Her parents are brown
“Her parents are brown…” was the rationale a facebook user had for assuming a child he saw selling candy on a Guadalajara street had been kidnapped, and for eventually having the mother jailed, until the child’s grandmother was able to provide a birth certificate.
What one British newspaper called an “uproar in Mexico…over ‘racist’ profiling” has mostly been confined to twitter and facebook (although a report on the story was reported by Carlos Loret de Mola on his nightly news broadcast). It was less an uproar, than the low-level rumbling that has been heard since colonial days about assumptions based on appearance and color.
Admittedly, I hadn’t heard any of the uproar until I noticed mention of it until it showed up in the English-speaking press (all the stories being basically the same text) and at first assumed — given that this happened in Guadalajara, in the ritzy part of town (ironically enough, at the corner of “calle Niños Obrero”— Child Labor Street) — that the unnamed facebook user was some foreigner. If I had a peso for every foreigner who assumed a blonde Mexican was either rich or not “really” Mexican, I’d probably have a much, much healthier bank account. And could be living in the ritzy part of Guadalajara myself.
However, Union Jalisco reports that the “uproar” (such as it was) began with a post by a Mexican who claims he simply noticed this child beggar because of her hair coloring, and that the “parents” were brown… which complicates my own easy assumptions.
The fellow claimed he had only the best of intentions in posting the photo.. and in contacting several state welfare agencies, as well as the State prosecutor. Perhaps. But he jumped to a few conclusions, the first being that the “parents” were “moreno” (brown) when there was only one parent. Of course, it could be the fellow never studied basic genetics (or just skipped biology, even though he’s connected with the University of Guadalajara), but a recessive trait like blond hair can come from either parent’s own DNA, and who knows what the genetic background of the parents’ (plural) parents’ were, or their parents. Not something you can just tell by looking at one parent out your car window.
Most commentators on the post noticed that in singling out this child as possibly exploited and in need of intervention he was overlooking the obvious: that if state intervention is called for when children are begging on the streets, there are a heck of a lot of kids (most of whom are non-blonds) equally in need of attention. Quite a few chided him also for missing a bigger problem, that economically disadvantaged single mothers — whether their kids are blond or not — aren’t being provided the resources they need to provide for their families.
But what the foreign press harped on what the accusations of “racism”. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with that term, and in a way it is inaccurate. As I posted on The Unbearable Whiteness of Being (in Mexico) several years ago the fact that we associate blonds with the rich has less to do with ethnicity than with the skewered perceptions we get from pop culture:
… Fantasy stories about the idle rich are popular in any culture. Soap operas are set in the wealthier neighborhoods of Mexico City, areas that do have a lot of descendants of Europeans. [...] I’d point out that I’ve seen blond, blue-eyed beggars and pelados, as well as ordinary working people – but no one writes TV shows about them.
The clue to what really set off condemnation of the post is perhaps “Se equivoco la cigueña“, a wildly popular Maria la India comedy of the 1990s. Maria la India takes charge of a rich blond child (played by a seven year old Eleazar Gómez, who grew up to be a dark-haired telenovela stud-muffin) to prevent his exploitation, raising the boy as best she can among the poor and the brown.
Only slightly disguised by the slapstick is the subversive message that the people with the superior moral and ethical values are the poor, and one can’t “read” cultural values into one’s appearance. Something that goes both ways, my favorite example being rather gross. I was on the metro on one of those rare days when it wasn’t crowded, in a car with a drunk who shit his pants. Nobody was more grossed out than the well-dressed gent with a face that could have graced an Aztec frieze. He berated the blue-eyed, blond-haired drunk with the words SUCIO INDIO! (filthy Indian!) … “Indio” being pejorative for indigenous, and used more in the sense that a U.S. English speaker might have used “nigger” in the not so distant past less to describe an African-American as to describe something done improperly.
Racist? Yes it is. And, in that sense, yes, the “uproar” over the presumption that a blond child could not possibly be the child of a beggar is racist. But more, classist and … worst of all… elitist.
(There is an excellent commentary by youtube VLOGger “Macakiux” here — in Spanish).