Costumed Blackface can be washed off. Labels, not so much

Irresponsible and politically motivated labelling degrades political discourse and democratic institutions, says Bill Trudell

Costumed Blackface can be washed off. Labels, not so much
Bill Trudell
Bill Trudell

Labels can be cowardly, hurtful and insensitive. They are personal judgements on a recipient – their worth in society, their essence, what they think, who they are – all according to the accuser. Calling someone a racist, attaching to them that label, is a dangerous judgement. What someone has done, might be deemed racist but labelling them as a racist is often, simply unfair. It is trite, but “judge not, lest you be judged,” is not a bad reminder for all of us. 

I think it is time to sheathe another dagger that is too often plunged into people, especially in public life. It is time to end the character attacks, loose lips and careless allegations of wrongdoing, corruption and criminality which seem to be daily features in the media. I personally have had my fill of the SNC-Lavalin “scandal,” which is the only description the Globe and Mail can find to describe it. Jody Wilson-Raybould seems a willing catalyst regarding intimations that crimes and dishonesty were committed by others around her.

The allegations of criminal conduct and corruption were tossed around, and still are, by politicians and otherwise responsible journalists perhaps for questionable political gratification. A crime is committed by someone when an independent court of justice so finds. Before that, calling someone a criminal is an unfair and incredibly damaging character assassination. It must stop.

A stark and terrible example of this is what happened to the former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne and her deputy chief of staff, Patricia Sorbara. They were both accused of crimes and cover-ups, daily, in relation to allegedly offering a bribe to a former candidate not to run in an election. Not only was no criminal charge laid, but a vacuous accusation under a provincial statute, covering the same allegations was demonstrably thrown out by a judge who found no wrongdoing at all. Yet Pat Sorbara and Kathleen Wynne’s’ reputations and careers were destroyed by labelling, by the media and opposition.

The lock-her up discourse from the Trump campaign in 2016 is not foreign in our Country. We are neither immune nor holier.

An experienced journalist, on September 21, 2019 in the Toronto Star, opined that Prime Minister Trudeau was not a racist but a “callow fraud.” I am sorry, but I find this labelling to be questionable journalism.

Why would anyone want to run for public office in this climate? Where is the license for journalists, or anyone on social media, to label, judge and personally attack.

Too many public servants are the recipients of vile threatening, violent and dangerous personal attacks, often on social media. Many require security and personal protection as a result. This is often fed by careless journalism and undisciplined parliamentary discourse. It erodes respect for our institutions, feeding the dark side of disturbed individuals and it is careless, dangerous and uncivil. Politicians, whatever their party, have families. They are not immune to hurtful labelling. 

I think we have all had unacceptable black-face moments in our lives. We all have said or done things that have caused tears and pain, even used racial slurs or labels that now make us cringe.

We now live in a global village, perhaps we are more sensitized, even sensitive, to the different cultures of our neighbours and recognize the truth in other people’s lived experiences.

The emergence of the prime minister’s blackface images has ignited a wide debate that is long overdue. These discussions can be healthy in our democracy and important individual teaching moments. None of us can afford to wash away the importance of dealing with them.

Michael Jackson was a uniquely talented man. For a moment, resist judgement about his alleged character flaws and listen to the words of one of his songs:

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways

And no message could have been any clearer 

If you want to make the world a better place,

take a look at yourself and make that change.”

  • From Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror

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