There is a line of Bimbo food products that are sold under the label “Negrito” here in Mexico. Negrito is a Spanish term of endearment for a dark skinned child; it means, quite literally, “little black boy.” Needless to say, Negrito food products are chocolate based — being candy bars and chocolate milk — and are, as their nomenclature and ingredients indicate, dark brown in color. These products are likewise branded with a cartoon of a little black boy with a big afro and exaggerated African features on their wrappers.
Such a racial caricature would cause a riot in the United States, but here in Mexico it is completely in line with the culture and does not seem to cause anyone to think twice.
There is a popular TV commercial for Snickers bars that is airing all over Latin America. The premise of it is that a group of teenage boys are riding BMX bikes at a skate park. A dainty girl on a bicycle rides down a ramp, screams, and crashes. The group of boys laugh and call the girl, a “girl,” and then hand her a Snickers bar. As she bites into it she is transformed into a teenage boy, jumps back on the bike, and then successfully does some tricks.
Again, there is no way that Snickers could air such an apparently sexist commercial in the USA, but in Latin America it does not raise an eyebrow.
Political correctness, as in a philosophy where race, sex, and creed are treated as though invisible or otherwise non-existent, is a completely foreign concept for much of the world. Such ideas such as racism, classism, sexism are simply not very strong concepts outside of the USA/ Canada, and are only expressed in very extreme circumstances — a mere TV commercial or marketing blitz for a line of snack food products is not enough to even raise a discourse on race or sex relations in countries where the concept of political correctness has yet to raise its head.
Most all art, advertising, writing, humor etc . . . aims to take the visible or identifying aspects of a culture/ race/ sex, and exaggerate them many fold in order to communicate a point. These exaggerated portrayals work because they stem from aspects of the target community’s collectively held views on the group being exaggerated. This is normal throughout the world: human culture is made up of collections of symbols based upon the perceived patterns of the various groups they are made up of and/ or interact with. When these patterns are communicated they are often exaggerated, which further ingrains the perception of the pattern.
Culture is the mechanism that humans use to dummy down their world into small enough “information packets” that they can be understood easily and communicated quickly. It is human tendency to take complex cultural, emotional, or landscapes and simplify them into symbols. These symbols then work in a cyclic way to further shape a particular people’s worldview about these landscapes. Humans tend to navigate their world in symbols and patterns, as the reality is often too complex to learn about and convoluted to base decisions off of. Culture is just an admixture of myths believed across a particular group to simplify and make sense of their environment.
So when Bimbo tries to brand a line of chocolate — brown — products, they aim to use some symbol that everyone in the target society knows is also brown. What else is brown? Oh, little black boys with afros.
When Snickers wants to show how their candy bar can make a weak person feel strong they look for some element of society that everyone identifies as being weak. What else is perceived as weak in Latin America? Oh, young women.
These connections are so incredibly banal — cultural patterning fulfilling cultural patterning — but they mirror the worldview of their societies, and pass through the fray unquestioned.
It has been my observation that most cultures of this world call a spade a spade without acknowledgement that they should be using some other term that is currently considered more polite or fashionable. Political correctness — the idea that you shouldn’t objectify races/ sexes/ cultures — is truly a USA/ Canada construction that is slow to be “globalized.”
On the one hand, it is relaxing to be in societies where the cultural/ sex/ class/ racial lines are clearly draw. Even though these lines are often founded in BS, everyone knows where everyone else stands, everyone sees each other though the thick lenses of their worldviews. It is good to not have to self-censor my words not because I may offend someone but because someone may attempt to use political correctness as justification to attempt to project him or herself over me or otherwise engage in conversational conflict.
On the other hand, what we would call racism in the USA is so extremely rampant across the world that I must conclude that it is a normal, natural, and deeply embedded aspect of human culture in general. I laugh when I hear people complaining about racism in the USA/ Canada, as these are probably, by definition, the least racist societies on the planet. This is perhaps due in part because there is a strong concept of what racism is and what actions, words, thoughts etc . . manifest it. It is not OK in the USA for Bimbo break to advertise chocolate milk with a cartoon black boy. It is not OK in Canada for a commercial to associate women with weakness. The concepts of racism/ sexism etc . . are major cultural developments, and I know of few societies in the world where they exist to extent they do in the upper reaches of North America.
Speaking very generally, in most cultures of the world which I’ve traveled through, certain perceptions of other groups, peoples, races are spoken as fact, and more often than not these perceptions are brashly negative. The Japanese often speak of Koreans as though they are subhuman; the Han Chinese tend to express a virulent disdain and disregard for other cultural living strategies than their own; in Mexico, Salvadorans are often not well thought of; in Costa Rica, crime is blamed on Nicaraguans; even such progressive seeming countries like Belgium are split along thick cultural lines; and the list goes on and on. But only rarely are these negative sentiments ever regarded as “racism,” or its equivalent — as they are spoken as cold, hard fact.
These people are like this . . .
We don’t like them because . . .
[Insert culture group here] are very dangerous . . .
They are thieves . . .
The negative impacts of political correctness
But political correctness, as it is manifested, more often seems to be a power play for people in mainstream US/ Canadian societies — who often lack a strong sense of cultural identity in and of themselves — to project themselves over others than a mechanism through which all members of a society can be treated fairly. It is my impression that community (tribal/ cultural/ group) affiliation is still strong and at the heart of most people’s sense of identity throughout the globe.Political correctness, I believe, aims to disintegrate the lines between Us and Them, and the result is often very vivid concepts of what constitutes racism/ sexism etc . . but such blurring of group divisions also seems to lead to large portions of societies without a strong cultural/ identity compasses.
Political correctness, and the cultural ramifications that go along with it, is perhaps the force that sends thousands of young Westerners abroad in search of “themselves,” the might which influences Americans, Canadians, or Western Europeans to dress up like people from other cultures and try to imitate their ways, it is the force that makes Americans who have antecedents who happened to be from Ireland/ Scotland/ Italy etc . . try to identify as such, it is also, perhaps, the impetus for subcultures.
What is a subculture but a way to create artificial lines between Us and Them in order to provide adherents with a sense of identity? As racial/ cultural/ religious barriers fall in politically correct societies, they are built back up again with other dividers, subgroups, alternative lifestyles, religious extremes, clubs, and other ways for people to clan up together and proclaim a distinct identity for themselves.
The USA and Canada are countries where many members of the dominant society are begging for culture, they are full of people who are begging for an identity, who are begging for a worldview that is NOT so open minded as to be whitewashed and diluted. It is my impression that people want the ignorance that is inherent to being a member of a group, a sect, a subculture.
Humans are pack animals — living in and seeing ourselves through the lens of distinct groups is something that we all crave. It is my impression that most humans want to have a group, a pack, a clan which can act to provide them with an identity compass. It feels good to be a part of group, it is natural and normal to want to view yourself through the lens of those you associate with. As the lines between cultures/ sexes/ races blur and disintegrate more social walls and barriers will be erected in their places.
So when I see the banal caricature of a race/ culture/ sex in art, emitting from people’s lips, manifested in action I know that I am in a place where the people more than likely have a strong sense of Self and Other — perhaps a human psychological essential. So while we say that the objectification of culture/ race is wrong, down deep it is what we want most for ourselves: an identity, the feeling of being a part of a group.