OTTAWA—Justin Trudeau doesn’t care about Black people.
In a post-blackface Canada, with a post-blackface prime minister, Black representation in the House of Commons, the Senate, and the judiciary—much less cabinet—remains abysmal, with only a smattering of chocolate in a sea of mayonnaise. After all of the ostensibly remorse-filled, Lena Dunham-esque apologies, peppered with activist language such as “intersectionality” and “privilege,” one would think Justin Trudeau would’ve learned something. He did not. It was all a ruse to get Black votes, only to shut them out of the important decision-making positions.
He continues to perform in blackface.
The 2015 election seated the most ethnically diverse House of Commons in Canada’s history: five Black MPs were elected, all Liberals, three of whom were newly elected. This election held the total steady, but with four Liberals and one New Democrat. Given that the Liberals usually elect the most Black candidates, and they were the ones caught in blackface, it is more incumbent upon them to practice what they preach. And preach they do. Like Kanye at Joel Osteen’s bible study.
After Time Magazine revealed who our prime minister was, the need to put this behind them was paramount. So what does one do when faced with the revelation of such racially heinous act? You call your Black friend. Enter Greg Fergus.
In the last Parliament, MP Fergus twice held the position of parliamentary secretary, first to the to the innovation minister and then to the Treasury Board president. In the wake of the blackface scandal, Fergus was called upon to do his duty and he did so with alacrity; his was the most prominent Black face imploring Canadians to forgive and move on. He even had the support of prominent cabinet minister Catherine McKenna, who stood by his side, nodding, at a press conference. It was a grotesque display of whiteness, to have a Black man tell other Black people how they should feel about the PM committing such a racist act, flanked by a white woman.
In that moment Greg Fergus made himself an agent of colonialism and allowed himself to be used as window-dressing, or the Black face of a scandal involving blackface.
And what did he get for it? Why wasn’t Fergus awarded a cabinet position like his white counterparts for his unwavering loyalty, especially as someone who has been in the Liberal trenches since he was a tyke (he was president of the Young Liberals of Canada from 1994 to1996)? Tap dancing for whiteness never brings prosperity, especially in the ignominious position Fergus put himself in.
But here is where Black people must take some responsibility.
After Trudeau was caught with his face singed, a private meeting was held between the PM and a myriad of “Black leaders” (whoever they are) to enact Part 2 of the apology tour. While it is not known all of what happened at this meeting, what we do know is that apologies were given, Trudeau was forgiven (by them), and Black people in the 905 and 416 subsequently came out to vote Liberal. Like Greg Fergus, these “leaders” allowed themselves to be used. And that is the problem with Black leadership in this day and age: they are too happy with the crumbs from Massa’s table and are too quick to give up the currency of political power—the vote. And what did these old wise men (and I do mean men) negotiate for the Black community in exchange for their continued votes? Not a damn thing.
And this is where Black people are: no currency, no power, no payoff. We sold out our negotiating power—along with our souls—by keeping that meeting private. The lack of transparency gave Trudeau an out. Since he didn’t have to be accountable to anyone, they got played, meaning the entire community got played.
However, all is not lost. Many of the strides made by the Liberal government came about due to an extraordinary amount of advocacy work done by Black organizations, and not because Trudeau cares about the plight of Black people. Within a minority Parliament situation, Black Canadians have more power and it’s time to toss out these old dudes who can’t figure out the cloud and add younger, more diverse leadership in the Black community—including women, LGBTQ, disabled, poor, and working-class people. We can lift others up instead of the few in Black “leadership” who only act as gatekeepers to power, while rewarding themselves.
Black organizations need to start seeing other people. Every party should be lobbied by Black advocates (except the PPC, because screw them) because loyalty to the Liberal Party has just gotten Black people to the back of the bus.
There needs to be a targeted lobbying plan to address the ministries who have a hand in policies that primarily affect Black people. These ministries need to be diversified and adjusted to benefit Black needs, Black aspirations, and Black dreams. And once these dusty Black leaders finally find the exit, the community may get somewhere because not all skinfolk is kinfolk.
Erica Ifill co-hosts the Bad+Bitchy podcast.