Is an apology enough? Is it an apology if you owned up to wearing blackface or brownface twice, but didn’t reveal a third time? Why didn’t Justin Trudeau know in 2001 that blackface wasn’t ok? Why didn’t he raise it, and apologize, long ago? Does it show he was racist? Or unconsciously racist, as Green Leader Elizabeth May said? Arrogant? Oblivious? Or, to paraphrase the question that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asked, who is Justin Trudeau?
Even for the people who answer yes to the first question, many of the other ones keep coming. Those images won’t be unseen. The conversation in this election campaign is now on who Justin Trudeau really is. And there are so many questions about blackface to keep people talking.
So Mr. Trudeau went out again on Thursday to apologize again, better, but also to address some of those questions. He’s going to have to do it again and again. He won’t exhaust the questions quickly. And he won’t be able to say in a day or two that he has answered all the questions about blackface, and move on.
He had to start turning back the mounting questions. He stopped referring to wearing makeup, as he did Wednesday night, and called it blackface. He acknowledged he hurt people. He owned up to enjoying layers of privilege.
And he gave an answer about why he didn’t say anything for all these years, even to his own staff: “I was embarrassed.”
Mr. Trudeau also gave an answer as to why he had admitted to a second blackface incident on Wednesday night, but not a third, which was revealed in a short video clip aired Thursday morning by Global News: he hadn’t remembered. That, he said, was because of his blind spot – not realizing how important it was. He didn’t want to “be definitive” about how many times he had dressed up in blackface because he wasn’t sure of his memory.
That’s a jarring thought: The Justin Trudeau you never expected to see in blackface can’t remember how many times he did it. Who is this guy?
He has apologized, now more completely, and with a more extensive description of his own failings so Canadians can ask themselves that question about whether an apology is enough. It’s not the only question, though.
No one really believes Mr. Trudeau is a bigot. Some are questioning whether he’s a hypocrite. Or whether he is who they thought he was. The images of a grinning man in blackface, painted to the cuticles, will keep raising the question. Mr. Trudeau said that’s “not the person he has become," but he is going to be spending many days trying to convince people of that.
Mr. Trudeau’s low-risk campaign – sticking to talking points, avoiding reporters’ questions some days, and making bland policy announcements – will have to end. He’s going to have to answer reporters’ questions because he has to be seen answering their questions about blackface over and over. And he’s going to have to convince people that it’s the authentic Justin Trudeau talking.
Up to now, the Liberal war room has done most of the heavy lifting, usually through social-media posts that embarrass Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer or his candidates, about their views on abortion, or same-sex marriage. But just how freely can they throw rocks now that Mr. Trudeau is in a glass house? What will he say about diversity to People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier in those debates?
Mr. Trudeau, after all, has governed not just from the PM’s chair but from the bully pulpit, making himself a symbol of progressive views, preaching diversity and raising the pride flag on Parliament Hill. It’s harder to do that with those pictures out there.
Perhaps Mr. Trudeau will convince people that he’s not that guy. Liberal visible-minority candidates were out in force on Thursday, acknowledging the wrong, but saying that’s not the real Mr. Trudeau, and pointing to his policies. Mr. Trudeau will do outreach to minority communities. But the Liberal Leader will now spend several days of this campaign talking about this – while the national conversation turns to who he really is.