic spent two months in Italy as the country grappled with COVID-19

CAMH survey looks at binge-drinking, financial anxiety during COVID

Alcohol may be used as a coping mechanism for those whose careers may have been sidelined due to the pandemic

Half of Canadians say governments are hiding something about COVID-19: poll

More than a third of people believe the virus was created in a lab

Most Read