When the media use images of ethnic groups to entertain their audiences, they take many risks. Two TV stations took those risks on Cinco de Mayo. This week, MSNBC "Way Too Early" featured a supposedly drunken Mexican wearing a sombrero and swigging tequila. Good Morning America showed us a blonde lady wearing a sombrero, having a margarita for breakfast and shouting Olé!
I welcome jokes, as long as they are made among friends with the intention of having a collective good time. You could joke about me, and I am fine with it. But when made before a mass audience, it's not necessary to have graduated from elementary school to know that these are harmful stereotypes, not original, and not that funny.
That's what MSNBC's "Way Too Early" and ABC's "Good Morning America" did, in 2014. This is not about being politically correct. It's about not being ignorant. When the so-called journalists use these stereotypes to entertain, what they may actually be doing is perpetuating ignorance while distorting reality.
Cinco de Mayo is not about Mexico's independence. There are no parties or celebrations in Mexico as elaborate as the ones we have in the United States. It is not only about imbibing alcoholic beverages. As "Way too Early" host Thomas Roberts accurately said, Cinco de Mayo is actually the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla where Mexicans defeated the French in 1862. Even though this was important information to disseminate, I don't think that Mexicans "have to drink the whole thing [tequila} and eat the worm" as he told Louis Burgdorf, who was playing the Mexican.
The ordinary American does not know about this. They hardly know that Mexico is in North America. So when a TV "news" program shows a gringo wearing a sombrero on his head, they may think all Mexicans wear hats when walking on the streets every Cinco de Mayo. Or, unless Miss Lara Spencer from "Good Morning America" wears a hat to work every day, and coincidentally that day it was her turn to wear her Mexican sombrero. It was an embarrassing scene to watch (look at Robin Robert's expression) on TV.
And where did Mr. Louis Burgdorf get the maracas from? A Halloween costume store or his nightstand? Would it be that he drinks alcohol every morning and that day it was tequila instead of moonshine? Remember Mr. Burgdorf, maracas are musical instruments used in Caribbean and Brazilian tropical music, and none of those are in Mexico. And just in case, when someone shouts "Olé" it's because they are in the bullfight ring encouraging a matador to defy a bull. Nobody says that in another context; only you and Miss Spencer on national television.
I want journalists to maintain their good sense of humor and make smart jokes. But if you do not have that ability it's better to devote your energy to learn more about world culture so you don't look ridiculous while misinforming your audience.
And please, corporate managers: Do not tell us that no one intended to offend anyone. That statement in itself offends us even more. Unless you are also having moonshine for breakfast.
We were not born yesterday.
When apologizing, come up with credible statements. "After 20 years in this business, anyone who knows me, knows where I stand on diversity and inclusion..." Yes, we do know where you stand on those concepts, Mr. Thomas. Just say you made a mistake and you are sorry. We will let your boss send you to diversity school wearing a Mexican sombrero.