The old face of society

When I was growing up in Guelph, Ont., there were no touring song or dance groups who came to town. Kitchener Auditorium, fifteen miles away, attracted the travelling rock and roll shows with the likes of The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly but not every teenager in Guelph could afford to go. Instead, Guelphites made their own entertainment. The Guelph Light Opera Company would produce Gilbert and Sullivan or Brigadoon. And through the 1950s and into the 1960s the Guelph Kiwanis Club held an annual minstrel show.

The fund-raising event, in the auditorium of Guelph Collegiate and Vocational Institute, ran three or four nights and was always sold out. Maybe ten or a dozen men sat in a line on stage in full minstrel garb including white gloves and blackened faces. They gave themselves names like Rastus and Bones and cracked jokes. There was group singing and solos but the highlight was always Harry Kelly, who ran the local music shop and record store, singing Old Man River. At the time, I never thought I was going to hear a finer voice.

But as the civil rights movement grew in the American south during the 1960s, the Kiwanis Club stopped doing the show. Everybody understood their rationale. Which brings us to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a self-admitted member of the white privilege crowd, who performed in black face or brown face at least three times, as recently as 2001. He’s apologized profusely but the stain remains.

I voted for Trudeau in 2015 but had decided before these incidents came to light that I would not be voting Liberal this time. There has been too much disappointment behind the performance arts that he calls governing. But these recent revelations raise an even higher question beyond personal voting. In my mind, Trudeau now lacks the necessary moral authority, is no longer fit to represent Canada at home or abroad, and must resign. Only then, can he wash the brown off his face and the black off his character. Redemption involves resolve that he has yet to embrace.

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