Is the U.S. still “exceptional”? And Mexico? French diplomat, Alexis de Tocqueville, first advanced that thought (Democracy in America, 1835). He meant, principally, “egalité,” or equality, the new, great political and social idea at that time. He believed the U.S. offered the best example of equality (for Whites) via a viable Democracy and a non-monarchical Republic. But he and others since did not include the glaring evil of slavery.
Public and private writers and leaders in the U.S. perpetuated the myth of U.S. “exceptionalism” over the years, expanding it to include economic perfection, even alleged moral superiority over other systems. Some observers also have maintained a certain preeminence of Mexico vis a vis Latin America, due to its unique governmental stability over the last nine decades.
Both the U.S. and Mexico seemed have lost their claims to fame and leadership. Both countries suffer from twin evils of Racism and would-be Dictators. Neither of our two great peoples deserve such threats, but they must wake up and face them. In the case of Mexico, one observer begs Mexico to “Come Clean on Racism” (Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “Hutchinson Report,” 2013). He offers, as proof, with the tone-deaf governmental issue of a commemorative postal stamp in the likeness of “Memin Pinguin,” a racially-drawn, offensive cartoon character.
Reflected in pop-culture (Superiór beer campaign for years: “La Rubia que todos Quieren” — the Blond that All Desire), Hutchinson notes “Mexican racism goes deep.” Class and race are closely mixed. Color is everything. Mexicans chide the U.S. for its rampant racism, but hide their own. The poor are darker, the smaller middle class is lighter and the much smaller upper class is White or “Spanish.”
As recently as 2013, Aeromexico Airlines sent out a recruitment notice: “Nadie Morena,” or Dark Skinned Need Not Apply! Such reality invades nearly every home. It has spilled over into this side of the border. Some Mexican Americans still use the derogatory term “mallate,” akin to the “N-word.” Some of my female students would not wear yellow or bright colors because “it makes me look so dark.” Even conservative columnist, Ruben Navarette, Jr., agrees, in Mexico, “Racism Hides in Plain Sight” (CNN, 20 No 12). The Whitest people have the highest paying jobs, the maids and workers are darker. He laments that, in Mexico, as in the U.S., “prejudice kills progress”.
“Race is the single most important determinant of a Mexican citizen’s economic attainment” (Vanderbilt University Poll, “The Conversation”). Both societies would do much better economically—helping all—if each would admit their weaknesses and attack racism and accompanying discrimination.
Bringing the story home to current, chaotic times in the U.S., some researchers note the roots of current racism in police departments stem from slavery.
“Slave-patrols,” composed of White volunteers, were empowered to use vigilante tactics to enforce slavery (Dr. Connie Hassett-Walker, Professor of Sociology, Kean University, “The Conversation” 4 Jun 20). Later, policing was mainly designed to “control dangerous underclasses”. Then came Lincoln, then came the 14th Amendment, but. . . then came Jim Crow and Segregation. Part of the police job was to enforce the new slavery. The beat goes on—23 percent of Americans killed by police in 2018 were Black, although only 12 percent of the population is African American (Washington Post).
As if our common racist histories are not enough, both countries now face would-be-Dictators and their enablers at the top of their governments. This, in the middle of a CoronaVirus pandemic! Neither official (I hesitate to use the term “leader”) is in control of the situation. Both use or misuse religion to cover their sins of commission and omission, Trump with his upside-down Bible, AMLO (President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexican President), with his religious amulets he claims will protect him and Mexico from the Virus!
Mexico was exceptional. Mexico could have led Latin America, now doomed to be the new “epicenter” of the Virus. (Matt Rivers, CNN, 30 May 20). But she now faces over 85,000 cases and 10,000 deaths. There has been scientific, sane reaction to the pandemic in some major Mexican cities, but no consistent Federal policy. Mexico and Brazil, between them, account for over one-half of Latin America’s population; and Bolsonaro, racist in charge in Brazil, threatens democratic institutions in that country, just as Trump does in the U. S. The countries closest to the U.S., geographically and historically, are in peril.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., our country is reeling from over 109,000 deaths, and almost two million infected, with a possible (some say probable) “second wave” yet to come. Trump demands, and Republicans obey, the “opening!” Trump, either hiding in a bunker or sneaking behind unmarked military forces, tear-gasses his way to a church he never attends, to hold (upside down) a Bible he never reads, cannot be counted on to lead us out of this dilemma. We do not want a King or an incompetent, strutting Mussolini.
We must hold on, best we can, for another five months, and vote him, Democratically, out of office—that is still a major part of any “exceptionalism” we retain. I see no other way, although the manly, right thing for him to do would be to resign, to save himself an ignominious defeat and the country any more pain. I cannot predict the outcome in Mexico.
AMLO has another four years to occupy the presidency. Mexico’s exceptionalism—her longevity with stable government—will be sorely tested! In my classes, a few years ago, I would never have predicted a coup in Mexico. Now, I am not so sure. A forced resignation is the “talk of the town” these days, in Mexico. There is a situation, however, which may help AMLO, one very different from the U.S.
AMLO is dark. His governing party is named “MORENA” (suggesting “La Virgen Morena,” or the Patroness of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe.) A golpe de estado (coup d’etat) may appear to the majority of mestizo masses to be a racist attempt by a White minority to depose a dark-skinned, legally elected official, whom they opposed from the very beginning! How will this play into the widespread dissatisfaction with his inept policies? Hard to say. Will these two great countries be able to reform, vanquish racism, rid themselves of authoritarian politicians, and return to a place of respect in the world? Let us pray for that exceptional outcome!
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column was taken by Alfonso Gonzales Toribio).
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