Why History Does and Does Not Matter

NOTE: This article does not reflect the views of Her Campus Wyoming and only reflects the views of the writer.

Recently, my brother had mentioned that the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, dressed up as blackface and brownface 18 years ago for an Arabian Party. What I am about to say may be controversial and I know people may not agree with it, I still believe there are many voices and opinions about the issues we face today.

I do not condone racism, sexism, or discrimination of any kind and I do believe the world has taken small and large steps towards the equality of the United States and the world. I am also a history major and so I talk about inequality, discrimination, and the horrible things that have happened in the past almost every day of the week.

Dressing up or playing blackface or brownface is in no way something I would ever encourage or do myself. Unfortunately, in the past hundreds of years until recently in the grand scheme of things, doing so was socially acceptable. Being racist and discriminating was a not-so-distant reality for many in this country. Now we have since experienced women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and now I would say the LGBTQ+ movement for equality and rights the same as the next person.

Many aspects of life were different back then for everybody and some still suffer the way people did 100 or 50 years ago. My grandma is a racist and there is nothing that will ever change the way she feels or thinks about black or homosexual people and yet I still love her and appreciate so many qualities she has. My grandma is only 86 years old, which is not that long ago when she was taught how to think and act towards people who weren’t white or of upper class.

The prime minister did something horrible, but I do not believe that gives warrant to the person he is today. Society has changed in many great ways, but the prime minister lived in a time where blackface and brownface were socially acceptable. It is hard to understand how anyone could ever do that or feel it was okay or even right to do so, but in history we talk a lot about perspective. What was his perspective at this time? What did his parents teach him was okay and not okay? What were his peers doing at this same time? Probably that dressing up with a different colored skin was okay, some parts of racism were okay, and they were probably doing the same things he was. This is not an excuse for his actions nor is it condoning them.  

Things were different when you could tweet sexually harassing or demeaning things about women. I understand there have always been people advocating towards equality, but this does mean that is was socially unacceptable to harass a woman or a person of color on the street. Society has changed and transformed in the little span of even just 18 years. Yes, of course we live in a different world than our parents or even those just a little bit older than us. 

I do not believe that the values we hold even more dear today, allow people to bring about scandals that happened 18 years ago in a society different from the one we live in. This also does not mean that I think we should not talk about things that happened in the past because it is important to understanding the path we took to today and explains the trends we see today. I just do not believe we should always judge people for the terrible things they have done when living in a different time than us.

 I think the more important question is how do we improve ourselves? How do we contribute to a society where we never have to worry about someone dressing up as blackface or brownface again? How do we recognize what happened in the past and make it better for those in the future? The only way to answer these questions is to recognize and understand what happened in the past, but also to realize that these things are historical and do not attest to what will happen in the future. I know there are enough young and innovative minds to change things in the future. We are dealing with many issues that hopefully those younger than us and growing up in this world will not have to worry about. 

The world will never be perfect, but there is always room for improvement and room for new issues to arise. We must try as hard as we can to fix and provide a better future for those that will come after us and for the people around us. We can each treat each other with love and acceptance. We can have conversations that are open and respectful of each other’s opinions. I hope this highlights what we can achieve and how much we have grown as a society and a community, not highlights the horrible things that have happened in the past. We must recognize what happened, but also recognize what we can do in the future as well.