POLITICS
09/25/2019 17:24 EDT | Updated 09/25/2019 19:10 EDT

Justin Trudeau's Blackface Scandal Gets Different Reactions From Canadian Parents And Kids

Millennials have very different views on blackface and cultural appropriation than older generations, one pollster says.

Manjot Bains
Manjot Bains, 39, and her father, Mohinder Singh Bains, 72, reacted very differently when they first saw photos of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wearing brownface.

TORONTO — There used to be a restaurant at the Waldorf Hotel in East Vancouver that Manjot Bains loved to go to for brunch with her husband. They usually ordered the huevos rancheros, but the chilaquiles were really her favourite.

Manjot’s father didn’t like going there. He eventually revealed that it was because on the same street in the 1970s, he was surrounded by a group of white men who yelled racial slurs at him. Mohinder Singh Bains had recently moved to Canada from the Punjab region of India. 

“He almost got beat up. But luckily, a cop car came by. Otherwise, who knows what would have happened?” Manjot told HuffPost Canada in an interview. 

I knew we would not agree.Manjot Bains

She said her parents have shared other memories of the racism they faced as newcomers to Canada. They were called names; they had eggs thrown at their house. 

But when images emerged of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wearing brownface and then blackface last week, Manjot was hesitant to talk about it with her mom and dad: “I knew we would not agree.”

Manjot, who is 39 and calls herself a “half millennial,” was shocked when she saw the images.

“It didn’t connect with who I thought Trudeau is,” she said. “For anyone to even do that, whether it’s 2001, 1990 or right now, that doesn’t make any sense to me.”

 

Her father, on the other hand, said he felt no shock or disbelief. 

“I didn’t have any reaction to it,” said the 72-year-old Mohinder Singh Bains. “It’s not really a scandal.” 

He credits the immigration policies of Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, with “this beautiful life” he and his family enjoy in Canada.

When it comes to reactions to the photos of Trudeau’s racist makeup, the experience of father and daughter may be typical of families of colour in Canada. Some young people have taken to social media to share stories of their parents making jokes about the scandal or defending Trudeau. 

Shachi Kurl, executive director of polling firm Angus Reid Institute, said the controversy doesn’t seem to have damaged support for Trudeau from people who identify as visible minorities. But it has hurt the Liberals with young voters.

Overall, the Liberals lost an “insignificant” three percentage points in the week after the photos emerged, according to a poll released this week by Angus Reid. That number is the same among voters who identify as visible minorities: 37 per cent who were polled on Sept. 16 said they would vote Liberal compared to 34 per cent who answered the same on Sept. 23. But in the same week, the Liberals saw a drop of nine percentage points in support from men aged 18 to 34 and eight percentage points from women of the same age.

I had suspected that this would cut down generational lines and it has.Shachi Kurl, Angus Reid Institute

“Their numbers have decreased but they haven’t crashed,” Kurl told HuffPost. 

“I had suspected that this would cut down generational lines and it has.”

For older generations, dressing up in a costume that represents another culture might seem normal, Kurl said. But for younger voters accustomed to conversations about privilege and cultural appropriation, it can come across as extremely insensitive.

“You could have a lot of younger voters who are simply disgusted, walk away and don’t show up to vote,” Kurl said. “And that is basically — not just the path to victory — but the highway to victory that the Conservatives can cruise down.”

The online survey was done Sept. 21- 23 among a randomized sample of 1,523 Canadian adults with a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. 

Viral Facebook post

One mother in Mississauga, Ont. sparked a lot of reflection with her Facebook post recounting a conversation with her daughter about the Trudeau photos. 

“My daughter engaged me in a conversation last night after the media circus started,” Rose Handy wrote. “When I told her that I’m not bothered by those photos generally and I’m not hurt or offended by this one … She seemed puzzled.”

Estelle, 13, knew blackface was racist, but wanted to know more about why her mother said the Trudeau issue wasn’t the kind of racism that concerned her. 

Handy explained she is more offended that the scandal will prevent a “serious conversation” about systemic racism and situations like landlords refusing to rent to black people or principals calling the police on black children instead of talking to their parents. 

Her post was shared by more than 13,000 people. 

 

“I’m totally stunned,” Handy, 50, told HuffPost in an interview. “I feel like I did my part in this election … All of a sudden, thousands and thousands of people, I got them thinking.”

She recalls a day last year when she had two hours to fill at the Brampton courthouse and decided to sit in on a youth criminal court.

“I came out of there in tears. Literally, in tears. First of all, I couldn’t believe that out of 50 kids that were on trial that day … 38 were black,” Handy said. “It’s unbelievable. Those are the kind of things that if we have the time, we should be bringing up ... And ask the politicians to bring changes for these kinds of things.”

An election is a very important moment where we need to challenge leaders of parties and ask them what are they going to do about these issues that are important to us.Rose Handy

She wants to see a real plan to improve the criminal justice system, to make the visa application process equitable for people from Africa and to end police brutality. 

“An election is a very important moment where we need to challenge leaders of parties and ask them what are they going to do about these issues that are important to us. One of them has to be racism, all the time.”

Here’s each party’s plan to fight racism

HuffPost asked the four major parties what concrete steps they’ll take to fight racism if they’re elected in October

Conservative spokesman Simon Jefferies did not initially respond. The party has nothing specific about combating racism on its website

After this story was published, Jefferies pointed HuffPost to comments Scheer made about the Liberals’ anti-racism strategy. The Conservative leader suggested he would continue their program.

“I believe it’s always important for all levels of government to support measures that promote inclusiveness and promote tolerance and our government will continue to support those types of measures,” Scheer said.

Liberal spokesperson Joe Pickerill said, “Canadians know diversity is our strength,” and sent a list of the party’s accomplishments, like launching a $45-million anti-racism strategy, settling 60,000 refugees from Syria and improving gender balance in the military. 

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pose for a photo before the Maclean's/Citytv debate in Toronto on Sept. 12, 2019.

NDP spokesperson Melanie Richer pointed to the party’s five-point plan to address racism, which includes creating a working group on online hate, banning carding by federal police forces and reviewing employment equity law. 

The Green party has a long chapter on how it plans to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in its platform, but does not mention racism in its section on “advancing the just society.” Party spokesperson Rosie Emery said that she would follow up but has not yet responded.

Both Manjot and Mohinder said they haven’t decided who to vote for yet.

Manjot lives in the riding held by Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Liberal cabinet minister who was kicked out of the party and is running as an independent. She said the pictures definitely affected her view of the Liberal leader.

“I think that people can change,” Manjot said. “But I think that someone who did blackface three times, I don’t know about. That’s bizarre.” 

Mohinder has supported the Liberal party in the past because he likes “progressive policies.” But he said he’ll look at the candidates in his riding of Burnaby South and vote for the most qualified person.

Handy said the reaction from party leaders to Trudeau’s scandal has been far from sufficient.

“They have said, ‘We cannot accept racism, discrimination is unacceptable, we have to love all Canadians,’ Handy said.

 “Yeah, yeah. They’re words. But what precisely are you doing?”

This story has been updated with comment from the Conservative party.

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