(In the coming days, we will be posting more information about how you can take action to support Afro-Peruvian anti-racist efforts targeting media. The blog entry below provides background information about the issue.)
We all know that the story of representations of people of color on television is generally not a happy one. In countless examples, we are presented with images that fail utterly to reflect our realities. What’s worse, these images actively advance racist ideas that deny the humanity of the people they purport to represent.
Through our sister organization in Peru, LUNDU, we have seized upon a staggering example of racism in media.
LUNDU is dedicated to promoting respect for Peru’s populations of African descent and to combating racism and sexism. Recognizing the role of the media in propping up racist ideas, last year they launched a major media monitoring and anti-racist campaign. (Click here for a myMADRE blog entry about one element of that campaign.)
Their blog (in Spanish) reflects their efforts that mobilized over 5,000 people, bringing together different Afro-Peruvian organizations as well as artists, athletes, academics and more in support of the cause: to end the reproduction of racist and sexist stereotypes on television.
Those involved in this effort came up with a plan of action: to push for an agreement from major media outlets to self-regulate the racists images in their shows. In March 2010, they made a presentation of their media research findings and put forward proposals to work with universities to train media decision-makers in alternative approaches.
Days later, this character re-appeared on a highly-rated television comedy show:
The character “El Negro Mama” is not new to Peruvian television. Since 1995, he has been a popular character among the show’s audience. The actor who portrays him puts on black-face, adds false lips and a wig, and puts on hairy gloves to create the character. The character is said to be a dim-witted delinquent whose motto is “Seré negrito, pero tengo mi cerebrito.” (“I may be a little blackie, but I have my little brainy.”) The same actor also plays another character on the same television station called “La Paisana Jacinta,” an Indigenous woman who is shown as dirty and ill-mannered.
LUNDU has joined with other Peruvian social justice organizations to condemn these atrocious characters. They presented an official complaint to the television station, Frecuencia Latina, and to national associations including the Society of Radio and Television. In its defense, Frecuencia Latina cited the popularity of the characters and the high ratings of the program to argue that “El Negro Mama” and “La Paisana Jacinta” are not racist.
If these characters became popular, it is because they cater to racist ideas that persist in society. The fact that numerous Facebook pages have cropped up to defend the characters and to attack the Afro-Peruvian organizations does not demonstrate anything other than the strength of racist ideas among TV audiences in Peru and around the world.
The television station Frecuencia Latina has decided to suspend the “El Negro Mama” character, while “La Paisana Jacinta” remains on the air. LUNDU continues to work with Peruvian social justice organizations, including CHIRAPAQ (an Indigenous Peoples’ rights organization and also a MADRE sister organization) to demand that both characters be removed.
What’s more, they are calling for a legal framework that denounces racist portrayals in media and for a renewed effort by Peruvian media to end future racist language and depictions.
In the coming days, we will be posting information about how you can take action in support of this anti-racist effort.