The revelation that Canadian Prime Minister wore brownface on multiple occasions as an adult has thrown a wrench in a northernly neighbor's election cycle as the world's most woke leader is now the subject of international scrutiny for his past behavior. Back home the media have pursued the usual "pouncing" angels, but CNN contributor Wajahat Ali took the opportunity on Thursday's CNN Newsroom to espouse some hot takes of his own, including that, "conservatives don't seem to like black and brown people."
Guest host Erica Hill began by opening the floor for Ali, declaring that every time a blackface scandal emerges, there lacks a deeper conversation about why blackface is wrong. The accurateness of that assertion notwithstanding, Ali began his response reasonably enough, explaining why one should not wear blackface, but then launched into a lengthy monologue about the state of minorities in the U.S. and Canada:
We're stuck right now, right? Okay. All these liberals putting on blackface, brownface and then you got all these conservatives don't seem to like black and brown people and we're stuck in the middle? What's going on? And again, I was just talking to a makeup stylist at CNN, a person of color, she was like 'Never in my life did it occur to me to put on blackface or brownface,' and I’m like 'Me, too.' Never in my life did it occur to put on blackface or brownface.
Ali did not give any proof that conservatives don't like black and brown people. He went on to say that Trudeau could help himself by having "a person of color, perhaps a cabinet member, someone’s who a Sikh-American [sic] or black come up with him and really address the issue head-on" at the press conference with him. That minority cabinet member won't be Jody Wilson-Raybould, who Trudeau fired as Justice Minister and was eventually kicked out of the Liberal Party for refusing to end a criminal investigation into his cronies, breaking the country's conflict of interest law in the process.
After showing the English portion of Trudeau's press conference where he talked about the matter, Hill went back to Ali for his thoughts on Trudeau's remarks.
Ali went into another lengthy monologue, this time about privellage, "The issue of privilege and white supremacy and systemic racism that really allowing a man who's educated, who’s wordily, who’s global, who’s liberal, like Justin Trudeau to wear brownface and blackface face at age of 30," he then went after Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, calling him a hypocrite. Ali then hyperbolically declared that white nationalism is not only being mainstreamed in the U.S., but also in Canada.
Here is a transcript for the September 19 show:
CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin
2:39 PM ET
ERIC HILL: As we're watching all of this, certainly a history here in the U.S. when some of these pictures have surfaced. Specifically talking in the U.S. about blackface and the history of that in this country. Canadian media referred to these pictures as racist makeup or darkface. Wajahat, if we forget the labels, though, every time this comes up seems there's a conversation that's missing?
WAJAHAT ALI: Yeah. So if you're watching at home thinking about putting on blackface or brownface for Halloween, don't do it! Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. The reason for it is there's a history here. I mean, the reason people say, oh you're being too politically correct or you’re being too sensitive. No, that's not the case. Blackface or brownface or yellowface is a history of dehumanization. It’s mockery. It’s belittling a person of color. Exaggerated features, exaggerated language. If you look at blackface in particular, just look at the movie "Birth of a nation." Which by the way, a favorite movie of Woodrow Wilson. A thoroughly racist movie with both white and black actors in blackface. What has always been done, is to advance white supremacy at the expense of people of color. If you look at yellowface, look Mickey Rooney in the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's," exaggerated features, buck teeth, squinted eyes and the audience always laughs at them. It’s an object of ridicule of mockery and whoever's in power in the case of Western society often been white supremacy, it’s the rest of us, the person of color, who is marginalized. That is why so many people of color; we're stuck right now, right? Okay. All these liberals putting on blackface, brownface and then you got all these conservatives don't seem to like black and brown people and we're stuck in the middle? What's going on? And again, I was just talking to a makeup stylist at CNN, a person of color, she was like “Never in my life did it occur to me to put on blackface or brownface,” and I’m like “Me, too.” Never in my life did it occur to put on blackface or brownface. The fact Justin Trudeau did this as an adult, I really hope he comes out, has humility, apologizes, has a person of color, perhaps a cabinet member, someone’s who a Sikh-American or black come up with him and really address the issue head-on. It's an issue of white supremacy and racism as we see in America, Erica, it seems we're very uncomfortable to talk about these issues.
HILL: Justin Trudeau taking a moment also, obviously to speak to his constituents who are French speaking. As he's doing that, Wajahat Ali, I just want to bring you in. Curious to your reaction what we're hearing from him and in this first couple of moments as he’s apologizing and trying to explain where he is today?
ALI: Yeah, I think the most important question is why did he see it as racist as a young man? And he briefly teased at an answer, that he said he had the privilege and privilege allowed him not to see it. We know privilege is blind to its own power, its own abuses of power but I really would were have hoped he would take this moment to really talk about that issue. The issue of privilege and white supremacy and systemic racism that really allowing a man who's educated, who’s wordily, who’s global, who’s liberal, like Justin Trudeau to wear brownface and blackface face at age of 30, at the age of 21 and specifically when we’re going into election season in Canada, as we know the opposition, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer just four days ago had to come out and say any Conservative member who in the past made a homophobic or racist tweet or comment, if they apologize now, then I accept their apology. That's what we're stuck between. I'm really curious now Andrew Scheer accepts Trudeau’s apology and applies the same standard, but you see the rise of white nationalism, you see the raise of the mainstreaming of white nationalist rhetoric both in Canada and the United States of America and so I think real leadership here is, A, he did the first part. Seems to be very apologetic. There's contrition here, but I really would have liked advancement on this conversation and's especially with an election year it would’ve have been really nice to see if he had gone that extra step.
HILL: Let’s see, let’s see, let’s listen into a little bit more, let’s see what he has to say
JUSTIN TRUDEAU: [SPEAKING FRENCH]
HILL: So going to French there. We missed that one answer. We'll dip in to see what he has to say. It is interesting, and I brought this up quickly with Paula, but one of the questions, one thing after another after another after another and we ended up with three different incidents we learned about and asked how many times and he said, this is what I remember. What's interesting is, when you look at incidents like this and as you point out as recently as 2001 for him when he's a grown man, even the reaction in 2001, there's been a lot of change and development in the way people, you know, talk about race, look at race, talk about privilege in 2019 versus 2001, but even in 2001, it seems somewhat surprising.
ALI: Yeah, I mean I talked to a friend of mine, in 2001 I was a college student at UC-Berkeley, I was 20, about to turn 21, even then Erica, doing blackface, brownface, or yellowface was racist and wrong. It just goes to show you that this privilege that blinds so many people -- not just 2001, just recently, right? We’ve seen these examples of frat parties where the whole theme is around blackface and brownface and overwhelmingly white people, young white men and women who don't consider themselves racist at all or doing anything wrong saying, hey, we're just getting in the spirit of things. Not trying to culturally appropriate, we’re just wearing this costume of an indigenous American and putting on brownface, we’re just having fun and again it goes back to the first point, is that when you’re so divorced from the history of racism, when you're of so privileged that you don’t see it because it never affects you, you are allowed to be blissfully ignorant. To be ignorant is also be privileged, right? For the rest of us when see blackface or brownface, we’re like “Wow, mockery, ridicule, dehumanization.” For other people, it’s a great costume for a party. I wonder when it comes to Governor Northam, right, that photo of him in blackface was in his yearbook, did nobody else say, “wait a minute. There's a man in blackface in the yearbook. Maybe we shouldn't put this photo in the yearbook?” Which is why it gets back to the point of systemic racism. We need education about how this has affected so many communities and that's a conversation, Erica, like you you mentioned. We are very uncomfortable having in this country and seems in Canada.