Monday, May 16

A Fox is guarding the "then"-house.

It hasn't exactly been a great year for Mexican President Vicente Fox.

He's already been blasted for his tantamount encouragement of Mexican citizens to illegally cross the U.S. border in search of work. He's drawn ire for suggesting that millions of Mexican immigrants will be necessary to shore up America's Social Security plan. He's railed against the building of any wall on our southern border, and threatened to seek global sanctions if U.S. citizens tried to monitor illegal border crossings.

Then again, he isn't running for office here.

Still, you'd have to know that this kind of statement would become a problem:
"There's no doubt that Mexican men and women -- full of dignity, willpower and a capacity for work -- are doing the work that not even blacks want to do in the United States."
In a situation like this, the smart thing to do would be to play up cultural differences in mis-interpretations, and let the statement fade into the footnotes. Mexico City's Catholic leadership didn't make things any easier:
Even Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, the archbishop of Mexico City, criticized the U.S. policy as ridiculous and defended Fox's comments, saying: "The declaration had nothing to do with racism. It is a reality in the United States that anyone can prove."
So what did we see in the way of a backpedal? Through a spokesman, Fox said:
"The purpose (of the comment) was none other than to show the importance Mexican workers have today in the development and progress of U.S. society."
Not exactly a strong retraction. The CNN article attempts to highlight the cultural differences:
While Mexico has a few, isolated black communities, the population is dominated by descendants of the country's Spanish colonizers and its native Indians.

Comments that would generally be considered openly racist in the United States generate little attention here.

One afternoon television program regularly features a comedian in blackface chasing actresses in skimpy outfits, while an advertisement for a small, chocolate pastry called the "negrito" -- the little black man -- shows a white boy sprouting an afro as he eats the sweet. Many people hand out nicknames based on skin color.

Victor Hugo Flores, a 30-year-old bond salesman, cringed when asked what he thought of Fox's comment, but said it isn't too different from popular sayings celebrating what Mexicans see as a strong work ethic among blacks.

"It was bad, but it really isn't racist," he said. "Maybe the president shouldn't have said it. But here we say things like, 'He works like a black person,' and it's normal."
What's our lesson here? There's a court of law, where you are home free if you can prove a fact. The truth, indeed, will set you free. In the court of public opinion, there are some truths that can lock you out of consideration and opportunities. People, by nature, are not always forgiving.

Are Fox and the Cardinal correct in what they say? The question is irrelevant. What matters is they didn't have the foresight to see they had no business raising the question. Fox could have made his point without using a racial example. Particularly in a race-conscious society.