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PRAJWALA DIXIT: I see your true colours

“You generally do not see working class white people who live amongst black people doing these things,” says academic and author Cheryl Thompson of Justin Trudeau’s brownface makeup at a school gala.
“You generally do not see working class white people who live amongst black people doing these things,” says academic and author Cheryl Thompson of Justin Trudeau’s brownface makeup at a school gala. - Time

Brownface. Blackface.

The chatter around this subject is going to have an impact around election results. Canadians of all colours, shapes, and sizes watched pictures of their prime minister travel international waters in a shade that they weren’t accustomed to.

“I didn’t think it would be racist at that time,” said Trudeau to a predominantly white press, leaving many to wonder if this image was taken pre- or post-9-11.

“He’s going to get away with it” and “It has to be Trudeau. The alternative is Scheer” or “There are more important matters. Get on with it” and “Why are we even talking about this” fill my social media feed.

Opinions are flying faster out of people’s mouths than the speed of light (and I realize I am a contributing factor to this phenomenon). Media is being heavily criticized for giving this topic space. People have been chided for spending time on this “irrelevant” subject. And, it may surprise you, but these aren’t the musings of only white folk.

Justin Trudeau.
Justin Trudeau.

Brown people are as divided on this matter as two halves of an everything bagel with herb and garlic cream cheese. Some brown Canadians, born and raised in this country, believe Trudeau has turned over a new leaf. Others are disappointed that this election has become about choosing between the lesser evils. And then some are reliving horrific memories, emotionally impacted by all the repertoire around this matter.

Ironic as it is, it has taken an issue like brownface and blackface to have coloured voices to be heard. Overnight, every brown and black person’s two cents on this matter has suddenly and excruciatingly become more valuable than gold. Brown and black thoughts seem to finally matter. A small win some might say.

But look closer.

There is an assumption that sharing the same amount of melanin implies that we share the same manner in which our brains think. Our shared melanin content has turned us into this monolithic mass, a single entity, completely disregarding the fact that regardless of colour we all have a unique perspective on the matter.

Seems like we’re back to square one, aren’t we?

We’ve all been a part of this cancerous filth that has been severely fueled by colonization. People across the globe continue to paint their faces darker to portray one of the three wise men, especially close to Christmas. In India, using the slur “Kaliya” on a darker-skinned individual is as commonplace as Tim Hortons here. The thirst for fairer skin is never quenched by the thousands of products that women of colour invest into, not because they want to but because, if they don’t, they lose the chance of getting through the first round of a job interview.

White is what is accepted, largely, regardless of where you are in the world.

The question now is how we choose to address it. Do we continue to ignore the oppression and racism that acts such as brownfacing and blackfacing represent under the garb of “there are more pressing issues?” Or do we (finally) give space, merit, and voice to those impacted by something that is so systemically omnipresent that many of us aren’t even aware that we’re an accomplice to racism, discrimination and oppression?

Prajwala Dixit is an Indian-Canadian engineer, journalist and writer in St. John’s, N.L., who writes a biweekly regional column for SaltWire Network. Reach her at @DixitPrajwala

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