Commenters on Twitter say Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau evoked anti-black stereotypes at last night’s Up For Debate, a panel discussion with four federal party leaders on women’s issues.
At Monday's event, audience and panel members viewed pre-recorded segments from interviews with Green Leader Elizabeth May, Bloc Québecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, and Trudeau. The event was held in lieu of a cancelled leaders debate on women's issues, with panellists of experts commenting on leaders' answers.
A highlight reel showed Trudeau commenting on factors that contribute to misogyny:
"I don’t know where exactly to point my finger. I think there’s probably an awful lot of factors that come together to shape societal behaviours, whether it’s certain types of music. There is a lot of misogyny in certain types of music," Trudeau said.
"There are issues around pornography and its prevalence now and its accessibility, which I am really wrapping my head around now as father of kids who are approaching their teen years, and there is also the shifting parental roles as well. There’s a lot of communities in which fathers are less present than they have been or might have been in the past and there’s a need for engaged, positive role models."
While the edited clip showed Trudeau’s answer right after interviewer Francine Pelletier asked Duceppe about violence against women, a transcript of Trudeau’s full interview provided to The Huffington Post Canada reveals his answer was in response to a question about young men being misogynistic.
Pelletier: I was going to say, you’d like to think that this is the problem of an older generation of men who haven’t quite accepted that women have their equal place in the workplace and everywhere else in society, but actually, a lot of the abuse that we are seeing now, the abuse when women journalists do stand-up, the obscenities that are yelled at them, the anonymous blogger at the University of Toronto the other day, these are young men… they’re not old men, they’re young men. How do you explain that?
Trudeau: I don’t know where exactly to point my finger. I think there’s probably an awful lot of factors that come together to shape societal behaviours, whether it’s certain types of music. There is a lot of misogyny in certain types of music. There are issues around pornography and its prevalence now and its accessibility, which I am really wrapping my head around now as a father of kids who are approaching their teen years and there is also the shifting parental roles as well. There’s a lot of communities in which fathers are less present than they have been or might have been in the past and there’s a need for engaged positive role models.
Immediately after the video segment aired, black and LGBTQ rights activist Angela Robertson, who was on stage as a feminist expert panellist, shared what she thought Trudeau meant by "certain types of music":
"I didn’t get a sense [they had] an understanding about women’s inequality," Robertson said. "We heard about parenting. We heard about rap music – at this, Robertson laughed – "but I didn’t hear a commentary about patriarchy and about women’s inequality.”
In a later interview with HuffPost, Robertson said that while she doesn’t think being explicitly racist was Trudeau's intention, his statements can be used to further marginalize and stigmatize racialized communities.
“I named it as rap because often that’s a code word… lack of fathers as role models is another code,” Robertson said. "It’s problematic because it suggests that violence is more prevalent in these communities, and by making that inference it feeds stereotypes, but doesn’t attack the history of colonialism that’s breaking families apart or the violence to families that were deliberately not kept whole."
Robertson said the comment was also particularly heterosexually-focused.
Others on Twitter also thought Trudeau was referring to black stereotypes with his comments, including columnist and Canadaland radio host Desmond Cole, who commented extensively through a series of tweets (see full text here)
Is it a coincidence that two of the three factors Trudeau cited about violence against women are well-worn stereotypes about black people?— Desmond Cole (@DesmondCole) September 22, 2015
If there are specific communities where hateful music and absent fathers cause violence against women, why wouldn't Trudeau name them?— Desmond Cole (@DesmondCole) September 22, 2015
Violence against women touches all people in Canada. Why did Trudeau narrow it down to certain groups of people, but not say who they are?— Desmond Cole (@DesmondCole) September 22, 2015
Some of you will say that Justin Trudeau is not racist. The point is that his responses were a very careless nod to anti-black stereotypes.— Desmond Cole (@DesmondCole) September 22, 2015
Liberals suddenly defenders of vague racially-tinged phrases. Must have run out of outrage on "old stock Canadians" #UpforDebate— tim howlett (@timhowl) September 22, 2015
Whether rap and hip hop contributes to misogyny or is shaped by pre-existing gender conflict remains a debate among critics. And Vice Canada points out that misogynistic lyrics or themes are present in several genres of music.
After an event in Montreal Tuesday, Trudeau was asked to clarify what he meant by his comments. He said he did not mean to point out any culture in particular.
“As leaders, as parents, as community leaders, we need to make sure we are combating misogyny in all its forms wherever it’s found, whether fashion magazines or popular music or popular culture,” Trudeau said. “We all have to work together. The fact is I was incredibly honoured to be able to participate in the important Up for Debate event last night.”
Trudeau then called out Conservative Leader Stephen Harper for not participating in the interviews.
Also on HuffPost