Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used to be my fourth favorite Canadian, behind Keanu Reeves, Celine Dion, and Margaret Atwood. Seeing Trudeau in blackface was more painful than when my old high school crush shared a racist meme on Facebook. It kills the part of your innocence that makes you sad and angry that you let yourself fall in love in the first place.
As a misanthropic curmudgeon who writes about zombies, I am scared. I let my guard down and added Trudeau to the list of white people who weren’t racist; I was wrong. As a member of the African diaspora, I have to assume all white people are racist until proven otherwise. It isn’t paranoia. It is survival. When white people are caught being racist, the explanation has often been that they are poor, excluded, uneducated and that surely if they had received more opportunities to attend university, meet different people and travel that they would not behave as they do. Trudeau has no excuse.
Accusations that Trudeau was the vapid, entitled son of a former prime minister were always neutralized by his reputation for conviviality and kindness. Jeff Bezos is smart; that’s undeniable. Yet, even after becoming the richest man on the planet, firmly on his way to becoming the first trillionaire, the question of whether Bezos is capable of kindness follows him. Trudeau’s talent was his kindness. His greatest advantage over his political opponents was his kindness. A campaign donor doesn’t care if you can recite memorized trade statistics if you can’t remember his name in conversation. And who can forget the images of Trudeau kneeling to welcome that Syrian girl to Canada in her new blue coat? It had me wiping sloppy tears with my shirtsleeve because deep down, we know that kindness trumps good looks, education and money; all of which Trudeau had in droves.
Trudeau’s kindness was on the decline when he bullied the first First Nations Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould over the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal. Wilson-Raybould’s departure was followed by black Member of Parliament Celina Caesar-Chavannes also leaving the Liberal Party caucus in March. Women of color are like the canary in the coal mine: When they’re gone, it means you’re in trouble. Last month, a report was issued which found that Trudeau had, in fact, violated the Conflict of Interest Act.
If Trump has taught the world anything it is that racism and unkindness are the same. Trudeau’s blackface proves that black people are not paranoid when they sense that a person is exhibiting racist behavior towards them. Racism affects the way people think, and in Trudeau’s case, contextualizes his mistreatment of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Celina Caesar-Chavannes. These photos may explain why Trudeau was incapable of treating these women with the respect due to any member representing her constituents on Parliament Hill.
Canadians are known across the world for being nice. As a Haitian immigrant growing up in New York, I experienced it first-hand going to Montreal every year with my family as a child, in Toronto every other week while I studied at the University at Buffalo, and in Ottawa when I worked for Global Affairs Canada. And when my 11-year-old daughter was in tears after Trump won the U.S. presidential election, the only thing that made her stop crying was the idea that we could always move to Canada.
I am not Canadian, but I am scared for the future of North America if Andrew Scheer becomes the next Prime Minister of Canada. The Canadian Conservative Party lacks imagination and certainly has no moral leg to stand on when it comes to fighting racism. Kindness was Trudeau’s ace. It guaranteed him a win whenever he pulled it out. Now, everything he does and says will be seen as calculated and insincere. In politics, as in life, the real enemy is apathy, not hate. These images might not be enough for some people to hate Trudeau but they are definitely enough for people to stop caring. And they will probably be enough for some liberal and independent voters to stay home on Oct. 21 and hand the victory to Andrew Scheer.
Jenna Chrisphonte is the writer of Talc: A Haitian Zombie Story. She also served a foreign policy and diplomatic services officer at Global Affairs Canada.