Trump’s surprise at blackface photos sums up world’s view of Trudeau

Other countries are used to seeing Trudeau as champion of inclusivity and diversity

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks with people in a cafe as he mainstreets in downtown Winnipeg on Thursday, Sept.19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Justin Trudeau pushed aside Friday global mockery of his decisions years ago to dress in blackface, saying he’s focused on apologizing to Canadians.

But images of the three times he chose to put on black- or brownface for costume events continued to flash around the world, reaching even the White House.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s reaction summed up how the incidents have surprised people accustomed to seeing Trudeau as a champion of inclusivity and diversity, raising questions about whether that brand is forever tarnished.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t be asked that question. … Justin. I’m surprised and I was more surprised when I saw the number of times and I’ve always had a good relationship with Justin. I just don’t know what to tell you. I was surprised by it, actually,” Trump said.

Trudeau apologized profusely for the third day in a row for the incidents — one from his teens, one from his time as a whitewater rafting guide in his 20s, and one when he was a teacher at a Vancouver private school. He said they were mistakes, and he did not understand at the time how racist it is to wear black- or brownface.

Former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, a Liberal, said she’s worried that the apology will fall on deaf ears around the world.

“People in other countries don’t have the benefit or the access or the interest in, quite frankly, the day-to-day machinations of Canadian politics so they don’t know him as well as we do,” she said.

“So they kind of had him on this pedestal, which was unrealistic and ridiculous, and now he’s fallen off that pedestal and so there’s almost even more of an oversimplification on the international stage: He was perfect and now he’s the devil.”

Since the first photo emerged Wednesday night, Trudeau has been calling members of his cabinet, candidates and community leaders to try to make amends. In turn, all day Thursday, many of them were speaking out publicly, if a tad cautiously, in support of their leader.

READ MORE: Trudeau seeks meeting with Singh to apologize for blackface, brownface photos

On Friday, the day after Trudeau was the butt of late-night TV jokes in the U.S. and shocked headlines around the world, Chrystia Freeland took a turn.

As Trudeau’s foreign affairs minister, she has had the ears of many influential leaders and their aides around the globe.

Freeland said she was troubled and disappointed by the images, calling racism and intolerance unacceptable. But she said she accepts his apology and commitment to do better.

“The prime minister continues to have my full and unwavering support,” she said in the statement posted to Twitter.

The incidents made the front pages of news websites around the globe.

Trudeau attracted scorn as well from prominent civil-rights advocates in the U.S., a country that has grappled with its own cases of prominent politicians having been found to have, or admitting to have, worn blackface.

The Canadian Press

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