President Vicente Fox's controversial comment about blacks in the United States is typical of a Mexico that fails to recognize its own racist...
MEXICO CITY — President Vicente Fox’s controversial comment about blacks in the United States is typical of a Mexico that fails to recognize its own racist attitudes, even as skin tone and economic success move in near lockstep, analysts said yesterday.
In the official census, Mexicans of African descent are not even counted as a distinct group. White Mexicans dominate TV programs and advertising. Most politicians have light-brown skin or are white like Fox, whose mother is from Spain.
“Racism is very deeply ingrained here, but no one accepts [that fact],” said Sergio Aguayo, a longtime human-rights activist.
“What Fox said was part of the language of all Mexicans. The paradigm of beauty is white skin and blue eyes.”
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Of Mexico’s 105 million people, 80 percent are mestizo (a mixture of Spanish and Indian descent), 10 percent are Indian and 10 percent are white, according to the polling firm MUND Americas.
What Fox said was: “There is no doubt that Mexican men and women, full of dignity, drive and a capacity for work, are doing the jobs that not even blacks want to do there, in the United States.”
Fox was speaking before a group of U.S. frozen-food processors in the Pacific Coast resort of Puerto Vallarta.
Since the comment was made Friday, Fox has been criticized by civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson, former presidential candidate Al Sharpton and the Bush administration, through the State Department, for being insensitive to black Americans.
Fox’s official spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said the president had spoken by telephone Monday with Jackson and Sharpton and “made it clear that at no time did the president have a racist attitude with this declaration.”
Fox’s office announced yesterday that the president would meet this morning with Jackson at Los Pinos, the presidential residence. Fox had extended the invitation Monday.
And last night, Mexico’s Assistant Foreign Secretary Patricia Olamendi issued a public apology, saying, “If anyone felt offended by the statement, I offer apologies on behalf of my government.”
The president’s remarks may have been impolitic, but they were based on the truth, said Robert C. Smith, a political-science professor at San Francisco State University.
He said Fox was alluding to the fact that black Americans are among the lowest-paid people in the U.S. and that “even they” would not accept certain jobs at those wages.
“I think the president may have spoken a little inelegantly, but the substance of his statement was correct,” Smith said. “The massive number of immigrants has depressed the wages of low-wage workers, who historically have been disproportionately African American.”
Fox’s words caused little outrage in Mexico, mostly because Mexicans are used to such talk.
“This is something he could say to me, something he could say privately, but not something a politician should say publicly,” said Jorge Anorve Zapata, an elementary-school teacher and Afro-Mexican from the Pacific Coast state of Guerrero.
“Of course it’s racist, but the racism is implicit; it’s like a joke,” said Anorve. “He said it in an unconscious way, but he should not have said it.”
In a country where there are virtually no prominent black citizens, many Mexicans are accustomed to references to black people that most Americans would consider offensive. For example, they often refer to dark-skinned people as negritos or “little black people.” If challenged, they defend the term as an endearment.
In the cinema, on television, in magazines and on billboards, models are overwhelmingly white. Indian or dark-skinned people are routinely consigned to supporting roles.
Only one president of Mexico, Benito Juarez, in office 1858-1872, has been full-blooded Indian. And one president, Vicente Guerrero, who served briefly in 1829, is believed to have had African blood.
Mexico imported slaves from Africa and has Afro-Mexican communities in Guerrero, Oaxaca and Veracruz states. Anorve helps organize an “Encounter of Black Mexico” every year.
But to many Mexicans, “we are invisible,” Anorve said. There has been more focus in the past decade on Indian rights, he added, but not much recognition of black Mexicans. “It’s like we are moving in slow motion on this subject.”
Mexico’s official census recognizes Indian groups and foreigners but not Mexicans of African descent, something Anorve would like.
U.S. and Mexican officials said yesterday that the dispute over Fox’s comments had been resolved.
Fox expressed regret late Monday in a statement issued through the Foreign Relations Department.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the matter appeared to be closed.
“President Fox made a public statement regretting his comments, and I think he’s addressed the matter,” he said.