Last Wednesday, Rodner Figueroa fell under the spotlight after his comments regarding First Lady Michelle Obama were considered racist and earned him a swift firing from Univision’s popular television program El Gordo y La Flaca. However, aside from Figueroa earning sometime in the spotlight the incident has shown an ongoing, overlooked culture that exits within Latino television.
So, are Figueroa’s comments being taken out of proportion or has the increased attention of the Latino community and its entertainment world finally spotlighted how there may be a lack of sensitivity when it comes to racial issue on Latino TV?
Back on Wednesday, after an artist’s rendering of First Lady Obama appeared on the monitor for the panel of Univision’s El Gordo y La Flaca, Figueroa’s remarked that earned him both media attention and a pink slip was, “Michelle Obama looks like she’s part of the cast of Planet of the Apes.”
In a statement that was supposed to be his apology, Figueroa said his remark was merely a joke that was supposed be a critique on the artist depicting the First Lady as though she was part of the cast of the film. The remark is considered racist due to the long ignorant association of members of the Black community being identified as animals and below human.
Figueroa seems to believe that while his comment “could be interpreted as offensive or disrespectful,” he wanted all to know in his statement of apology that not only has he voted for Barack Obama twice but within his own family there are Latinos who are also Black; including his biracial Father whom he calls a Black Latino.
After his comment, the fashion and entertainment commentator was instantly fired and Univision released a statement with the following:
On Wednesday’s broadcast of El Gordo y La Flaca Figueroa “made comments regarding First Lady Michelle Obama that were completely reprehensible and in no way reflect Univision’s values or views. As a result, Mr. Figueroa was immediately terminated.”
But that is not entirely true.
Back in 2010, Univision experienced a similar issue of racial insensitivity when during the 2010 World Cup the network had aired a segment in-which its hosts wore Afro-wigs with small tribal spears in their hands due to the World Cup being held in South Africa.
In-response to this segment, Univision promptly released a statement as well.
“I think that anybody who watches Univision regularly…will notice the white, white space that station historically has been,” said New York University Professor Arlene Davila, who studies media that is largely Latino-oriented and notices a trend regarding a fractured representation of Latinos, “You’re not going to see Indo-Latinos, you’re not going to see Afro-Latinos.”
When it comes to comparing Latino television and mainstream American television, Davila points out that Latino networks like Univision are largely whiter than their American counterpart.
“Already in Latin America, our very [media are] skewed and not a representation. But then you’re talking about the U.S. Latino world, you would think that it would be a different world—a world that would not be tied to the traditional racist views of our countries, but that rather would try to imagine a pan-Latino universe.”
Although there is a presence of inner racism when it comes to Latinos who are generally dark, meaning Latinos who can pass for someone of Black orientation, because of the acceptable passage Latinos have as opposed to none light-skinned Latinos, the issue of internal or external is somewhat non-existent. There is an idea within the Latino community that the racist comments or behaviors exhibited by Latinos on television are not exactly the same racism that Blacks experience at the hands of whites.
“You can’t apply the same standards of racism because we have our humor and we are not racists because we are Latinos, and we can get away with that without getting regulated,” explains Davila, trying to give light on why some Latinos may not find their behavior as possibly being racist.
Latino television in-general may not be racist, but there does seem to be an avoidance to seeing what is political correct and being aware to what may be interpreted as racist remarks and commentary. This is an issue that once, and in some instances, continue to be an issue on U.S. television as well. However, for the latter it is be corrected. As the Latino community continues to become more of an interest to non-Latinos, what is considered to be mere talk or commentary that shouldn’t be offensive may need to be re-evaluated because of the presence of cultural differences.
The increase of interest in Latino culture shouldn’t diminish or alter our culture or behavior in order to appease others, however it should be made aware of certain things that need some correcting in order to push us forward as a community and not keep us back.