This article appeared in the September 19, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Justin Trudeau and shifting social norms

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/AP
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes a statement in regards to a 2001 photo coming to light of himself wearing "brownface," during a scrum on his campaign plane in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sept. 18, 2019.
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

In today’s issue, our five hand-picked stories explore a regional perspective on the Saudi oil attack, South Africa’s efforts to stop violence against women, whether human empathy can save our birds, justice redefined on the U.S. border, and what weddings tell us about shifting values in India.

First, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the latest public figure to have crossed a racist line that, arguably, has shifted. When he was teaching at an elite private school in 2001, Mr. Trudeau wore brownface at an “Arabian Nights” costume-themed dinner, reported Time magazine. He apologized Wednesday night and revealed he had also impersonated singer Harry Belafonte in high school. On Thursday, a video emerged of another incident in the 1990s. 

You’ll recall that earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologized, then denied, being in a 1984 medical school yearbook photo with a person in blackface and a person in a Ku Klux Klan hood. 

Last month, Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman said she was fired from a recent movie when producers saw an old photo of her in blackface in a 2007 comedy sketch. “I’m horrified by it, and I can’t erase it. I can only be changed by it and move on,” she told GQ magazine in 2018. “That was such liberal-bubble stuff, where I actually thought it was dealing with racism by using racism.”

Zero tolerance for racist behavior and cultural appropriation is seen by many as progress. But some object to applying the new standard retroactively. They see the “cancel culture” – particularly on college campuses – as a form of bullying that shuts down free speech. And where does grace or forgiveness enter?  

Next month, Canadians go to the polls. Voters will decide if their current leader is a closet racist or exhibited poor judgment 18 years ago. 

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This article appeared in the September 19, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 09/19 edition