The image below is a photograph of Justin Trudeau– who is currently the Prime Minister of Canada– from 2001. 2001 seems awfully late to wear blackface to a party, even if it is one themed “Arabian Nights”– which is, in any case, an example of what Edward Said termed Orientalism. (If you don’t know who Edward Said is, then go to Cesar Chavez Student Center and look at the mural depicting him. Definitely someone worth meeting.)
This recent and embarrassing revelation about Trudeau’s party foul comes at an opportune moment for students of Arts and American Culture. In a week, we’ll be reading Charles Chesnutt’s gripping novel The Marrow of Tradition, which dramatizes the Wilmington Riot of 1898. Among the strange and interesting aspects of that story is the crucial presence of racial masquerade, otherwise known as blackface minstrelsy, in the form of the cakewalk.