Is Mexico Experiencing a Media White Out?
It had been a long day at work and I was looking forward to watching the Copa America Semi-final game at a local restaurant. I knew that the US would inevitably lose to the Argentine powerhouse, but I thought it would still be fun to cheer for my country with my newfound friends. During the game I was not surprised by an upset, like I was hoping for, but rather, by all of the white faces smiling back at me during advertisement breaks. Whether the advertisement was selling yogurt, cars, or even domestic Mexican vacations, the person telling me why I need the product was inevitably white. While I was fairly used to seeing it in the United States, it shocked me to see it on Mexican television.
The ad where I first noticed this was promoting tourism in Chihuahua, Mexico. The first shot featured a tanned, yet white, man smiling at me, saying something suave in Spanish. Three or four long flowing shots followed, highlighting the nightlife, beautiful landscapes and cultures of mexico, with every single shot focusing on a smiling, laughing white person. The only shot that featured an actor of darker complexion was of a man working in a dark steel mill.
After noticing it for the first time, I could not stop seeing it. Whenever the camera panned to the stands to find the attractive fans, it would never stop on a person who was darker than a summer tan, no matter what country they were cheering for. On a bus ride to Puerto Vallarta, every billboard and bus stop poster featured a white person. No matter where I turned I could not get away from the abundance of the white ideal.
I saw these commercials at a point in my internship when I had already interacted with multiple native Mexicans. The people I met were intelligent, hardworking, successful artisans and business people who loved and provided for their families. While their culture was different from my own, their ideals and motivations were inspiring and impressive. Why then, I thought to myself, are these people not the role models and attractive personalities for television and print marketing?
As a college student at a liberal arts university, I have heard time and time again that television and movies in America heavily favor white and light skinned actors compared to their counterparts with a darker complexion. I had always taken those criticisms with a grain of salt because non-hispanic caucasians are the majority in America (61.6% according to 2015 Data from the US Census Bureau), but I realized that these same problems affect more people than just within the United States. Mexico is a country of 121 million but only around 10% are of European descent. How can it be that I am surrounded by faces that make up one tenth of the mexican population?
Before doing research, I had no idea how extreme the wealth inequality in Mexico really was. The very rich own a vastly disproportionate amount of wealth compared to the poorest. One statistic cites that the four richest people in Mexico own more monetary wealth than the poorest 20 million combined. One characteristic that these four men have in common is their complexion. They are all light skinned and come from European or otherwise Western descent. This is true for the majority of the affluent in Mexico. The mentality of many who live in Mexico is that the whiter you are, the better off you are. Logically this means that the inverse is also believed, that if you have a darker complexion, you are less capable of success.
This is a toxic notion and can make native Mexicans feel less valued or successful than their white compatriots. In Mexico, the United States, and anywhere else where there is ethnic diversity, we need to make more efforts to reduce the white superiority complex. If I learned anything from my internship, it is that every person and every story has value. No matter what you look like, where you are from, or what you believe, you have value to our world. No one should feel inferior based on their appearance and we all need to recognize that this is a worldwide problem that we all have a part in fixing.