The Trudeau brownface scandal has left me disappointed with many people I generally see as allies. As the week went on, I grew disturbed with Jagmeet Singh’s responses, and the commentary of progressives on my Facebook feed. If you have an opinion, I welcome hearing your opinion as an opinion. But please be responsible with comments you frame as fact.
Growing up in Vancouver and Calgary as a brown kid in the post 9/11 years, I have experienced a fair share of prejudice. Definitely not as severe or deadly as some communities in our country, but moments that stung and embarrassed nonetheless. But, I try not to internalize prejudiced behaviour towards me as something that has anything to do with me. I choose to believe that it is a function of power imbalances still being ironed out in our culture. These imbalances create individuals with blind spots—blind spots that aren’t necessarily representative of someone’s character.
Not everyone’s so lucky that their experienced prejudice is so unthreatening that they can process racial prejudice in this way, but that’s my reality. And I believe it’s the reality of many racialized Canadians in our country, increasingly so.
When I saw those pictures of Trudeau, I thought it was gross, idiotic, and embarrassing for Canada, but I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t disappointed, and no part of me felt hurt. It is behaviour that fits perfectly with the character I’ve observed these last four years: I see Trudeau as someone who is arrogant, conceited, and shallow in understanding or concern, and perfectly willing to masquerade in any identity that scores applause. What I thought about was how people are going to react and respond to this scandal and how it would affect this election that I feel is immensely important.
Jagmeet Singh proclaimed that racialized people who see the blackface images are going to now think of all the times in their life that they were hurt by racism, revisit that pain and fear, and question their worth and belonging in this country. Singh wanted to focus on telling Canadians, particularly kids, that they are loved and they are valued and wanted in this country. When he said all of this, at first I was confused. I was confused because I didn’t identify with those feelings or thoughts at all, not even as a momentary blip. I struggled with wondering if Singh was being genuine, and if he really believed that needed to be said.
But in interview after interview, as Singh kept repeating those talking points—and as progressive pundits on my Facebook kept insisting that those pictures absolutely meant that we live in a racist, oppressive, hateful society—I noticed feelings of insecurity bubble up within me, followed by sadness, then anger.
Ironically I started feeling like maybe I could be “less than” and feeling like I do have pain and hurt that is being unearthed. Not because of Justin Trudeau’s photos, but because of Jagmeet Singh and others repeatedly declaring that that is how people like me in this country will feel.
That realization made me feel deeply disappointed, disgusted even. I understood it as this: the fact that I have been hurt by prejudice in my life was being used to manipulate me for political gain by the NDP.
Then I read self-identified progressives on Facebook declaring the correct way for this scandal to be evaluated and processed—with the overt assertion that anyone who does not accept these progressives’ proclaimed truth is either brainwashed, or supports a racist status quo, or at best is a well-intentioned but misguided fellow progressive that needs to change their mind to truly be an ally of “the” movement.
That makes me not want to associate with their movement. It makes me see these friends as childish, and immature, and frustratingly divisive, hurtful even. It makes me feel like there is no willingness in that camp to even entertain the possibility that my approach to reality might be at least equally valid. And it makes me feel like my perspective doesn’t matter to them, and frankly is not-wanted.
But, Jagmeet Singh told me it would be the photos that would make me feel marginalized. For me, the photos didn’t, but progressives peddling insecurity did.
Trump, Ford, Peterson…these are men whose actions can be seen as inviting fascism because they assert narratives that give them power as absolute reality. They grow the base for their narrative by viralizing rage and insecurity, and they characterize any dissident thinking persons as a societal threat.
I’m writing this because I am concerned that in trying to counter increasing fascism on the Right, the Left is becoming increasingly fascist. And I believe most Canadians, who are smarter than that, are turned off by it. I believe that is why the Green Party is surging. I believe that is why I might vote Liberal or Green for the first time.
I’ve voted NDP in every election since I became of voting age. As a brown, bearded man that grew up in the federal riding where Jagmeet Singh ran an inspiring, courageous campaign that made me very proud of him and of my home riding for electing him, I would love for Canada’s Prime Minister to look a bit like me. That’d be so freaking cool. But though I see myself in Jagmeet Singh, and though I believe in many values of social democracy, I don’t see myself in the NDP.
If that means I’m now more right-wing, I don’t know what that says about me. But I think we have to wonder why?