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In Mexico, Times report on network's use of blackface renews racism debate

Screen grab primero el mundial black face racism mexico televisa
The Mexican media conglomerate Televisa employs actors in blackface during a popular morning program on the World Cup, underscoring once more the conflicting attitudes held by Mexico and the United States about race and racism. Tracy Wilkinson writes in The Times:

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.

Mexicans, it turns out, just don't see caricatures of Africans or black people as inherently racist, bringing to mind the flap in 2005 over a historic comic book character named Memin Pinguin, beloved by Mexicans but reviled in the U.S. for his exaggerated African features. Wilkinson adds:

Still, in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, people operate with a different comfort level when it comes to physical attributes. It remains common for Mexicans to use nicknames like "Chino" for someone with almond-shaped eyes, "Negrito" for someone with dark skin, "Gordo" (Fatso) for a plump person.

These terms are jarring when seen through the prism of U.S. sensibilities, but here they are usually used in a context of affection and friendship.

In online reader comments to an article in the El Universal newspaper on the Times report, many readers reacted with indignation to the suggestion that the Televisa skits are racist (link in Spanish). "Disgusting double standard for an imperialist and invading country," wrote one El Universal reader. "They should be ashamed criticizing a cartoon."

But another reader commented: "Showing people in black-face as primitive persons is the same as showing Mexicans as delinquents, and of course the latter doesn't strike us as a joke. Both acts are racist, but the difference is one makes us laugh and therefore it's approved."

Author David Lida, in a post on his blog, discussed the image used on a Mexican snack cake called "Negrito" as another instance of Mexico's blithe treatment of racial caricatures:

I've never met a Mexican who copped to being a racist. Some, particularly from the upper echelons, lament that their society is class-based, but argue that since nearly everyone is mestizo -- with a mixture of Spanish and indigenous blood -- therefore how could they be racist?

Meanwhile, in an article on the Memin Pinguin controversy in the Boston Review, historian Claudio Lomnitz argues that the scandalized American responses to Mexican racial caricatures reflect a recent phenomenon of identity politics and "political correctness" that has no direct equivalent in Mexico or the rest of Latin America. It's a long article but worth reading:

There has been a sea change since the 1980s in the ways that Latin American race relations are understood by American academics and educators. Criticism of race relations and racism in Brazil, Mexico, the Andes, the Caribbean, and Central America has developed as a natural extension of multiculturalism and identity politics in the United States, and many studies describe persistent racial inequalities masked by the idea of racial democracy. This criticism and research has, in turn, fed discussions of race in Latin America, albeit in an attenuated manner: Brazil has had its own proponents of “black power,” and racism against Indians has become a theme in Mexican social movements. Because these challenges are difficult to reconcile with Mexico’s 80-year-old ideology of national integration, they are often downplayed in public debate — as if Mexican racism had long been taken care of, and as if whatever remains of it were somehow less harmful because things are worse in the United States.

So what's your take? Is racism in Mexico alive and well? Or is Mexico, with its long history of racial mixture, just racially liberated? The questions get to the core of one of the most complex aspects of Mexican identity. Mexico's Televisa can't be accused of tiptoeing around them.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

* Image: Screen grab from 'Primero el Mundial' on Televisa. Credit:

Comments () | Archives (24)

The comments to this entry are closed.

ooo Pleaseeee...!!! if the world cup would have been in china of course there would have been chineese people in the set, or Germany.. blond people would have been there, spain.. people with castañuelas toros..etc.. you're are turning it the oposite way....

Racism is bred, many old timers in Mexico, grew up with race issues that is fading with the younger generations. Gangs, criminal elements, clicks, and rich people keep it stirred up for agenda purposes, but I am noticing, especially in the US. Hispanics and Blacks are intermingling much more, intermarriage and children being born is exploding. And, the same can be said about Black & Asian relations. While White and Black relations have been on an upswing for decades.

My mom was from Panama, my dad Cuba, their skin was darker than many, and I am the fruit of it, my wife, fair skinned El Salvadorian that loves dark complexions, our children look like mixed American children that have friends of every race.

is only a game is a parody about arizona new law xD

In the U.S. White Europeans claim that racism is no longer an issue. That is something of the past and that we are all one now. Yet, if you ask most non-white Europeans, what do you think the answer would be? In Mexico, light skinned or European Mexicans claim the same thing. If we want to know whether or not discrimination or racism is prevalent in Mexico, we should the native population. However, my guess is that most of them won't have access to a computer, let alone post a comment here.

To take it one step further a very popular song among caribbean spanish speakers is "el africano"

Mami el negro esta rabioso,
quiere bailar conmigo,
decicelo a mi papa.

Mami el negro me echa miedo,
me tapo la cabeza
y el negro me destapa.

Solo para complementar, escribí mal una parte: es el payaso Brozo, un personaje en México, que de naturaleza es muy racista hacia la mujer: misogino. Porque con la exageración, la sobre actuación de una realidad, se vuelve una forma de expresarlo y denunciarlo (el como se vive el machismo en nuestro pais), es decir, por medio de la burla y la exageración se busca hacer evidente una realidad que hay en México. Y que lo mismo hizo al jugar con la imagen que tenemos de las personas con descendencia africana

First, I write in spanish: Lo que me es importnate resaltar es que para nuestro contexto es algo comun, somos una cultura diversa y racista, porque el racismo nace apartir del miedo de ver a otro diferente a nosotros. Por tal motivo en todos lados hay racismo, sin embargo, en México este racismo no se vivie igual que en E.U.A., por eso, quiza, se viva diferente y no tan persecutorio como en su Nación. Segundo, si observaron la emisión del domingo y que acabo de ver, veran el juego que fue. Sería para mi, JUSTO, que ahora, se hiciera otro articulo complementando, que, esta imagen de personas pintadas fue parte de un juego y de una historia, donde el paya que aparece Brozo, para quedarse con el dinero presupuestado para el programa, consiguio gente pintada y jugando con un estereotipo (por cierto creado en su nación y mal asimilado en la nuestra). Es decir se burlaron de: ustedes L. A. Times (cayeron en su juego) de su nación E.U.A. (reflejando que fuerte viven el racismo de alla) y de mi (porque me llevo a escribir) ja,ja,ja,ja

having been born in mexico, i can only agree with the comments of Yaocuicatl, Rafa420 and Ruben Ortiz. Mexico and mexicans are totally racist, classist and sexist. And Televisa, which by self-admission "makes TV for idiots", exemplifies all those characteristics in every single program they make.

And to all those who just reply " well the US is more racist than Mexico anyway...", get a clue and stop comparing your country to your big northern neighbour.

Mexico will not get any better if people are in denial about its faults.

In our country, hatred towards black people was never, NEVER an issue, as it was in US. The subject is more sensitive to black american people because they suffered more racism than any other culture in the world, (except for jews in WWII). since we take it as almost a family joke, you people don't get it the way it is. I know many african americans, who are pleased with the way they're treated in my town, and are most gratefull they are not segregated in their own hometown, in special neighborhoods and restricted to special supermarkets (for example), as I've seen in many cities in US. Don't compare both cultures, don't dare to do it, It's been horrible how americans have treated americans. We are not, and will never be the same.

increible... can some one say with a straight face that there is no racism in Mexico? Go talk with gente indigena who are treated peor que los perros by los ladinos - how do you think the government and paramilitaries keep getting away stealing land and making assassinations?
AND there's racism in the eeuu, no kidding. Just cause they play differently, or because the u.s. has managed to use racism on a global level doesn't make it ok for everybody else to use it on a national level. That's like saying it's ok to attack los Kiche crossing the border because the eeuu does it. What, now los gringos are role models?

I don't think it is racist, I just think it is of bad taste. Thousands of programs in the US use Mexican characters as clowns to laugh at like Guillermo in Jimmy Kimmel Live.

The issue is than American people have some many problems with themselves, with their own people, with the acceptance of their own look or economic conditions; that they can´t understand what Mexican people consider as a joke, for our people it doesn´t matter if you are called black, white, short, tall, fat, thin, rich or poor etc, because that’s exactly what we are, we accept ourselves just the way we are, and we don’t play the card of racisms anytime that we don’t like ourselves…

¡Los que notan más el racismo son más racistas!

Utilice un pueblo africano por la copa del mundo de Sudáfrica. ¿Por qué son de color negro y un pueblo .
¿O es que va a pintar su cara color de rosa?

Por lo tanto, hay leones o está todo decorado como un pueblo nativo.

Por favor , antes de criticar algo, informarse, porque son muy malas, sobre todo acusado de algo que no está en su país y si existe.

Tal vez envidia de los mexicanos que han sido innovadores ?

No sé por qué, ni cuál es la razón de tales críticas , sino de España me dicen que no se habla mucho sobre el racismo en el Primer Mundo , o de sus presentadores.

Racism is embedded through the constent denial to a nation that was denied to claim a true identity. Mestizo is a racist conotation to deny people their existence as indigenous people. In every family is that unconsious attitude towards the darker skined or "Indio" looking "Mexicans" has been part of that conditioning that Eruopean invasion and thinking has confused us people. What really is the problem is that European invasion an colonialism is what is teaching Indigenous Mexico to deny their identity and call themselves a Mestizo people like this writer denies to properly look into the eyes of Mexicos past. Jewish people don't call themselves Mestizos nor hat idea of "Americans" that in all it's reality are biologically mixed if they inter marry. Mexico was not a marriage but a nation that was raped and the children bare the scars of 500 years that had denied us Indigenous people to exist as Indigenous Mexican people.

Seriously, I was never as aware of "race" as only after living 3 years in the U.S. Sorry, but I think "race" is a problem of U.S. history and ideology, I don't see what is the point of becoming obsessed in how other people do not see it south of your border, that by the way, is still North America, not South America. Even when there have been painful discrimination in our history it was mostly related to the colonial institutions and what we inherited from them...we don't classify people by color, to start with. Get over it boys!

I've had the Memin Pinguin argument with my wife's family and several other Mexicans over the years and have concluded that there is simply a disconnect between US and Mexican cultures on the issue of race and more specifically the pastime of poking fun at skin color and other physical attributes. I've also realized that these beloved caricatures in Mexican society are not typically loaded with the same racist sign posts we are accustomed to encountering in the US. For example, Memin Pinguin, though physically similar in appearance to blackface/minstrel performers of our not so distant past, does not share other negative characteristics often found in the blackface tradition, such as laziness, brashness, gullibility, penchant for certain types of food, etc...In fact Memin is smart, precocious, and often righting small injustices. Hence the disconnect.


Americans... er, USA Americans have a sort of love hate relationship with race and racism. Having ad campaigns for Colt 45 using blacks is seen as target marketing. This, we think, is part of Capitalism and thus freedom.

Mexico is racist, mexicans are racist, they love green eyes and pale skin, have issues with black people since they see them as inferior, do not recogniz their AfroMexican Population in places like Veracruz and Southern Mexico, have excluded their indigenous population from most activities. the list goes on and on and never mind what backward views northern rancho raised mexicans here in the states have. Just hang out and watch its pretty backwards, this is coming from another 3rd world native.

Excuse me but in US exist more racism that Mexico, The reason of this article is very probabily because the american humor is very different that mexican, but those dont mean a ofense to black people, if we remmember in Mexico the black people is a tird root of our people and this historical event is the reason that was created a cartoon "Memin Pinguin" in 1945. thanks.

Come on people, no one care about this. I am married with a Mexican and that is not racist. Thats Mexican humor. People like us cant understand that because we dont have humor we are americans gringos like they call us.

But the important thing is that we dont care and you are only gaving promotion to the show that its a really good show lol..

Say something interesting about Mexico not this sensacionalist reports.

Televisa is horribly racist. Starting with the fact that it has been imitating Hollywood and American tv aesthetic ideals since the times of Miguel Alemán in reaction to the ones of the Mexican Revolution. Hence the castings of fake blonds and the like. However the meaning of their stupid jokes changes in an American context with a particular history of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings and minstrel shows. In the context of Mexico this incident is probably not any uglier than the usual self deprecating jokes and denigrating caricatures of Mexicans that they do. However to do this in South Africa and export it to a U.S. audience shows how ignorant and unaware about the world they can be.

Having lived in Mexico for the last five years as a USA expatriate it seems to me that, at least where I live in Xalapa, Veracruz, that social status most generally coincides with one's complexion. That is the darker one's skin, the lower one's social and employment status. Just as, generally speaking, in the USA.

Likewise in Cuba, through which I have extensively traveled for extended periods. Though discrimination is not officially sanctioned, and is in fact officially discouraged, racism toward darker skin folks is very much alive, and often not at all covert.

To suggest that "identity politics" is a recently emerged phenomenon is to express one's historical ignorance. Folks have been killing folks of other ethnic, racial, religious, and/or clan identities forever.

Please, Mexico is racist and don't admit to it. Look at it this way, the dark skinned, dark haired Mexicans have to cross the border because they can't find equality. Most Americans don't know that Mexicans come in light skinned, blond hair and blue eyes because they don't flee racism.

I have experienced more racism in Mexico City than my home town of Dallas, Texas.


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About the Reporters
Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
Chris Kraul
Richard Marosi
Tracy Wilkinson