Friday, November 19, 2010

Racism or Nationalism?

I am almost 100% sure that your view of the below will be influenced by whether you are from the U.S. versus elsewhere in the world. 

Today an opportunity for a dialogue about U.S. multiculturalism and international conceptualizations of difference arrived at Alliant International University’s Mexico campus in the form of a vending machine.  The image above of “Negrito”(Spanish for little black boy) was blazoned across the machine.  Shortly after, a psychology student emailed the staff here asking, “Would you please consider moving or removing the "Negrito" vending machine from the student lounge? I understand the language and cultural differences but it really seems unnecessary and offensive.”

In a quick survey of those on campus, not a single Mexican views this as offensive. One told me that this is typical U.S. behavior—“le buscas 5 patas al gato” (You look for five legs on a cat—you look for what is not there).

Of the U.S. representatives, all think it is racist.

I look forward to hearing what our students from Africa and other international settings have to add.

Here in Mexico people sometimes use descriptive words like gordo (fat), China (Chinese) or Morena (dark skin) with great affection. The meaning often depends on the tone of the voice. Miguel Bosé has a song “Morena Mia” that translates into English as “Dark skin woman of mine” but I’ve been told more accurately translates into “my love.”

On the other hand, racism IS alive and well here in Mexico.

Here is my quandary. I can see the offensiveness through my U.S. formed lenses. Yet I worry about U.S. arrogance, including U.S. centrism in U.S. multiculturalism. Versions of today’s event occur often, and often the message is that Mexico is backwards. For example, people from U.S. may think in terms of race while Mexicans may think in terms of class. I think U.S. folks are often quick to devalue the Mexico perspective and move toward educating them on “how it really is” and miss opportunities for dialogues and new ways to think about difference.

Should we get rid of the vending machine? Yes. If one person feels diminished by this image, than yes. 
Side comment: The company who owns the machines is called "Bimbo." Ah….language. 

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