Cartoons: Teaching Racism

CNN is reporting a story out of Houston, Texas about a controversy involving a cartoon character called “Memín Pinguin,” that some find racist and others suggest that it is harmless. For example, Javier Salas, quoted in the CNN articles says, “We grew up reading, learning and educating ourselves,” with the Memín character. This is not the first time the cartoon character has generated controversy; just three years ago, a series of Mexican stamps honoring Memín set off protests by African-American leaders and the stamps were discontinued. Racism is not a “boogie-man” as some suggest, but rather it seems to be a core value, not only in American society but in Mexico as well.

Writing about “Mexico’s Race Problem” three years ago (around the time of the earlier Memín controversy), distinguished scholar Claudio Lomnitz writes that “Mexican opinion in response to the Memín affair predictably displayed a sense of superiority on racial issues.” Lomnitz goes on to criticize this attitude, “…as if Mexican racism had long been taken care of, and as if whatever remains of it were somehow less harmful because things are worse in the United States.” Indeed, the values that the Memín cartoon character teaches are core values. As with all the important narratives we tell them again and again in our cultural artifacts, such as cartoons. Here in the U.S., racism is built into Disney films and cartoons, such as this clever video mashup illustrates (5:00):

Even though some of these Disney cartoons are decades old, most of them continue to live on in DVD and on cable, thus ensuring the perpetuation of racism intergenerationally.


  1. Nestor Rodriguez

    One factor that may be affecting the low sensitivity of Mexicans to racial stereotyping vis-a-vis U.S. society is the smaller presence of African-origin people in Mexico when compared to the United States population. In U.S. society, African Americans have taken big steps to counter racial stereotyping and other racially degrading images in all sorts of public outlets. This does not occur in Mexico in a similar manner. In high-level profile cases, U.S. African American leaders have traveled to Mexico to raise the issue there.

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