translated from Spanish: Racism, television and advertising in Chile

The unfair murder of George Floyd by U.S. police in May this year has caused a social outburst under the slogan “Black Lives Matter.” This incident and the social movement it has generated has resonated strongly in the United States, as well as in Europe and Southeast Asia.[1] Social protests and public discussions make the institutional and daily racism experienced daily by minorities excluded from the privileges of a supposed “majority”. In Chile, with the exception of certain anti-racist activists who have demonstrated on social media, there is no broader discussion or reflection on the sometimes violent and exploitative consequences of racism against Afro-descendants, as well as other racialized people and communities in the country.
Let us remember the unjust deaths of Haitian immigrants in Chile such as Joane Florvil, who was accused without foundation, arrested and criminalized for the alleged abandonment of her daughter, without having had interpreters or an appropriate detention procedure.[2] While the particular history of racism, colonization, and slavery differ in every national and regional context, we must recognize the global nature of racism, where the history of slavery of Afro-descendants is strongly linked to the stories of lack of freedom and forced labour of other racialized people, such as those from China and India.[3] The presence of global diasporas of Afro-descendants, Chinese, and Indians – and the racism they experience in many contexts — highlights this shared history. Daily, symbolic and often institutionalized racism against people of these ancestry also occurs in Chile. Various forms of racism show us that we have not yet overcome the legacy of colonialism, where Chileans are often considered “a Western country” and continually deny their indigenous heritage.
Let’s remember the story of blackface in Chile — for example, in the Jappening program with Ja in the 1980s, and in the Bold chocolate ads in the 1990s, where some actors used makeup to represent a black person.[4] The existence and popularity of blackface in Chile in a period where there were not many Afro-descendants in the country, evidences the global nature of racism. The same is the case even today with that well-known advertising of Noble brand toilet paper. In the 1980s, his television commercials humorously featured an Afro-descendant who promoted a “100% Chilean” product with phrases like “the color I like the most… white.” In general, these examples associate blackness with the primitive, dirt, lack of intellect and hypersexuality, denigrating ideas that today are reinforced in Chilean society with the largest presence of Afro-descendant migrants in the country.
In the same vein, we want to problematize and denounce the racist and stereotypical representations of Asian people – from China and India – in the Chilean media. We want to challenge the idea that while Asian representations in the media seem to be more harmless than that of People of African descent, the jokes and stereotypes used in such ads are still harmful. Both images — of Asians, on the one hand, and Afro-descendants on the other — are interrelated and demonstrate the various forms racism takes. On the one hand, the (racialized) image of the “good migrant” makes possible that of the “undesirable migrant”. As members of both communities (Chinese and Indian), we want to question and reject the idea of “good migrant.” On the other hand, we believe that these ideas invisibilise the internal diversity of these communities and omit that their apparent self-segregation and self-sufficiency are partly the result of a long history of challenges and obstacles to economic, social, and political insertion in the country. Moreover, distinctions between “good” and “bad” migrants, “entrepreneurs” and “criminals,” “empowered” and “vulnerable” only separate and make each other irrelevant or conflicting the experiences and struggles shared by various migrants and racialized people.
Take the example of the popular Supreme Tea ad and the character named Rashid, supposedly from India or Sri Lanka. Rashid uses a turban, dances to a choreography called Saltarín Bombay (alluding to Bollywood cinema), speaks with a “different” accent, and mainly promotes a tea that is native to Sri Lanka. Rashid’s appearance and way of speaking is a disguise we could describe as brownface; a representation that aims to reduce the heterogeneity of South Asian culture and population to limited and erroneous symbols. First, not all of them wear turbans, being more distinctive of the Sikh population. On the other hand, Rashid’s accent recalls, in the Chilean imaginary, the accent used by the character Apu of The Simpsons, created and personified, by a white man; Indeed, Rashid is like our Chilean Apu.[5] Both are cartoons, where their ethnicity and accent lend themselves to jokes and provoke micro-racism in the daily lives of people who identify with South Asia.[6] The brownface and instances of cultural appropriation of India in Chile are acts of power, because it takes important elements of a culture, and ridicules itself for entertainment of others.
With the advent of Covid19 in Chile, we have seen racism with sometimes violent consequences in public spaces against Chinese and Asian people.[7] It is not difficult to link these acts and discourses of racism and xenophobia with their normalization in the media. For example, in The Network’s “True Lies” program, Maria Luisa Cordero evoked the image of child labour in China, declaring, in the context of the global pandemic, that “everything that comes from China is dangerous.”[8] Mega’s “Morandé con compañía” program also links and blames Chinese people for the pandemic in a vulgar and denigrating manner: the fourth chapter of its 2020 season promotes the stereotype that Chinese people eat unusual animals in a barbaric way. These programs normalize the idea that the Chinese often speak ill, linking this to an apparent lack of intelligence and a sgeed of vulgarity, thus perpetuating racist views of Asian people.
We must prevent these stereotypical and stigmatizing representations from becoming generalizations that imprint and inform our interactions with the people represented, as well as our way of seeing and understanding them. These types of representations are harmful and do not know the multiple realities and sensitivities of diversity that make up these cultures. These examples and instances of racism are also relevant to problematizing the classism in Chile and conflicting relations and perspectives against the Mapuche indigenous population. As we have seen in the case of Camilo Catrillanca, his murder and the justifications of the fact, are given within a perspective that presents him as an “other”. This non-identification with him, as well as with other victims of systemic racism, is a fundamental part of the problem. This lack of identification reveals that there is a racial hierarchy in Chile, where some are more “others” than the rest. Racism is multiple and all interrelated. Racism is not only a problem for those who are discriminated against, but also for those who practice and endorse it. It’s a shared problem as a society. Only by dealing with it together can we live in a slightly more just world, appreciating and recognizing each human being in all its complexity.

[3] Lee, A. P. (2018). Mandarin Brazil: Race, representation, and memory. Stanford University Press.
[4] See:

The content poured into this opinion column is the sole responsibility of its author, and does not necessarily reflect the editorial line or position of El Mostrador.

Original source in Spanish

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