The Justin Trudeau Black-face/Brown-face scandal has stirred up a lot of emotions and divergent reactions among Canadians, from anger to forgiveness to political opportunism to bafflement over what all the fuss is about. This is the latest in a string of cases where actions or attitudes that were acceptable in the past are no longer considered acceptable.
Other examples include condemnation of past leaders for racist, sexist or homophobic attitudes, efforts to remove statues from public spaces, a backlash against John Wayne for inappropriate comments in a 1971 Playboy interview, attacking political leaders of today because they once opposed gay marriage, reinterpreting events that happened decades ago from the lens of the #Me Too Movement. The list goes on.
Language and societal norms evolve. For example, attitudes towards woman and minorities and gays and the disabled that were perfectly acceptable 50 or sometimes even 20 years ago are no longer acceptable. Jokes that used to be funny are no longer funny. This doesn’t mean we’re all closet sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist bigots.
Should we use current standards to judge people and demand apologies for conduct that did not violate the norms of the day?
Is it fair to drudge up old interviews and yearbook photos to smear and humiliate politicians and other public figures?
Are we trivializing truly bad behaviour by raising conduct that was not ill-motivated and that nobody objected to when it took place?
Are we going to reach a point where even Shakespeare can no longer be performed because the plays do not meet today’s standards?
How will our behaviour today be judged in the future? Are we so sure that our current-day attitudes will survive the test of time?
We’ll explore this question in conversation. Won’t you join us?
NOTE: The HAT Forum adheres strictly to the City of Toronto Policy on Non-Discrimination (http://www.the519.org/public/content/policy-files/The519SpaceUsePolicy.pdf)