Reaction to Trudeau's blackface runs from 'This can't be real' to 'I didn't really care'

Some were offended, others not so much. Reaction to the pictures of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in brownface and blackface varies widely 

Trudeau has apologized twice since the emergence of 3 pics and 1 video

Marcus Vanderwyck had planned on voting for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. But since the emergence of the brownface and blackface pictures, he has changed his mind. (Michael Wison/CBC)

Toronto resident Marcus Vanderwyck, a first-time voter, was set to walk into a voting booth next month and pencil an X beside the Liberal candidate in his Toronto riding, a show of support for Justin Trudeau.

But since the photos of the Liberal leader dressed in brownface and blackface emerged on Wednesday night, he has changed his mind.

"It's changing my whole perspective," he said. "I'm probably going to vote NDP."

He learned about the pictures while on Instagram, saying that at first, he didn't believe what he was seeing.

"I was like, this can't be real. Then it started getting into the news more and more and I was like 'Wow,  this is unbelievable'."

'I really didn't care'

But not everyone interviewed by CBC News in St. James Town in Toronto shared Vanderwyck's views. 

"Personally for me, I really didn't care," said Lance Manning,  who works in the area but lives in Brampton. "Some of my friends were really offended, but when it comes to my mindset, I focus on intent. How he dressed, was there any malicious thought behind it? And my conclusion is, that it isn't."

Lance Manning said he wasn't offended by the pictures. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Trudeau has publicly apologized twice since three pictures and a video of him in either brownface or blackface have come to light.

On Wednesday night, Time magazine published an article showing Trudeau wearing brownface makeup and a turban for a 2001 Arabian Nights gala at the Vancouver private school where he taught. Since then, CBC News obtained another photo of Trudeau from that event.

Meanwhile, another picture shows Trudeau at a talent show when he was in high school, wearing black makeup and singing the Banana Boat Song (Day-O), a Jamaican folk tune made famous by black American singer Harry Belafonte 

'Making things hard on himself'

Then, on Thursday, the Liberal Party confirmed Trudeau appeared in a short amateur video in blackface.

Manning hadn't seen that image of Trudeau, until shown it by CBC News. 

"Oh boy," he said, after studying the image. "He's making things hard on himself. He definitely should be more mindful of that kind of stuff."

While he's still undecided as to who he will vote for and has voted Liberal in the past, Manning said the pictures won't likely affect his decision.

"I like the Liberal party, I like the Trudeau family. His father did a lot for the black community and immigrants migrating to Canada, so I take all that stuff into consideration.

"Will do more researching, but I'm always open to forgiving. People make mistakes in life."

Muhammad Suhail, shown the pictures for the first time, said he couldn't understand why the photos have generated so much condemnation. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Muhammad Suhail, shown the pictures for the first time, said he couldn't understand why they had generated so much controversy and condemnation.

"Why are people upset from that? Maybe he was trying to play, like an actor on stage. I'm OK with that."

Bhavani Mohanadhas also said that she believes Trudeau is a "good Liberal" and that she doesn't feel he's "doing any racism".

I have been following [him]. He is everywhere supporting other people, different races." 

Bhavani Mohanadhas said she doesn't believe that Trudeau is a racist. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Brooks Smith said he was surprised by Trudeau's past behaviour, calling it "a little disgracing."

"That really hurts, that really hurt, because I'm black. And you'd think he''d have more sense than that. You'd think he'd be a little smarter than that."

Still vote for Trudeau

But Smith said he will still vote for Trudeau, that people make mistakes when they're younger. 

"If this were recently, I'd feel more against him."

Brooks Smith said Trudeau's past behaviour was 'a little disgracing' but he will still vote for the Liberal leader. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

However, Andrew Ravindran wasn't as forgiving, saying that when he learned the news from Facebook, it was an "Are you kidding me?" moment. 

He said he believes many people continue to dress in "Arabian Night" or Aladdin costumes. 

It's really annoying,"he said.  "I 'm brown so it's a little hard to be used to it. It's just stupid."

Ravindran said he believes Trudeau has likely learned his lesson, but should have known better.

Asked to explain why he found Trudeau's brownface costume so offensive, Ravindran gave a succinct answer: 

"He's not brown."


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

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