Washington DC, March 16, 2023.– Regarding the recent presentation of the book Expresiones contemporáneas de los racismos en México. Cuerpos, medios y educación (Contemporary Expressions of Racism in Mexico. Bodies, Media and Education), the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) spoke with Fabiola Fernández Guerra Carrillo, director of 11.11 Cambio Social and member of the Colectivo para Eliminar el Racismo (COPERA), who is also one of the authors of the analyses that make up the book.
In this interview, Fernández Guerra Carrillo reflects back to the first campaign that tried to put the issue of racism on the country’s public agenda. In this way, she attempts to chart the “complex and dense panorama of contemporary expressions of racism in Mexico” that is presented in the book, and to show that racism is a structural problem.
Is racism identified as a problem in Mexican society, just as poverty and drug trafficking can be?
In the last decade, yes, it is becoming more and more important on the public agenda. In 2011 we did the first national campaign called Racism in Mexico, with CONAPRED (National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination), and one of the points was to talk about racism and not discrimination, to position this idea of racism in the public sphere, and we have seen that to date the amount of communication products, research, as well as the movement of social networks showing a very clear position on racist ads or campaigns, has been super positive. There are still a lot of things to do, but there has been a lot of progress. I wouldn’t say that everyone recognizes it as a public problem, but I think that many more people have in the last decade, so there has been a positioning on the issue. There has also been work by activist groups, both from indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant and Afro-Mexican populations, who have also promoted this agenda.
Along with this kind of awakening in the last decade, in Mexico are there institutions or mechanisms to combat racism and racial discrimination, how do they work and how effective has their work been so far?
Regarding the mechanisms and institutions that have promoted the issue of combating racism in Mexico, I think there is a pending issue in the way they have worked. There has been progress. However, in terms of administrative resolutions or specific sanctions, apart from recommendations such as those made by COPRED or CONAPRED or the different councils that exist in the States of the Republic, the part of the sanction is still pending, as well as the incorporation of the anti-racist perspective in the Powers.
Could you describe the “complex and dense panorama of contemporary expressions of racism in Mexico” referred to in the book?
It speaks of a complexity mainly because of the way in which it is expressed. For example, in this book I think the three axes with which it is approached are very appropriate: bodies, media and education. Bodies because it is the first front where we talk about racism, that is, the body of people, whether they are racialized in a positive way by being in a system that favors them or they are racialized in a negative way by being the object of racist behaviors, is the space where our stories cross and where they are lived. The second point is the effects of the media on racist communication and anti-racist communication. This is another of the bases where racist discourse, structural racism, exists in Mexican society. The logics of operation of this structural racism have generated some dimensions of racism that we at COPERA talk a lot about, and they are the emotional dimension and the structural dimension, then how these media generate a public and accepted discourse, and very difficult to unlearn, about which bodies are valid and which bodies are not valid, which bodies we can aspire to and which bodies we cannot aspire to. And the third point that is also addressed in the book has to do with education, which in Mexico has been a racist education, and with the school curriculum, how this media message of which bodies are desirable and which bodies are not desirable is translated in the educational sector to which languages are desirable, what it implies to speak Spanish and what it implies to speak your mother tongue if you are from a native people, how it has been devalued and how it translates into the ever-increasing loss of the use of mother tongues.
The manifestations of racism in Mexico could only be associated with discrimination against the indigenous population, what other ethnic groups are discriminated against in Mexico and how serious is the situation?
Here in Mexico, in 2020, for the first time, a census was conducted in which a self-identification question was included for black Afro-Mexican or Afro-descendant people, which was a commitment that was pending to be carried out according to the international agenda. From this census it was possible to clearly specify the percentage of the Afro-descendant population that currently exists in the country, more or less 2.5 million people in Mexico self-describe themselves as Afro-descendants. The issue is that racism itself has had this process of invisibilization, both of native peoples and Afro-descendant population due to the processes of miscegenation. The COPERA collective addresses the figure of this miscegenation, which under the idea that we are all mixed, does not go deeper into this mixture, but invisibilizes the native peoples and the Afro-descendant population. There is also the part that there are some mixtures that are more favorable than others, then there has been a whole reconversion and a whole repositioning, slow but very deep, of a grassroots work done by different organizations and also at institutional level, for the recognition of the Afro-descendant population in this country as another of the populations that exist here and that obey the historical process of the colony, of colonialism and of the effects and the sequels that it has. An interesting thing in the AfroCensoMX campaign, which we did with the COPERA collective, the W.F. Kellogg Foundation, Race and Equality, and the Colegio de México, the Conapred also and several organizations that joined in the diffusion of this campaign, was an intervention called José María and Vicente and it obeys precisely to the figures of José María Morelos y Pavón, who wrote Los sentimientos de la nación, which is one of the legal instruments that serves as a precedent to the Mexican Political Constitution, but if you analyze that the figure of José María Morelos y Pavón was a person of African descent, you understand much more the context from which he wrote Los sentimientos de la nación; and also Vicente Guerrero. When you go to a stationery store, they put José María Morelos y Pavón in pink and with chapitas (earings); this process of whitening history is laughable and tremendous, then becoming aware of how history has been and how they do not narrate it in the role of education regarding racism in Mexico, you can see how all the channels are intercepted.
In what spaces do you expect the discussion on racism in Mexico to be broadened? What results do you expect from the broadening of the discussion?
Look, when we did this campaign for Conapred we had several communicational products, and one was a video that was El racismo en México, then that was a bomb that had millions of views on YouTube. My doctoral thesis was to analyze the comments and we analyzed around 7,250 comments, and to answer the question, the interesting thing is that in these 7,250 comments there was only one that referred to the relationship between racism and colonialism in Mexico, none talked about the relevance of the participation or intervention of the State in racism in Mexico. There was also a dispute, which I find very interesting and which is taken up again in one of the axes that we deal with in the book, which talked about the school and there was confusion about the role of the school. On the one hand there were comments that referred to the fact that the children who appeared in that video answered that way because they had not gone to school and had not been educated, and on the other hand there were comments that said “when I went to school they called me Oaxaca, they insulted me”, etc. So, we see how there is no agreement about what the school really does. By the way, I believe that Mexico is the number one country in terms of bullying and if we see how much of this bullying is due to racist discourse, this is one of the places where I would love to see a change in the way we look at it. The argumentative conception of racism ten years ago obeyed, and I believe that still to date, to understand racism as a question of a person, of a group, and the structural dimension was not understood; When we talk about the responsibility of mothers and fathers and children, we are making invisible that we live in a racist society where at 5, 6 years old you already know which doll is good and which doll is bad, even if you don’t know why, but you understand how society works and operates, what is expected from society, again the relationship between body, media and education, what is important for society, what bodies are valid, where to be, what is desirable and what bodies are not valid, what bodies are not where we have to focus our attention. So, I would love for this conversation to stick very much in the education sector. What I wanted to say was that the process of how the part of academia and colonialism and racism was discussed was a commentary, then the bridge of how racism is understood in a society and the part of the causes that originate it are still very distant, so bringing the academic part closer to the activist part and also the social part, talking about this topic and its causes would be another of the fantastic points. I believe that another thing that is going to change racism in Mexico, as also happened with the issue of feminism, are the daily conversations we have at home, with our friends, the jokes, what is funny and what is not funny, that is where you can see the thermometers of a society, when you can see that there are certain moods that are a social lubricant that gives a permissiveness of actions and behaviors in a society and there are societies that do not allow it, where it is out of place, it is not funny, and that has to do with a level of awareness, with a level of discussion in the public space of where we are going. On the one hand there are all the hate speeches that the networks generate because there is an impersonal part when you are behind the computer that allows you not to be politically correct and then you say what you think and what you feel, and it is also a thermometer to understand what is happening with society; but on the other hand you see a lot of young people who are taking the networks to discuss theory, practice and activism regarding racism in Mexico and regarding racism in Latin America and in the world.
Mexico is one of the seven countries in the region with an international commitment to combat racism and racial discrimination. What actions do you consider key to promoting an anti-racist agenda?
I think there is a part of dissemination and discussion that is still pending; although the issue of racism in the public debate has a greater presence than it had 10 years ago, there is still little participation. I believe that in part of the public agencies there should be, just as the gender perspective is included in several protocols, an anti-racist perspective as part of their protocols, but for this there should also be a conceptual clarity about what we mean when we talk about racism, the difference between racism and classism. There are several things that are still a bit confused in the public sphere and that are important to specify with all their clarity, still the part of training, which is what we do a lot in the COPERA collective, is one of the points that is still essential. On the part of the State, spaces must be opened so that this education and training can take place at all levels. I mean training courses in the three branches of government on what racism is, what are the effects and the logics in which it operates, experiences in Latin America, to understand very clearly the difference between segregationist racism as it is in the United States and the issue of mestizaje in Mexico and Latin America, that is, to understand also the different types and logics in which racism operates because there is a lot of confusion. Also, the school curricula, I believe that this is another place where public policy could be developed, starting from the international commitment, international treaties, how it is translated into instruments in Mexico from the instances that exist here for the work and visibility of racism so that it becomes part of the structures of the State in terms of training and implementation of different protocols. And on the other hand, there is the part of the organizations and society and of the native peoples and Afro-descendant peoples who have a lot to say in this respect, as well as the questioning that we have to do at a collective level on how we are with respect to this issue in Mexico and what are the costs that we have as Mexican society with respect to racism.
The book Expresiones contemporáneas de los racismos en México. Cuerpos, medios y educación, was coordinated by Juris Tipa, Saúl Velasco Cruz and Uriel Nuño Gutiérrez, with contributions by Fabiola Fernández Guerra Carrillo, Elsa Muñiz, Alejandra Ramírez López, Carl Winston Jones, Rodrigo Zárate Moedano, Cristina Masferrer León, Miguel Ángel Paz Frayre, Juris Tipa and Saúl Velasco Cruz.