Vancouver Liberal candidate Taleeb Noormohamed responds to Justin Trudeau blackface controversy

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Justin Trudeau in brownface. Photos of him in blackface also surfaced. Photo Time.com

What a week it’s been in federal election news.

If you’re just coming down from a very long walk on the Grouse Grind, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been dealing with the fallout from a number of photos, and a video, of him hamming it up in blackface.

He’s not prepared to provide the number of times he’s donned this racist makeup, though so far there are three instances from which there’s photographic proof.

Instead of talking about policy the media – the global media, not just the media here in Canada – has collectively spent the past few days focusing on it.

We’ve had quite a few comments from upset readers saying that we should “focus on the real issues”, but this is a real issue. It’s a huge issue; your Prime Minister who has built nearly his entire brand off of inclusivity has done things that he himself describes as being “racist”.

We need to spend some more time on this, as inconvenient as the timing may be for some people.

We’ve heard what pundits think of how it will affect the election, and most of your friends are probably talking about it on social media and in person (“This is a big deal!” or “Not a big deal!”), so I wanted to find out what a local Liberal candidate thought of it all.

Taleeb Noormohamed is running for the Liberal party in the riding that I live in, and which our office is located in. Vancouver-Granville.

That’s Jody-Wilson Raybould’s riding in case it sounds familiar.

Taleeb sat down with me in their campaign office to discuss Justin Trudeau in brownface and blackface.

The Liberal candidate for the riding of Vancouver-Granville, Taleeb Noormohamed. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Like all of the other Liberal candidates (I haven’t seen any even distancing themselves from the party or the PM), Taleeb is prepared to forgive and move on.

He saw the photos and video when the public did; as they appeared in the media. He had heard about them in the days previous.

When he saw them he was “very disappointed that the Prime Minister did that [dressed up in brownface and blackface].”

“I think it was insensitive. I think it was wrong. I think he should have known better.”

However “To his credit he’s now apologized, twice. I accept his apology.”

Taleeb’s reasoning to forgive and move on seems to be because of Trudeau’s very-recent past, stating that “when everybody was saying he was going too far he made sure that anti-Islamophobia motion got passed. He made sure Syrian refugees were welcomed into this country when everyone thought that was going to be a huge problem. This is a guy who has stepped up every chance he can to support racialized and marginalized communities. I’m pretty happy to run as a Liberal and if you look at the history of the party it’s a strong one.”

He also doesn’t think his political opponents should be cut any slack on the issue of race, in Vancouver-Granville and beyond.

“In this riding [incumbent MP] Jody [Wilson-Raybould] has been entirely silent on all of the other racist episodes or homophobic episodes [exposed in the media]… but she chose this one to be upset.”

He had kind words to say about Conservative leader Andrew Scheer during our interview. I asked him what he would have done if it were that leader in the blackface and brownface photos that surfaced.

He’d be as forgiving of Scheer as he is of Trudeau, if only the former had the same “track record”.

In Taleeb’s eyes, the Conservative leader has been “playing footsie with racists every chance he got”, that he’s “in bed with The Rebel [a controversial far-right media outlet]” and that he’s also “in bed with people in his caucus that are prepared to speak as Islamophobes in front of committees in the House of Commons.”

“I would have the same sympathy and the same willingness to forgive [Scheer] if he had the same record as the Prime Minister. But he doesn’t.”

That aside, Noormohamed told me he thinks “It speaks to a bigger problem. Across parties we need to be very clear that this is not acceptable behaviour, and we need to own our actions and actually apologize when we make critical mistakes like this.”

One of the things he told me about the issue of race in this country was highly personal to him, and it’s something no panel of white people could possibly convey:

“When people who are not people of colour see this [the PM in blackface] they get all shocked and horrified that someone could do this. But what we [people of colour] live with every single day is people walking down the street calling you a “paki”, egging your house because you look different, not hiring you because you might have an accent, girlfriends saying to you that they’re not sure how their parents will react because you’re muslim or your’e brown.”

Lastly, “Every single one of us needs to be stepping up and asking what more can we be doing as a society, as political actors, as business people, to make sure that we’re not looking at race as the way in which we decide that people aren’t good enough for things.”

He’s not wrong there, but it remains to be seen how many of Trudeau’s previous supporters can still see the “sunny ways” of the Liberal Party of Canada through a cloud of blackface and brownface photos from their leader’s too-recent-to-not-know-better past.

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