Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saw his “woke” credentials rocked after a photo of him in brownface was spread by the country’s media.
Trudeau, who has become a face of progressive values during his time as Canada’s head of government, apparently donned the racialized makeup during a party he attended while teaching at West Point Grey Academy, a private school. The party had an “Arabian Nights” theme. The photo shows Trudeau wearing a turban and Arabic-style robes. Apparently, he was attempting to portray a character from Aladdin.
Obviously, the episode flies in the face of Trudeau’s hyped image as an enlightened social liberal. Since beginning his prime ministership of Canada in 2015, Trudeau has made intersectionality a hallmark of his government. He famously appointed a diverse host of individuals to his cabinet to reflect what says represents Canadian values.
The prime minister spoke to reporters quickly after the photo surfaced on Wednesday night.
“I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better and I didn’t. I’m really sorry,” Trudeau said. He went on to admit the photo was indeed racist, he said “Yes it was. I didn’t consider it racist at the time, but now we know better.”
TIME reports that the prime minister performed a Jamaican folk song penned by African-American singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte during the party. Apparently, he chose brownface to look more like the songwriter.
The photo’s release comes at a critical time for Trudeau, who just launched his re-election campaign on September 11. During his campaign launch, the prime minister called on Canadians to recall his Liberal Party’s legacy.
“Canadians chose a new team, ready to invest in people and their communities, a team that understood that even if we live in the best country in the world, it’s always possible to do better,” he said. “And even though we have a huge amount of work still to do, we spent the last four years making things better, and we have the record to prove it.”
Trudeau’s popularity remained relatively unscathed during the first few years of his prime ministership. As BBC News notes, he garnered fawning media coverage when he was elected in 2015, hailed as the new face of Canadian politics. This image amplified after the election of President Donald Trump in the United States. Many liberal pundits reacted by suggesting that Trudeau is the last hope for a progressive world.
Despite this, Trudeau’s popularity took a hit even before the brownface photo went viral. His re-election campaign launch came on the heels of scandal, as it was reported the prime minister pressured his then-attorney general to scrap charges against a Canadian engineering firm allegedly allied with Trudeau.
We don’t need to tell you that there is a delicious irony to all of this. For years, Trudeau has been the face of the social justice-oriented woke politics — the same movement that supports cancel culture here in the United States and around the world. It will be very revealing to see how the cultural gatekeepers react to this. Will Trudeau get a pass because he has the right ideology? Or, will he be discarded? Canadians will have the ability to decide.