Justin Trudeau Apologizes For Wearing Brownface

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February 2019 (Wikimedia Commons)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February 2019 (Wikimedia Commons)

A photo of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appearing in brownface surfaced on September 18. The photo, taken from a West Point Grey Academy yearbook, pictures Trudeau, who worked as a teacher at the time, with his face and hands darkened. Trudeau apologized for the photo, saying he is “pissed off at himself” and “should have known better.” 

The photo, published by TIME magazine, shows Trudeau dressed in a turban, robe, and brownface for an Arabian Nights-themed party in 2001. Trudeau admitted that it was not the only time he darkened his skin, stating that he once wore blackface “makeup” and dressed in costume to sing “Day-O,” a traditional Jamaican folk song popularly known as the “Banana Boat Song.” 

This development comes at a highly inopportune moment for Trudeau, as he campaigns for reelection as prime minister in October. The other major candidate, Andrew Scheer, currently polls close to Trudeau. This fresh scandal only adds to the accusation of ethics violation Trudeau has been facing for his alleged attempts to break Canadian law to prevent a corruption trial from taking place. The uncovered brownface photo also harkens back to Trudeau’s last visit to India, in which he danced the bhangra dressed in traditional Indian clothing, which many have judged to be culturally insensitive.

When elected to his first term, many Canadians and much of the world saw Trudeau as a progressive arriving to upend the status quo. He centered much of his first campaign around fighting Islamophobia, having a strongly pro-immigration stance and pushing for new social reform. While in office, he purposefully nominated a diverse, forward-minded cabinet in an effort to further this image.

Fighting to maintain his brand in light of this new photo, Trudeau has continually apologized, saying his actions were “a racist thing to do.” When similar yearbook photos of other high-ranking politicians have been released, they became embroiled in scandals and forever tainted their public images, which does not bode well for Trudeau. 

With fervent and frequent apologies, Trudeau hopes to prevent his reputation from being harmed as he struggles to gain reelection. Whether this event has tipped the scales against Trudeau in Scheer’s favor, however, is up to voters.