Cringe-Alert: Mexican Tabloid’s Coverage of Obama

El Grafico, a tabloid publication put out by newspaper El Universal, is perhaps better known for its photos of barely-clad women and bloody dead people maimed in traffic accidents (whereas El Universal is more of a thinking man’s paper).

Today, however, they have a jaw-dropping message for Pres. Barack Obama (I know that Mexicans will argue this is not racist, it is normal — and as I’ve reported before, it can be weird just to be a light-skinned person in Mexico. As highlighted by the Olympics, racial sensitivity is QUITE different in Latin American than in the U.S. Still, I can’t get used to this):

[Update: ANOTHER Mexican magazine takes the racial insensitivity a step further!)

The caption reads "To work, my black person."

The caption reads "To work, my black person."

22 Comments

Filed under entertainment, inauguration, journalism, latin america, Life, Mexico, news, obama, photos, politics, race issues, racism

22 responses to “Cringe-Alert: Mexican Tabloid’s Coverage of Obama

  1. DKN

    I can see why you aren’t used to it, just as I am not, but you have to separate yourself from what you are used to in order to fully get used to it. IMO, it comes down to the fact that American’s, typically, do not use ethnicity as a way to describe people to their faces and when we do there is sometimes an implied insult that goes along with it so it’s a social no-no – we appear to be culturally unique in that sense. No one else in the world seems to give a crap. And I don’t think our way of relating to each other is necessarily superior. If anything, it just leads to more denial that we are all different. But I’m not even sure that there is much of a judgmental connection to this…it could even have something to do with the fact that our language is Germanic and theirs is Romantic…like the literal translation isn’t necessarily literal. So I guess what I’m saying is – it’s safe to assume that this isn’t an insult, therefore, we don’t have to make the choice to see it as such.

  2. Sue

    Just… NO. No, no, no. Bring back the naked women. (I’ve also been told that Mexican newsroom journalists are partial to photos that make officials look goofy or awkward or unstately, btw.) Cringe, cringe. I hope you don’t mind if I link to this on my blog. …

  3. Joy

    Of course Sue, link away.

  4. I think that this is being taken the wrong way. I see it as congratulatory. It is meant as a triumph for people of color all over the world.

  5. Joy

    That may be, Bob, but it’s still unsettling every time I look at it. Mexican newspapers are not known for their political correctness, especially when it comes to President Obama, so it’s hard to assume good intentions on the editors’ part — especially considering how they like to garner attention using the lowest common denominator (sex, violence, racism). They certainly got my attention!

    Why not simply “A Trabajar, Presidente!” ?

  6. angelbc

    As 100% mexican living in Mexico City and pretty knowledgeable of customs on both sides of the Rio Grande (and an avid fan of your blogs) let me tell you that you are, understandably, overreacting.

    “Mi Negro” is far from insulting here in Mexico. Trust me, my dad gets called “Negro” left and right, and he is far from being even close to African-american. It is almost a compliment. We frequently say that every social group in Mexico has a “Skinny”, “Fatso”, “Shorty”, “Blondie” and “Black” in their midst. If anything it is a sort of back-handed compliment.

    I actually commented on this very thing on a comment on other blog today. Admittedly it may not be the most elegant way of putting it, but I think it is far from being insulting at least for its intended readership.

    So, as we would clearly say in such circumstance:

    Relajese, Güerita… ;)

    And for most mexicans here, let me tell you, Obama is The Man. Good luck to him.

    Keep blogging!!!

  7. Joy

    Thanks Angel! It’s good to know you don’t find it offensive, and I think “lacking elegance” is a good way to put it. At least from an American’s perspective.

  8. Marthar

    Intellectually, I’m w/ DKN, Bob and angelbc on this… Gutwise, my reaction is similar to Joy’s and Sue’s. Either way, both ways, It definitely makes for an interesting discussion.

  9. Hehe I loved it Joy, Yours and Sue’s reaction was the same as mine the first time I saw the Negrito (chocolate Twinkies) advertisement here.
    I feel the same but I have my Mexican husband that tries to explain things as he laughs at my *gasp*

  10. I have a friend who’s always called ‘negrita’ when she shops her local market. These are people who want her to buy from them, so I doubt there is any insult intended. After fifteen years in Mexico, I have to agree with Angel. Whenever I’ve heard someone called by their physical characteristics (including fat) it seems to be meant as a term of endearment, like all those ‘itos’ and ‘itas’ they put after everything, no matter how big it is.

  11. I’ve been trying to think of an example of the opposite situation, of a U.S. paper writing something that would be considered as an insult to a Mexican but that people here wouldn’t think twice about. Can’t come up with a thing, probably because race is such a scary thing in the U.S. and almost any reference to it comes off as lacking elegance.

    Spanish-speakers have such a way with words that I think any intended insult to Obama would have been much more clever and cut much deeper.

  12. Sue

    I know that the newspaper isn´t trying to be offensive. Cheeky, if anything. But it crosses the line. And, besides that, it´s a command, which seems pretty disrespectful no matter which side of the border you´re on. It´s a frivolous tabloid, but it´s also owned by El Universal. I wonder if they are OK with it, post-publication.

  13. Armando Palacios

    I’m Mexican. Have lived most of my life in Mexico, except for 13 years I lived in Madison, WI. — studying and teaching at the University of Wisconsin. Think this headline is terrible and that El Gráfico should apologize for posting something like that.
    I don’t think Americans are too sensitive when it comes to race. True, PC language may help to cover some cynicism and racism, but it’s mainly an attempt to see a person as a person and not as a set of “accidents” (in the Aristotelian sense). Race, gender, religion or sexual preference are accidents, not essential traits.
    The United States almost disappeared because of slavery, for crying out loud. The issue was finally addressed until the 1960s, one century after Lincoln began to change course. There’s a reason why certain phrases shouldn’t be used out of respect for the other person.
    So I’ don’t think that headline is a compliment. First, it’s a command. Second, even in Mexico “negro” can be used in a pejorative way. In some cases it’s used in a friendly manner, but in other cases it’s used as a way to remind the other person that he or she isn’t white (and thus is socially inferior). Third, until we Mexicans admit we are racists and haven’t done more to solve that problem we won’t be able to solve other social and political problems that have affected us for almost two centuries.

  14. Sue

    So I´ve been taking a little straw poll the last couple of hours as my Mexican journalist colleagues wander by, and they have been saying that, yes, while people sometimes refer to each other as ¨fatso¨ or ¨chino¨ or ¨skinny¨ and so on, it is in a way that is familiar, usually with the suffix ¨ito¨or ¨ita.¨ One colleague felt El Grafico is making fun of him. Another said newspapers and citizens in Mexico should instead be giving their own politicians, those they´ve actually voted into office, the directive ¨To work!¨

    (Fascinating discussion topic.)

  15. Fabulous. My take on Mexican “racism” is that they’re generally (warning: gross generalizations ahead) not racist in any malicious way, but instead are simply oblivious (at best) or insensitive (at worst.) Or as one amiga put it, “We call them negritos because we have nothing against them.” Compared to slavery, Jim Crow and the Klan, things like Memin Penguin or the rapper Nigga are hard to get too worked up about.

    Of course, that’s what makes it so damn funny. If you’re trying to insult the president of the United States, “mi negro” is pretty weak. But if you mean it as a compliment or a term of endearment….oh, Lord, I’m cringing again just thinking about the editorial meeting that came up with this.

  16. This discussion vaguely reminds me of starting my job here in Mexico, when I had two days of orientation at my company’s site in Aguascalientes… My sponsor introduced me to everyone as “una chaparrita”. (“shorty”) I’m 6’2… :) I at least appreciated the sarcasm, which as we discussed, Joy, you just don’t see enough of down here.

  17. Luis

    AFAIK “a trabajar mi negro” is borrowed from cuba or at least cuban culture here. I’ve heard it many times before spoken in a cuban accent. The way my mexican brain digests that headline is as emphasizing both the amount of work that needs to be done by the new president due to the crisis that is in effect right now and also as a sigh of relief that someone capable is finally in control of the ship. JMHO.

  18. Dirk

    Negro just means black in Spanish. In fact, Negrito and Negrita, meaning little dark/black one, are used as terms of endearment. This isn’t the most brilliant of headlines but it’s probably not the most brilliant of news sources. The subcaption is more articulate and complimentary.
    Obama isn’t a traditionalist, evidenced by the devils ears sign he’s holding up on the cover. If we’re going to look at Obama as a black man, celebrate his successes in part because a black man is behind them, then why are we so shy about addressing tis in print?

  19. DKN

    Dirk – I must point out that is NOT the devil sign he is doing – It’s a Shaka – a Hawaiian hand gesture also known as “Hang Loose”.

  20. Joy

    I am still wondering what ‘devil ears’ sign is…sounds interesting. But yeah, this is most definitely “shaka brah.”

  21. DKN

    He was flashing it at the Hawaiian marching bands in the Inaugural Parade. The little girls were doing it, too, it was SO CUTE.

    Here’s an image of the devil sign, Joy:

    Don’t the Long Horns do something similar in Tejas?

  22. Joy: What a joy to find your blog. I have a similar yet opposite blog, being a chilanga living in NYC.
    And I respectfully ask for permission to link this amazing pendejada to my blog.
    Mexicans will always deny they are racists because they think being a racist is against Blacks or Chinese or Jews. It doesn’t occur to them that they are first and foremost racist among themselves (see brown v. white) and about everybody else, simply unevolved.
    The problem with this condescending yet hilarious headline is not in the use of the word Negro, which is not offensive in itself to describe a Black person or an African American (although in typical racist fashion, many people think it is).
    It’s the entire headline, and particularly the “a trabajar”, which brings back memories of plenty of work during slavery. As you must have heard, in Mexico they still use the expression “trabaja como negro” (to work like a black man), so I don’t think this was unintended. It’s part of the culture, which resists evolution.
    “Mi negro” is indeed a term of endearment, and I know the peeps at the paper probably meant the whole thing that way, But if it sounds iffy, it’s because it is, at the very least in very poor taste. Coño, it’s the freaking leader of the free world we’re talking about here. Más respeto por favor.
    I wonder what they would think if they saw an American headline along the lines of:
    “A trabajar mis nacos”, “O quédense en su tierra, mis prietos”.
    I doubt it would tickle their funny bone.

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