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Friday
Sep202019

How Justin Trudeau's blackface scandal may hurt his re-election -- or not

alexsl/iStock(TORONTO) -- For some politicians, being photographed dressing in black or brown face multiple times would be automatically devastating to a political campaign.

Some Canadian experts say that might not be the case for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however.

As Trudeau continues to wage his re-election bid amid a scandal surrounding three known incidents where he made himself appear as a different race, experts are evaluating how much of an impact they will have on his campaign. For the most part, many expect it to be damaging but not disastrous.

"This blackface brown face scandal goes to issues of credibility with him and issues of perceptions in the Canadian population also about his priorities," Drew Fagan, a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, told ABC News, pointing to some alleged criticisms among some Canadians that Trudeau has prioritized global issues rather than domestic ones during his tenure.

Fagan said those concerns are not the ones that would be revived as a result of the photo and video scandal, however.

"Where this issue is a chink in the armor for him is a sense that some of the population has that he’s hypocritical," he said, noting how Trudeau has been quick to admonish his peers and fellow politicians about missteps and pointing out how his party has allegedly been digging up old videos of opponents as well.

Comparisons between Trudeau and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who was at the center of his own blackface photo scandal earlier this year, have been plentiful, but Fagan said the two cases are "a little bit different because of the different historical context."

Dr. Charmaine Nelson is an art history professor at McGill University in Montreal. She said that "as a black woman who teaches Canadian slavery and histories of black representation in western art and popular culture, I am profoundly aware of blackface minstrelsy as a Canadian practice and also aware of how frequently white Canadians deny such histories by shifting them onto the U.S.A."

Nelson told ABC News via email that she believes that many Canadians "know little about" their country’s history of slavery under the French and British until 1833, "and instead we routinely celebrate the Underground Railroad (1833-1861) and embrace curriculum and narratives that position us simply as a multicultural and color-blind society."

"But the lived reality for black, Indigenous and people of color Canadians is different from the rhetoric of racial inclusivity," Nelson wrote.

Shama Rangwala, a faculty lecturer at the University of Alberta, told ABC News’ "Start Here" podcast that the scandal is quite significant because "Canadians like to be pretty smug about being nice and everyone gets along."

"I think a lot of people who experience racism in Canada are maybe not surprised, but I think that Canadian liberals who have this mythologized, idealized version of Canada are really feeling their world shaken by this," Rangwala said.

However, she said she was "not sure how much it will affect the election itself."

Fagan seemed to agree, saying, "I don’t think it will be a deciding factor."

"I think the liberals still have an advantage, but it’s a fairly slight one. It’s more of a battle than many people thought there should have been. It certainly has knocked his campaign off stride," Fagan said.

Nelson said that there are different reasons why "Trudeau’s clearly racist behavior" will not change people’s minds about him.

"For many white Canadians, they simply do not see his acts as racist at all or as racist enough for them to change their vote. While for many black Canadians, we understand that we can't afford to vote for a party like the Conservatives who have never acknowledged the reality of Canada as a nation with a problem of deep-seated systemic and institutional racism and bias, at a moment when too many of the world's western governments are moving to the far right," Nelson said.

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