Justin Trudeau’s Arabian Night: why was wearing dark make-up wrong?

Photo of Justin Trudeau attending a fancy dress event, portraying a character from the Arabian Nights, wearing darkening facial make-up
Photo of Justin Trudeau attending a fancy dress event, portraying a character from the Arabian Nights, wearing darkening facial make-up
Political correctness gone too far? Was Justin Trudeau racist to have worn darkening facial make-up at a fancy dress event, when portraying a character from the Arabian Nights?

In the past twenty-four hours or so, there has been a lot of coverage of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the criticism he has received for having worn dark facial make-up as part of a fancy dress costume he wore to an event around twenty years ago. Apparently, there are people who consider this to have been a racist and distasteful act.

Dave is somewhat bemused at this. Why?

Wikipedia says, “One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. It is often known in English as the Arabian Nights, from the first English-language edition, which rendered the title as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment.”

The characters in the stories would have come from a variety of ethnic groups. Within those groups, one can imagine that the people would have had different skin tones, ranging from dark to lighter shades of brown. That’s the effect of melanin pigmentation of the skin. In a Middle Eastern setting, one could imagine that relatively few of them would have been Caucasian. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Caucasian as especially referring to “persons of European descent having usually light skin pigmentation”.

So, in his turban, Mr. Justin Trudeau was dressing up as someone who was not Caucasian. Therefore, he put facial make-up on to get into the part, so to speak.

Why is that considered to be racist?

Can someone present a rational explanation of what he did wrong? Why was he politically obliged to apologise? Why are some people saying he should resign as Prime Minister over this issue? Who has he offended? Are we supposed to pretend that there are no differences in skin colour between different ethnic groups?

You could say that it’s the criticism of his make-up that reflects a racist attitude. It shows a mentality in which color matters. That itself is racist. For a non-racist, skin color is transparent, and only the human being underneath is perceived.

Is there a problem with having brown skin? Why can’t we just be at ease with and, indeed, love the differences between us?

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