Racism in Mexico rears its ugly head
Actors in blackface makeup are used during coverage of the World Cup. The broadcasting company says it’s just a harmless spoof, but commentators say Mexico as a whole is in denial about racism.
Reporting from Mexico City —
Every morning during television coverage of the World Cup, on the Mexican equivalent of the “Today” show, co-hosts chat, trade barbs and yuck it up. Behind them, actors in blackface makeup, dressed in fake animal skins and wild “Afro” wigs, gyrate, wave spears and pretend to represent a cartoonish version of South Africa.
Yes, in the 21st century, blackface characters on a major television network.
But this is Mexico, and definitions of racism are complicated and influenced by the country’s own tortured relationship with invading powers and indigenous cultures.
Many Mexicans will say they are not racist and that very little racism exists in Mexico, a nation, after all, of mestizos, who are of European and indigenous blood.
As proof, they point to the fact that slavery was ended in Mexico decades before it was abolished in the United States, and that Mexico never institutionalized racism the way the U.S. did with its segregationist laws that lasted into the 1960s.
It is true that Mexico was even seen as a refuge for some American blacks. Poet Langston Hughes did some of his earliest writing while living briefly with his father in Mexico, where the older man had gone to escape discrimination.
But the full truth is that racism is alive and well in Mexico. It is primarily directed at indigenous communities who account for as many as 11.3 million people, or roughly 10% of the national population. The indigenous remain disproportionately mired in poverty and denied work, political access, education and other rights.
And there is a smaller community of black Mexicans, Afro Mexicanos, many descendants of slaves first brought to the region by Spanish conquerors in the 16th century.
Often referred to by academics as the “third race” and concentrated in the coastal states of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Guerrero, they have been fighting for years for recognition as a distinct ethnic group, to be included in history books and to be given opportunities to transcend poverty.
“Racism in Mexico is covered up,” said Ricardo Bucio, head of the National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination, which has protested the blackface TV caricatures. “There is a lot of denial about it.”
Or, as columnist Katia D’Artigues once put it: “Although subtle, discrimination has become something invisible in our society. We no longer see it, or we consider it normal!”