EDITORIAL: What the brownface pictures can teach Squamish

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s exposure in old photos wearing brown and blackface is an opportunity for Squamish parents to come to terms with their own and Canada’s past and the ways society has evolved — or hasn’t.

If addressed, this can be an important teachable moment and an act toward reconciliation.

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Shrugged off, more such painful gaffes will continue.

In the days following the release of the pictures of Trudeau in either brown or blackface, many white locals balked at it as ‘not so bad.’

This is because most pale folks in Squamish who are over a certain age likely have something similar in their history.

But these acts, while not understood as such at the time, reflect a racist society.

Canadians like to think we are multicultural and tolerant, but our actions and history say something very different.

This is the same country where Quebec’s Bill 21 passed early this summer, banning public workers in positions of authority, including teachers, judges and police officers from wearing religious symbols at work.

This is the same country where, although Indigenous women make up four per cent of Canada’s female population, 16 per cent of all women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012 were Indigenous.

It is the same country where in 2011 students at the Université de Montréal  business school excitedly donned blackface and Jamaican accents during frosh week.

This is the same country where the last residential school closed in 1996, five years before Trudeau’s brownface photo was taken.

The same country that perpetrated the Japanese Canadian internment during the Second World War, forcing 22,000 residents from their homes and taking their property.

The shameful list goes on.

Knowing our history helps us put these blackface incidents in perspective.

We have a record of treating people of colour as other.

Trudeau’s photos are only shocking if we believe that we are and have always been a just and fair country.

We are far from it.

White privilege has just protected some from this truth.

But in Squamish, at least, the Canada we want for our children and ourselves is a just, fair and equal one.

As Squamish Nation leader Khelsilem noted on Twitter in the wake of the Trudeau photos, we need more racialized people in positions of prominence.

Our political landscape, at all levels of government, is shockingly monolithic.

We need more diversity at the top, which means we have to encourage people from various communities to run for positions of power. Had Trudeau truly understood the history of racism in this country, he would have likely made a different choice.

Be honest with your kids and others about the things you have done in the past that in hindsight were clearly racist.

The worst thing about humans is, we can cause each other such pain. The best thing is, we have the ability to grow and get better.

Let’s be better.

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