‘This isn’t fun and games’: Fraser Valley academic explains why brownface is hurtful

Satwinder Bains says wearing brownface and a turban is unacceptable

Wearing brownface and dressing as a minority is racist, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday while apologizing after photos surfaced of him dressed in a turban with his face painted.

We asked Satwinder Bains, the director of the University of the Fraser Valley’s South Asian Studies Institute, to explain why such dress is hurtful to visible minorities. She spoke to reporter Tyler Olsen Thursday morning.

“So you wake up in the morning, Tyler, and you put your two legs into your pants and put your shirt on and go to work and you see people like you wearing the same clothes and dressing the same way and you don’t stand out. You’re like everybody. You don’t have to explain yourself.

“Now, I get up in the morning. You know, I might put on a turban, I might have some other accoutrements I wear because of my faith or religion or cultural beliefs. I have to kind of shore up my courage as well. I have to kind of buck up my shoulders. I have to have that moment of pause with myself.

“Not everyday, but some days I have to say: ‘OK. I’m going to go out into this world, there are people who don’t like what I’m wearing or I’m going to have to remember that there will be micro-aggressions or macro-aggressions against me and what am I going to do to face that?

“I’m not saying [it is an] everyday conversation. But I want you to understand there is a constant thought in the back of our minds that, as Canadians, we aren’t the dominant community and that we have a responsibility and a role to play every day to show that we are Canadians. I have to prove every day that I am a Canadian. White Canadians don’t have to do that. By default they are Canadian.”

“The default is a privileged position. They haven’t experienced my life. They can wear the clothes and they can put on a brown face or a black face … but they are actually mimicking my life, because they have not lived it. They have not lived the pain, perhaps, someone felt from having a dark face or having a turban on. This is fun and games.

“This isn’t fun and games, is what I am saying. It’s actually very important that people understand that people’s lives are complicated and they’re affected by their daily routines and their daily rituals and their daily ideas that they value. And that those values to them are very important.”

“I come back to lived experience. We should not take as granted that someone else’s culture is available to me whenever I want it. You have to live it. If you want to wear that turban, come live it. Live it every day and understand what it means and face the racism others face. Show some solidarity. It’s easy for you to wear it one morning and take it off in the afternoon and say, ‘I’m done with it.’ Another person may have to live it on a daily basis.”

RELATED: VIDEO: Party leaders react to Trudeau’s brownface photo bombshell

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RELATED: ‘Troubling, insulting’: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh reacts to Trudeau’s brownface photo

RELATED: Yearbook photo surfaces of Trudeau wearing ‘brownface’ costume in 2001

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