REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Is Mexico's an inherently racist society? Does the culture overwhelmingly favor those with light skin over those with dark skin? And if so, is that a legacy of European colonialism or present-day images in television and advertising?
These are among the thorny questions emerging in online forums in Mexico since a government agency began circulating a "viral video" showing schoolchildren in a taped social experiment on race.
The kids are seated at a table before a white doll and a black doll, and are asked to pick the "good doll" or the doll that most resembled them. The children, mostly brown-skinned, almost uniformly say the white doll was better or most resembled them.
One child in the video with mixed-race features says the white doll resembled him "in the ears."
"Which doll is the good doll?" a woman's voice asks the child.
"I am not afraid of whites," he responds, pointing to the white doll. "I have more trust."
Mexico's National Council to Prevent Discrimination, or Conapred, in mid-December began circulating the video, modeled on the 1940s Clark experiments in the United States. The children who appear in it are mostly mestizos, or half-Spanish, half-Indian, and a message said they were taped with the consent of their parents and told to respond as freely as they could.
Mexicans who saw the video said online that they were dismayed but not surprised by its results, and also offered some criticism for the agency that produced it.
Commenters have noted that the options were "very limiting" by offering only black and white, or good and bad, when in Mexico the majority of the population is mixed-race, mostly European and indigenous, and to a lesser extent African and Asian backgrounds.
"It is a poorly formulated question, it is pretentious," one user said on the website VivirMexico (link in Spanish).
Yet many also said the video reveals a deep-seated prejudice that is taught to children in Mexico from an early age.
In 2010, the Televisa network was criticized for showing actors in black face during the World Cup in South Africa. In May, the case of a black man who died after a confrontation with police in Mexico City led to protests against Mayor Marcelo Ebrard.
Wilner Metelus, a sociology professor and leader of a committee advocating for Afro-Mexicans and black immigrants, said the doll video shows how far the country must go to recognize the prevalence of racism and the need to educate young people.
"The Mexican state still does not officially recognize Afro-Mexicans. There are few texts that talk about the presence of Africans in Mexico," Metelus said. "We need a project in the schools to show that the dark children are just the same as them, as the lighter children. And not only in schools; it is also necessary in Mexican families."
On Friday, the daily La Jornada published a report saying black immigrants in Mexico and the Afro-Mexican minority still suffer racism and discrimination that is not adequately acknowledged by the government (link in Spanish).
"[Dark] skin color is still associated with foreignness," Luz Maria Martinez, a leading anthropologist on Afro-Mexican culture, told the newspaper. "We do not know how to value the indigenous culture, which is very rich, or the African culture, which is as great as any in the world."
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: An image from the Conapred racism video in Mexico. Credit: YouTube