Much has been written this week about the precipitous downfall of Venezuelan TV host Rodner Figueroa, who was fired from his high-paying job in Univision after making an inexcusable, racist comment about Michelle Obama live, during the superpopular daytime show El gordo y la flaca. More specifically – without mincing words – Figueroa compared the First Lady to someone from the cast of the Planet of the Apes movie.
Click here to watch the video of what he said exactly (in Spanish.)
Sure, Figueroa said something horrible. Yes, Univision did the right thing by reacting quickly and firing him “immediately” barely hours after he made the now infamous commentary.
But what many fail to see is that “The Figueroa Affair” is by no means new, nor shocking, at least for those of us who intimately know the ugly inners of Latin American – and U.S. Hispanic – media. As anthropologist Arlene Dávila wrote recently: “Sadly these types of comments are very common in Univision, and rarely regulated.”
While this is indeed true, is by no means limited to Univision. Take any television show in the U.S. (Univision, Telemundo, Azteca America, MundoFox;) Peru (SurPerú;) Mexico (Televisa, TV Azteca;) Venezuela, Colombia, etc. and you’ll see what I mean.
I grew up in Mexico City, and was always intrigued (not really shocked back then) to see that people on TV didn’t look at all like most people I saw on a daily basis. I mean, even the maids were all like, well-coiffed, blond actresses!
I dare you find a Black actor or actress (yes, there are Black people in Latin America;) an Indigenous Mexican (oh, yes, we have plenty) unless – of course – they are shown as objects of ridicule.
Want more? Take this promotional spot from Mexico’s media giant Grupo Televisa pretty much portraying Africans as a bunch of savages. Oh, did I mention Televisa is Univision’s partner, co-owner and provider of content?
See? Per the above examples, Africans (i.e. blacks) are savages, and Indians are pretty much non-existing. Thus, it was only natural that a local residencial developer in El Salvador this year used a light-skinned, blond family of three to pitch its “super affordable low-cost housing,” even though only a 0.1 percent of the population of El Salvador looks like these three.
Sure, pummeling Rodner Figueroa as if he were a Kim Kardashian piñata might feel like a good thing to do right now: It will make us feel great about ourselves as defenders of a racism-free world.
Just don’t forget: He is not the isolated racist weirdo they might have you believe in this wonderful universe that came to be known as Hispanic Media.