Secret Life of Canada

What's the deal with blackface?

Leah and Falen talk to Dr. Cheryl Thompson and look at the grim legacy of the minstrel show, what “O, Canada” has to do with it, and how Canadian universities are connected.

From travelling circuses to Trudeau, blackface has long been a problem in Canada

A cast photo of a minstrel show called "Votes for Women," shot circa 1915. (Provincial Archives of Manitoba)

While The Secret Life of Canada was on a production break last year, the Prime Minister of Canada was called out for wearing black and brown makeup as costume, something Justin Trudeau admits was "a racist thing to do."

In an episode recorded in January 2020 — What's the deal with blackface? — hosts Leah-Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson look to the past to try to figure out how why he's far from the only present-day person caught in the act. 

They talk to Dr. Cheryl Thompson to find out when the practice began, what 'O Canada' has to do with it, and why it's been especially popular on university campuses. They also connect the dots between the history of blackface and today's pop culture. Kim Kardashian and her spray tan are on notice.

Please note: the episode contains strong language. 

Listen for:

  • How minstrel shows and blackface became one of North America's first forms of popular entertainment
  • How the caricatures in minstrel shows — from the pickaninny to the mammy — are connected to today's stereotypes
  • How the legacy of blackface is still playing out on the internet, from makeup trends to top memes

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