Politics

Justin Trudeau on Controversial Blackface Incidents: ‘I Am Deeply Sorry and I Apologize’

Canadian prime minister talked on Thursday about 'layers of privilege' that were part of his life — and that he 'deeply regrets' coloring his skin in incidents decades ago

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today said during a press conference, “I shared the moments [of blackface] that I recollected, but I recognize it is absolutely unacceptable to do. I appreciate calling it makeup, but it was blackface, and that is just not right.”

He’d been asked by a reporter how many times he might have dressed in blackface in the past — and did not or could not answer that question directly.

But he noted that some people live with “discrimination … on a regular basis … and I didn’t see that from the layers of privilege that I have, and for that I am deeply sorry, and I apologize.”

The prime minister spoke to the media on Thursday in Winnipeg, Canada.

He also talked about “unconscious bias” in society today and how hard he’s worked throughout a political career to represent all people across a diverse society

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He said he has “let a lot of people down” — and was asking “for forgiveness.”

Related: Canadian Prime Minister, Locked in a Hotly Contested Political Campaign, Apologizes for Behavior

Trudeau also said he was raised to be thoughtful about all people — “to provide counterweights” — and that if you’re “strong you need to go where your weight is most needed.”

In that context, he talked about how his father, Pierre Trudeau, a former prime minister of the country, “wouldn’t be pleased with how I’ve behaved, but perhaps would feel that taking responsibility for things would be important.”

And he mentioned having difficult conversations with his own children about this issue and stressing the importance of “taking responsibility.”

Other political leaders have faced similar controversies in recent months — and handled them quite differently than Trudeau’s direct and sustained apology on Thursday.

After evidence came to light earlier this year suggesting that Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia may have worn blackface decades ago, a variety of political and cultural leaders demanded he resign from office.

But he said back in February he was not going to resign — and instead was asking “for the opportunity to earn your forgiveness.”

Northam, at first, apologized for a photo shown on his medical school yearbook page in which one man was in blackface and another was in a KKK costume — but then determined later it was not his photo and that he was not responsible for its placement on his page.

That month, NAACP leader Derrick Johnson weighed in on Twitter, saying, “Blackface in any manner is always racist and never OK.”

He said, “No matter the party affiliation, we cannot stand for such behavior, which is why the @NAACP is calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor @RalphNortham.”

Others called on Northam to resign as well. That included 2020 presidential hopefuls Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Julian Castro of Texas, a former Obama Cabinet official.

Even pro-abortion groups Planned Parenthood and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) called on Northam to resign.

Northam then gave a press conference in early February in which he maintained the picture on his page was not his and he did not appear in it — but that indeed he had worn blackface at a different event in which he dressed up as the late pop star Michael Jackson.

Northam continues to serve as Virginia’s 73rd governor to this day.

A law firm spent five months looking into the controversial Northam yearbook photo — and conducted interviews, reviewed decades of yearbooks and analyzed news reports, as the Associated Press and PBS reported this week. The cost of that investigation reportedly was nearly $368,000.

But the Northam controversy wasn’t the only one to occur in the state of Virginia earlier this year. After that incident, “two women accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax” — who would have succeeded Northam if he stepped down — “of sexual assault. Then Attorney General Mark Herring, who would have been third in line, admitted to wearing blackface in college,” as Vox noted.

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