By Juan Carlos Finck Carrales
According to recent official statistics, in Mexico there is a relation between people’s privileges and their skin color: The lighter, the more privilege.
However, social exclusion by racist practices in Mexico has been common practically since its Spanish conquest between 1519 and 1521, in which privileges where absorbed and monopolized by European settlers in Mexico (Spanish people: peninsulares) and their descendants (creole: criollos).
As a consequence, currently in Mexico, the color of skin affects people’s economic and political privileges and powers in individual and social levels related to their class, gender, culture, geographical position, etc.
Worldwide wrong ideas of how Mexicans look
Different people, mainly from other Latin American countries, have often asked me if Mexicans really look like they do in the Mexican “soap operas” exported to other countries.
In those TV shows, the majority of Mexican characters have commonly light skin and European features. My answer to that question is always that those actors belong to a small section of the Mexican population and that the majority of Mexicans are dark skinned and have indigenous Mexican features.
Also, I’ve told them that in Mexico, your skin tone mainly depends on your place of origin, since there are Mexican places where historically, people have been more mixed with Europeans than others; for example, territories that have undergone French and US invasions after the Mexican independency from Spain.
One important aspect of that Mexican stereotype sold by the Mexican “soap operas” (and basically by all Mexican media such as news, shows and films) through the main public Mexican TV companies (Televisa and TV Azteca), is that there’s been a false depiction of how a Mexican looks like.
Also, the current Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his wife, Angélica Rivera, look like “soap opera” characters (in fact, Rivera used to work as an actress years ago), so many people think that those TV companies outright promoted and helped to install them as president and first lady respectively in order to preserve the neoliberal regime in Mexico.
In my opinion, those wrong ideas of Mexicans’ image to the rest of the world have two main purposes. First, the idea of Mexicans looking like Europeans works as a cultural identity approximation to Europe and Anglo-America in two directions: from Mexico to those countries and from those countries to Mexico. This practice reinforces globalized ideas related to foreign consumption of services and products.
The second objective is that the idea of Mexicans looking as Europeans partly helps to create trust on Mexico’s government by European and Anglo-American countries in order to set aside the main problems of Mexico such as violence, poverty, and political crisis; therefore, foreign investment in Mexico couldn’t be too much affected.
Anyway, it seems that all that fake theater performed from decades will finish soon, since Mexican reality is being shown to the rest of the world lately mainly by social networks and independent Mexican mass media. Hence, Mexican poverty, violence and political crisis have been slowly known in other countries.
Privileges are related to skin color in Mexico
In a country such as Mexico, where 6 percent of the National Gross Domestic Product belongs to only one person (the multimillionaire Carlos Slim) and 80 percent of the total wealth belongs to only 10 percent of the population, it is clear that there is a polarization in the distribution of resources, wealth and privilege.
This way, in June 2017; there was a press release from the Mexican National Institute of Statistic and Geography (INEGI) in which for the first time there was data that relates the skin color of Mexicans to their socioeconomic conditions.
INEGI implemented a survey in the second semester of 2016 by visiting 32,481 Mexican homes and surveyed a total of 61,827,469 persons corresponding to 32,550,407 women and 29,277,062 men between 25 and 64 years old.
The survey was part of a statistical project called Intergenerational Social Mobility Module (MMSI in its Spanish acronym). During the survey implementation, there was used a chromatic scale of 11 skin tones with which the respondents were asked to choose their own skin tone they considered have.
The results weren’t surprising: Only 10 percent of respondents with the lightest tone of skin don’t have any school education; on the other hand, 20.2 percent of people with darkest skin tone don’t have one.
Also, 28.8 percent of people with the lightest skin color have a professional education, unlike 4.9 percent of people with darkest skin color and 13.2 percent of people with the middle brown skin color that have it as well.
People with darker skin tone have the least qualified jobs while the lighter skin tone people have the highest and more profitable jobs people get: 31.5 of people with lightest skin color work in positions such as governmental authorities, directors, managers, professionals and technicians. Contrary to 46.2 of workers with darkest skin color who work in positions related to elementary and supportive activities and agricultural, livestock, forestry, fishing and hunting jobs.
Racism and exclusion of Mexican indigenous in Mexico
Currently, in Mexico there are more than 65 indigenous precolonial cultures whose groups live there (approximately the 11 percent of total population) and have their own mother tongue before Spanish (67 native languages officially recognized). Even though Mexican indigenous groups are constitutionally protected by individual guarantees, they have been stigmatized and suffered social exclusion by being represented as ignorant, lazy and dangerous by descendants of settlers and naturalized Mexicans.
Those practices are the result of different sociohistorical phenomena undergone in Mexican territories that regionally divided them such as the mixing with Europeans (mestizo ideology), other Western cultures’ influence by globalization (mainly USA), and class-skin color separation. As main consequence, Mexican indigenous groups have had the least opportunities for proper education, jobs, healthcare, housing, etc.
In 2010, the Mexican National Council for Preventing Discrimination (CONAPRED) carried out the Discrimination National Survey in which there were 52,095 respondents visited in 13,751 Mexican homes.
One of the sections of the survey was directed to discrimination to indigenous groups. The results were overwhelming: 44.1 percent of respondents thought that their rights are not respected and 19.5 percent thought that they are discriminated. Also, 39.1 percent thought that they don’t have the same opportunities for getting jobs in comparison to the rest of Mexicans due to their ethnicity.
Discrimination of Haitian migrants in the Mexican north
Since the US increased its deportation of Haitians after Barack Obama’s closing of amnesty to Haitians in September, 2016, more than 4,500 migrants from Haiti (counted in the last trimester of 2016) have arrived to the north of Mexico, mainly in Tijuana (80 percent) and Mexicali cities.
Majority of those Haitian migrants are seeking new life opportunities in Mexico. However, Haitians have been suffering discrimination by Mexicans mainly due to their religion (voodoo), their different looks, and the “bad image” they supposedly give to the cities affecting local shops (since in the beginning lots of them had to sleep in the streets). Plus, communication problems also affect the coexistence between the migrants and Mexicans, since Haitians speak French and almost none Spanish.
Part of that discrimination was promoted in social networks by very small groups that are advocators of the “Mexicanity” (whatever that means) that don’t even live in the cities wherein the Haitians are settled. However, currently Mexican government is working with 4,512 humanitarian visas for Haitian migrants, but it is not clear what could happen with them in the long term and how Mexicans are going to treat them if they stay in Mexico.
I can conclude that all the social exclusion by racist practices that majority of Mexican citizens (including myself) have been living in Mexico comes from a historical division of Mexican territories boosted mainly by the socioeconomic elite that have created a clear separation between Mexicans through the years. That separation is not only geographical it’s also socioeconomic, political and cultural.
Therefore, currently the worst enemy of a Mexican is pitifully other Mexicans. Nevertheless, Mexico is a multicultural nation in which their citizens/inhabitants must be aware of the racist practices that take place in it, its consequences and they should prevent them from their everyday individual and institutional practices in a democratic way.
Unfortunately, currently the majority of economic and political power in Mexico is practically monopolized by the Mexican inheritors of the European settlers that still practice the creole logic of dominance to the rest of Mexicans, so that important political and economic decisions that have affected all Mexicans have only benefited those small groups guided by neoliberal practices. They have decided which Mexicans can get and cannot get benefits, mainly depending on their skin color… and now it is official.