Trudeau can look to US politicians amid brownface scandal

U.S. & World

Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau makes a statement in regards to a photo coming to light of himself from 2001, wearing “brownface,” during a scrum on his campaign plane in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau need only look to the United States for lessons on how to survive the furor over a photo of him in brownface at a costume party nearly two decades ago.

A few Southern politicians responded to similar scandals recently with denials, apologies and promises. Most of them have managed to stay in office.

Here are some cases:


A Democrat elected in a state that was the capital of the Confederacy, Northam faced intense pressure from his own party to resign after a racist picture from his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced in February. It showed a young man in blackface next to someone in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

Northam promptly apologized without saying which one he was. Then a day later, he denied being in the photograph at all, while admitting he wore blackface as Michael Jackson at a dance contest decades ago.

He clung to office and soon rebounded after saying he wanted to help heal Virginia’s lingering racial wounds and use the rest of his term to promote equality. This month he appointed a new director of diversity to make government more inclusive.

A review by the medical school failed to identify those in the photograph.



While Northam’s career hung in the balance, Herring revealed to black lawmakers that he had worn blackface during a college bash in 1980.

Members of the black caucus and the state’s congressional delegation cited Herring’s personal apologies in arguing the Democrat deserved a chance to remain in office and regain the public trust.

Herring initially kept a low profile, but he has largely moved past the issue and is seen as a potential candidate for governor in 2021.



Ivey denied ever wearing blackface until a former boyfriend’s words came back to haunt her.

Ivey apologized last month after a 1967 college radio interview surfaced of her then-fiance Ben LaRavia describing her wearing “black paint all over her face” in a skit at a Baptist student organization. Her office released the audio after university officials discovered it while working to preserve old records.

Ivey said she didn’t remember the skit and would not resign.

Ivey has faced little if any blowback from the state’s deeply conservative Republican power structure, although the Alabama NAACP said she should quit.



Ertel, Florida’s top elections official, resigned in January just weeks into the job after a photo surfaced showing him in blackface, dressed up as a victim of Hurricane Katrina.

He said in a Facebook post that what he did in 2005 was stupid and that he is a better man now. “For those who have not received a personal apology yet — I’m sorry,” he wrote.

Ertel also said that someone made the photo public out of revenge but didn’t elaborate.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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