Recent pictures and video have emerged of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau painted in brownface in a 2001 yearbook. The first photo of Trudeau in brownface was released Wednesday, showing Trudeau dressed up for an “Arabian Nights” gala. A second photo has Trudeau in an afro singing a Jamaican folk song.
Stories like this have been far too common this year. Both the Republican Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, and the Democratic Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, have admitted to wearing blackface, and celebrities from Julianne Hough to Bobby Deen have been criticized for their blackface Halloween costumes.
Not only do they have no excuse for this kind of behavior, incidents like these are indicative of the failure to truly understand racism today.
Blackface is the practice of painting one's face black to costume as a black or nonwhite character. Historically, blackface became popular in minstrel shows, where white actors would portray themselves as stereotypical black characters like Jim Crow, according to the Smithsonian.
These kinds of performances, as explained by Margo Jefferson on CBS Sunday Morning, served as a powerful tool to give white audiences a sense of superiority while turning black people into nothing more than cartoons.
However, this kind of visible racism hasn't been abandoned by time, nor has it been exclusively used to mock African-Americans.
Trudeau's history of blackface and brownface is troubling for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that one of his opponents in the upcoming Canadian general election is Jagmeet Singh, the son of Punjabi immigrants and the first non-white leader of a political party in Canada.
In response to the brownface scandal, Singh tweeted out, "Tonight is not about the Prime Minister. It's about every young person mocked for the colour of their skin. The child who had their turban ripped off their head. And those reliving intense feelings of pain and hurt from past experiences of racism."
None of this is a commentary on the politics of either candidate. Blackface and betrays the promise leaders have with their constituents and fellow politicians to see them as equals, not as clowns. Independent of politics, Trudeau broke that promise.
Racism won't fade away in the wind if you ignore it or claim one event somehow ended all racial tension forever. Nothing about our world today is post-racial, and some notorious events on LMU have reflected that.
In 2015, LMU painted over an image depicting blackface from the centennial mural in Malone Student Center. Last fall semester, the LMU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom hosted a table outside the Hilton Business Center with a sign reading, “All costumes are free speech. Change my mind.”
To be clear, no one is forcing you to not wear anything. If you make the bigoted decision to paint your face black for a Halloween costume, even after countless friends rightly tell you it's a horrible move, that is your call.
It's your responsibility, then, to decide what road you want to take. Do you want to take the road that embraces a shamefully racist history of subjugation and silencing the voices of millions of Americans as the pinnacle of free expression? Or do you prefer picking literally any other costume and educating yourself on the systemic problems encouraged by blackface?
LMU students are surrounded by so many resources to fully understand and learn about our past and present. We ought to use this opportunity here to truly learn from one another and show our leaders what demands for equality really look like.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a sophomore environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.