Jenny Kwan: Pain of Trudeau’s racist blackface felt in Vancouver

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      Who would have thought that Canadians would wake up to find multiple images of Justin Trudeau wearing a brown face or black face?

      Since this bombshell hit the airwaves, the Liberal leader has apologized to Canadians, but he refuses to say if this has happened more than the three times that the public knows about so far.

      There are very real policy issues behind racism in this country, and I can’t help but think of the wounds that have been reopened for so many Canadians who have been hurt by racism and discrimination. It makes me recall every time I’ve been told “go back to your country” right to my face by people who didn’t like the colour of my skin.

      Since Trudeau’s brownface/blackface scandal surfaced, along with the renewed hurt for so many Canadians, some uninformed pundits have called it a "distraction". But I never expected that position from prominent Green party politicians here in British Columbia.

      I was dismayed by the first reaction from B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver. Instead of empathizing with the people wounded by racism, he stated: “There are profound issues facing our society. Talk about them.”

      Then Elizabeth May, the Green Party of Canada leader, took it a step further by retweeting someone who decried the attention to Trudeau’s antics: “Can we please, please focus on the nightmares of climate change as something that actually matters to the futures of every. single. human?”

      May would later delete it, but it’s still becoming clear the Green party has not prioritized racial injustices that still exist in Canada today.

      There is no question that there are many issues we must tackle, not the least of which is the need for bold climate action. This work needs to be done now so that we can avert climate catastrophe.

      But let’s be clear, fighting for climate leadership does not mean to say that you cannot fight against racism at the same time. In fact, I would argue that they are intrinsically linked. To have a future, we need a clean and healthy planet. That future also needs to be a place where we are free from racism and discrimination.

      Colonization is rooted in racism and discrimination.The legacy of this racism is so evident, from residential schools to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to the child-welfare system to mercury poisoning. The Liberals have yet to commit to implementing all the recommendations from the Calls for Justice from the recent national inquiry.

      You can also look at the implications of Bill 21 in Quebec, where people are being denied the right to be in a profession that they choose because of how they display their religious faith.

      White supremacists are actively organizing in our communities. Hate crimes targeting the Jewish community continue to be the most prevalent and the increase in hate crimes against the Muslim community is staggering.

      Former Liberal adviser Omer Aziz worked on Foreign Affairs Minister’s Chrystia Freeland’s policy team. In 2018, he quit his “dream job" because of racist prejudices that went unacknowledged” in 2018. The troubling list goes on.

      Racism and discrimination are still a real problem in society. But through statements from its leaders and its federal election platform, the Green party has shown it has no proposals to take on these issues. In fact, racism is barely mentioned in the Greens’ policy book that May unveiled last week.

      Talking about the people hurt by Trudeau’s racist blackface is not a "distraction" from important issues. The people who suggest otherwise are amplifying the blind spots held by those with privilege, which is unfortunately commonplace for people in positions of power.

      I learned to walk and chew gum at the same time from an early age. As a proud New Democrat, I can champion the climate leadership that Canada needs to ensure we meet our emissions targets to avert a climate catastrophe with a just transition for workers.

      Just as importantly, I can do that while standing up against racism and discrimination, and work to dismantle the structural barriers that racialized Canadians face every day. I hope you can too.

      Jenny Kwan is the NDP candidate in Vancouver East.

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