So they asked me to make some changes and did some altering of their own before putting up my column about colorism here in Mexico. To offer a bit of self-critique, I admit that I silence the voices of those who do break the color barrier, actors who are darker-skinned and yet enjoy prominent roles in TV shows, movies or advertising. Also, although I do give a link to a New York Times article over the subject, to some it may appear that I give a holier-than-thou criticism from a non-Mexican perspective since I don't go any further into the issue stateside. Lastly, I do not mention class and the role it plays in maintaining the colorist system.
Here's my original writing before all editing:
There's no doubt that one of the most important issues facing Mexico today is the drug war. It's a problem that deserves as much attention and debate as it has received in the national media if not more. However, there's an entirely different subject that merits some discussion, which has been, at least in my opinion, completely absent in the national discourse: the very conspicuous exclusion of darker-skinned Mexicans in everything from telenovelas and commercials to all kinds of other advertising. I hesitate to use the word racism only because I risk conflating the two very different racial systems that exist between the U.S. and Mexico. Colorism is a more apt term; rampant colorism.
It's something that has always irritated me, especially being myself a person of color, since I lived for the first time in Mexico in 2006 in Guadalajara. One immediately notices that the models in advertisements on billboards, in store windows and bus stops have surprisingly white complexions in comparison with the people actually passing by.
In fact, if you were exposed to this imagery and never stepped foot in the country, you would probably think that Mexico had no mulatto, mestizo or indigenous population at all. Go ahead, turn on Univisión or Telemundo, which often run Mexican-produced telenovelas, and you will see exactly what I am referring to. You have actors such as Christopher Uckermann of Rebelde fame or William Levy Gutierrez (actually a U.S. nationalized citizen born in Cuba) from Cuidado con el Ángel who, although they may indeed be fine thespians and perhaps ridiculously good-looking, also seem to have passed along with every other telenovela star the Mexican equivalent of the brown-paper bag test; or in this case more like the white milk-carton test.
After the soap operas, stick around for the commercials if you want to witness even more "whitewashing," such as this commercial for a new shopping plaza in Guadalajara called Plaza de Hierro. I guess just to add insult to injury, as Alejandro Fernandez's love ballad swoons for that girl from Guadalajara with beautiful "ojos negros," we get a close-up of two green and blue-eyed models.
Now I know that some people may be thinking, "What are you trying to say, that all Mexicans are brown skinned?" This is, in fact, a common response from certain Mexicans when I bring the topic up to them. Of course not, but even if the Mexican population were say 50% "light skinned" and 50% "dark skinned," there should be an at least somewhat similar representation in the media, right? Well, currently that ratio seems to sit at about 99% "very light skinned," far from a faithful representation of the country´s actual population.
It's a preference that's also echoed in every-day conversation, something attested to in this ethnographic study on skin color in Veracruz, Mexico. A few months ago I went to the beach with a group of students and upon asking one of the girls why she wouldn't come in the water, she replied, "I don't want to get dark." But avoiding the light isn't the only way to stay "light". While walking to the supermarket the other day (I currently live in Acapulco, Mexico), I spotted some quinceñeras portraits outside a photo developing center. An abrupt change in skin tone from the chin up can only mean one of two things: either they used foundation to whiten up their faces, or to darken up their necks. You be the judge. A common Mexican saying, although also heard in other Latin American countries, puts it even more bluntly: mejorar la raza, or "bettering the race," which refers to marrying a white-skinned person into the family in the hopes that the next generation is ligher-skinned.
It's not my intent to belittle any voices who are indeed speaking out against this injustice, but where is the outrage and criticism? I wonder how many people even acknowledge its existence. One study puts the figure at 40%. However, there is a difference between acknowledgment and public protest. When I do try to bring it up with people, the usual response is to point out that the U.S. is a lot more racist than Mexico, which may or not be true. However, having a racism contest between the two nations is besides the point, although yes, colorism is also alive and well on this side of the border.
So as I really do hope Mexico finds an effective approach to ending the recent rash of violence, I believe that there needs to be another healthy national debate to draw focus to the plight of the slightly-brown-skinned-and-darker and their apparent lack of representation in all forms of media. If you're still not convinced it's a worthy cause, think about Michael Jackson or watch this ridiculous commercial for Pond's "White Beauty" cream from India, and you'll realize how damaging colorism can be.
It's very interesting how having written for a popular blog that apparently thousands of people read, or at least the number of hits for my post seems to reveal, I can google search it to see who has commented on their own websites, like Santo Gay.
Here we go again. ANOTHER White American writing about color discrimination in Mexico! Give me a break.
Well, besides the fact that I am not a "White American," I can agree that I don't want to be THAT Gringo who goes into other countries waving their uppity finger at the host culture. However, I certainly do feel that as a brown-skinned individual--black, mixed, half-Cape Verdean-half-Black, etc.-- I should be able to voice concerns that I feel somewhat have affected me while living in contact with that culture. Any person from a country where Spanish is the official language who journeys to the U.S. only to witness that Spanish speakers are very poorly represented in our media, by all means, criticize away.