Racist Mexican stamps?

Over the 4th of July weekend, I became aware of a story about a set of new Mexican postage stamps featuring a black comic book figure with stereotypically thick lips and a flat nose with ape-like features, similar to the way blacks were frequently caricatured in cartoons during the early 1900's, These stamps have set off a controversy over the apparently racist images, having offended many in the U.S. Mexicans appear not to appreciate why blacks in the U.S. might not find the 1940's character Memin Pinguin quite as charming as many Mexicans do:
But Mexico, which has few blacks and considers racism much less of an issue, is baffled at the US reaction. It said the stamps were a harmless tribute to a popular Mexican cartoon.

"I find it odd not to understand this celebration of popular Mexican culture and this tribute that the Mexican post office is making to Mexican cartoonists," presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said. (From this Reuters story.)
Leave it to Nicky Goomba to try to show Mexicans why some Americans might be offended by a stamp with an old-fashioned racist image by giving them a proposed taste of their own medicine. I wonder if it will work. The sad thing is, the Mexicans who defend these images probably genuinely don't consider them to be racist, much as most white Americans in the early 1900's probably didn't consider the picaninny, coon, or Tom caricatures of blacks that were so prevalent at the time (and persist to some extent even today) to be racist. They just considered them "cute" or "lovable," if they considered them at all.

For an attempt at a defense of these stamps (as indefensible as they appear to be), though, see Fred on Everything. I'm not sure this was intentional or not, but Fred actually shows us just how racist, how Samba-like Memin Pinguin is drawn by including scans of the covers of several issues of the Mexican comic book Judge for yourself. Unfortunately, while accusing those complaining about the stamps of, in essence, race-baiting and hypersensitivity, Fred is not above engaging in a bit of race-baiting himself, claiming that "we have trained our blacks, or a great many blacks, to believe that they should get anything—jobs, promotions, acceptance into college, and immunity from criticism—just by being black" and blaming Jesse Jackson and "hucksters" for stiring up a tempest in a teapot.

Personally, I think the covers Fred posted look pretty damned racist myself. None of the non-blacks on the covers are drawn the same way as Memin is, and you can't convince me that Memin doesn't look a lot like these images.


  1. Wow. Amazing this stuff still exists in 2005, but then, considering some of the bigotry and stupidity and see coming from the far-right in this country, I suppose nothing should surprise me. And speaking as someone who made his living as a cartoonist for 10 years, I can say that it's bad cartooning to boot.

  2. Interesting that over at Nicky Goomba's site, there were plenty of other blatant racist (or at least anti-Arab/Muslim) pictures.

    But I agree with Martin, it's amazing it still exists.

  3. It seems that Mexicans' considering "racism less of an issue" leads to... racism.

    Here is an interesting piece on Black Mexicans.


    My understanding is that there is considerable racism in Latin America, particularly the island nations, directed towards apparent descendents of the slave trade.

    Martin, not sure what this has to do with the far-right in our country. But as they say, when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  4. (By the island nations, I mean the Carribean, which might not be considered part of Latin America)

  5. I live less than an hour from the Mexican border in Tucson and am not really surprised by the failure of the Mexican population to see racism when it is staring straight at them. One only has to read one of the daily Mexican newspapers to judge where the people stand. Actually seeing the difference in treatment between lighter and darker skinned Mexicans in Mexico by Mexicans is quite disturbing (forget the poor treatment the native population receives - it's completely horrible). I guess one could just listen to Presidente Fox repeatedly tell everyone of his European Spanish ancestry instead?

    Most of the newspaper comments stick to these story lines.

    How can we be racist, we like Memim and he is part of our history (doesn’t really address the issue but it is telling that the Mexican opinion writers don’t find Memin racist)

    Leave us alone to do our own business (great double standard especially when Mexican border troops provide pamphlets, printed by the Mexican Gov’t, to their fellow Mexicans describing the best ways to sneak across the border – who is doing what to whom?)

    American has no right to criticize us, they are the ones who are racist (the red herring trick – change the topic to alleged US racism in order to excuse Mexican racism)

    Importante - Leí los artículos en español

    @Martin - the far-left has its own brand of racism (usually expressed as some form of anti-Semitism)

    @Paul - not sure about all the island nations but in Cuba there is such a high level of intermarriage that color based racism is almost non-existent (at least that is what my political refugee Cuban Spanish instructor stated and he had no kind words to say about his homeland).

    Here is an interesting page about the racial classification system in Mexico

  6. OK, it's just a cartoon, buy why does that child have three nostrils??

  7. Paul: The article on black Mexicans was interesting.

    Groups that promote intolerance and bigotry in this country tend to lean to the far right of the ideological spectrum. The operative term here of course is "far right," which is to be distinguished from non-extremist traditional conservatism, in case the terminology is unclear.

    Examples of far-right bigotry would be groups like Concerned Women for America (anti-gay), the American Family Association (anti-gay and anti-semitic), Operation Rescue (domestic terrorists and misogynists), World Church of the Creator (white supremacist), and the Ku Klux Klan (ditto). The last two groups would be cracked up by these Mexican stamps.

    If I am wrong, and your view is that these groups are not in fact "far right" in their leanings, I'd be interested in hearing what you think their leanings actually are. Comments like "when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail," might strike you as witty, and they might strike me that way too, if I had an inkling as to what you think they have to do with the point I was making. Wit is all well and good, but I would be far more impressed — even willing to change my mind — if you have a good argument for why it is inappropriate to label any one of the above groups "far right".

    chaperonin60: I know full well there are far left groups comprised of jerks and fanatics (one good example would be PETA) but I would be interested in any actual examples of far-left anti-Semitism you would care to present. Naturally, I would condemn such examples strongly.

  8. Yeah, I know that Nicky Goomba is inconsistent about racism, but in this case he was spot on.

  9. Some of those front covers looked absolutely hilarious. I wonder if that makes me a racist?

    Maybe they're just funny because they're anachronistic.

  10. Chaperonin60 is correct here about anti-Semitism on the far left.

    Examples are everywhere, particularly among the anti-globalization crowd, who frequently use Nazi imagery and repeat the racist canards about Jews controlling the media, the banking, etc. Of course, they claim they are being "anti-Zionist," not anti-Jew, but if you look at their imagery it becomes obvious that that's just a cloak to hide their anti-Semitism. Also, in making common cause with the Palestinians, some leftwing groups copy the blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric of Palistinian radicals.


    (The first two pictures are blatantly anti-Semitic. There's also a lot of stupid Hitler and Nazi analogies there. The Hitler zombie had obviously been very busy indeed.)


    Or how about a sign justifying anti-Semitism by blaming it on "Zionists"? (It's about halfway down the page):


    Some more:


    And, finally, an article about how some elements of the left at Berkeley has embraced anti-Semitism along with their embrace of the Palestinian cause:


    And, no, I don't buy the claim by some that they are not "anti-Jew" but "anti-Zionist," given how much they use blatantly anti-Semitic imagery and rhetoric.

  11. Orac: Thanks, I'll check this stuff out. Amazing how the same "global conspiracy" theories can get trotted out.

  12. It seems to me that several elements of the far Left are actually quite reactionary rather than progressive; their underlying ideology seems to be Romanticism which quickly leads to an anti-urbanism which is often just thinly disguised anti-semitism. They oppose capitalism not because, as socialists would, they think they have something better, but rather because they think we once _did_ have something better. They idealize anything that isn't modern or Western, even if it means embracing the most corrupt and patriarchal elements in the societies of the people they supposedly stand in solidarity with (many of whom they describe in quite a "noble savage" fashion).

    Interestingly, that particular segment of the Left is the one that most embraces "alternative medicine" and often for the same reason that the very far Right also does (part of Eric Rudolph's motivation for his terrorist acts was apparently that he believed his father would have survived if he had access to Laetrile): because it rejects modernity.

  13. Martin

    I don't have a quarrel with your definition of far right or racism, I just don't see how a comment on American far-right groups has anything to do with this subject.

    Its a little like throwing a jab at Phillip Morris when discussing an African ebola epidemic.

    And, don't take offense. Reading through your comments, it seems you have more than a hammer in your toolbox.

    I think this is an interesting subject because it challenges what our notions of racism and bigotry are. Its one thing to talk about the KKK - pretty clear cut. Its another to look at the racism of one non-caucasian group towards those (typically) darker than them. Considering the % of non-whites in the world, this type of racism is probably much more common than we would expect. I think that this makes it clear that racism is less of a "political" (conservative/liberal) issue than a class/culture issue (and a very old one - just look at the Indian caste system).

    And to me at least, it is a reminder that there is probably less "solidarity" in second and third world countries than we think.

    On the anti-semitism/racism question, many Arab countries have been lobbying the UN for a declaration equating Zionism with racism, and have found support from the idea in Europe and from groups on the far and center left.

    This would, in effect, make Israel a "racist" country.

    I think that the Hitler Zombie would find that one deliciously ironic.

  14. Yo Paul: >>I don't have a quarrel with your definition of far right or racism, I just don't see how a comment on American far-right groups has anything to do with this subject.<<

    I was simply pointing out that my distate towards the Mexican stamps was promptly followed by having to concede the existence of organized bigotry in my own country, by groups that I incidentally identified as "far right". The impression I got from your reply was that you took offense to that particular identification and that I was looking at the issue simple-mindedly, so I felt I should explain my views more carefully. Didn't mean to come across offended, just trying for greater clarity.

    I agree that a lot of racism has been class/cultural in nature. (I think this is the root of the racism in the Mexican cartoon character. I can easily imagine the artist reacting with pure bewilderment that his character is being attacked, since he has probably been ingrained from his youth to view blacks in this way and considers it harmless. Of course, I'm just guessing.) But I think that much bigotry today -- racial and otherwise -- is politically motivated and manipulated by various groups for their own gain. And yes, I think most of the groups agitating this sort of thing do come from the far right end of the political spectrum in the US, though the information about left-wing anti-"Zionists" is illuminating.

    For one example, there's the increasing "let's seal the borders" xenophobia, a political hot potato that has evolved from an initially sound concern about the problem of illegal immigration and crime. Something not entirely unreasonable on its face is taken by a group with an axe to grind and turned into a springboard for "us or them" paranoia.

    Move outside the US, and you see racism coming from all different sides and any number of motivations...but in the end politically manipulated all the same. The whole Hutu-vs-Tutsi atrocities in Rwanda were entirely machinated into existence. In the end you usually find one or two groups seeking to control, influence, or entirely eradicate all others they don't like or approve of. Ghastly.

  15. George Bush has been criticized by the right and the left for his supposed softness on the border issue. Seems to be plenty of xenophobia to go around there.

    I'm not sure if this bolsters your case, unless you would be willing to characterize Bush as a moderate. He certainly is not coming out and saying we should "seal the borders".

    I'm not saying that politics and racism are not connected, just that it is much more complex than this. Class, culture, family, esp family, are much more important in shaping views on race. And I just don't think it can be pegged to one political group or another. (Actually, its usually pegged to one political group, the "usual suspects".)

    Remember the busing issue in Boston (actually Charlestown) in the 70s? Classic modern racism from traditional Kennedy democrats. Not a whole lot of political manipulation of the issue there.

  16. @Martin - I am not going to jump into an open/closed border discussion but illegal immigration is a real problem - not just something one hears about on the news - here near the border (I also have an issue with selective enforcement of immigration laws but that is something for another day).

    Also, my far-left comment was not meant to imply that I didn't agree with your characterization of the far-right. Unfortunately, it seems the far ends have met in regards to their anti-Semitic bile.

    I clicked on one of Orac's links for the racist cartoon page and now have this question - the magpies in the cartoons, are they supposed to be Heckle and Jeckle? It would explain their absence from TV/ads/etc.

  17. chaperonin60: I totally agree (as a Texan, especially) that illegal immigration is a serious problem -- I wasn't saying it wasn't. What I meant was that it was an issue that racists have used to lend intellectual or moral credence to their hating of Mexicans for, well, just being Mexican. IE, a legitimate problem fuels a repellant ideology.

  18. I saw the stamps that were supposed to be the equivalent only with Mexican characatures, but I don't think they are equivalent.

    The little black Sambo business hits a raw nerve here for a reason, I doubt that Frito Bandito or the other bandito or fat seargent characters or the mouse "Speedy Gonzalez" have that much loading of negativity onto them. Why would a Mexican person be ashamed of the fact that some of them are fat and some have been bandits?

    If there was a characature of a Mexican person grovelling before a white farm owner, or a Mexican man carousing with another woman in front of his wife... I can think of stereotypes that are much more painful and could hit a raw nerve. There are very painful truths that could be dredged up by a certain kind of image.

    The black-boy-as-monkey is really a sick image, I can't defend it, but I suppose it might just be seen as funny in Mexico. Maybe there no one has taken off with the idea and thought that it means that they can abuse their black neighbors.

    I really hope that racists in the US and elsewhere don't buy up the stamps for their own disgusting pleasure.

  19. Martin - I had no idea of the degree of dislike for Mexicans by some people here in the U.S. until I moved to AZ and I agree with you completely that racists are using a legitmate concern in an attempt to provide a valid source for their hatred.


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