Blackface, a practice that uses makeup to represent and caricature black people, usually for humorous and satirical purposes, has long been a controversial issue in American culture. Sadly, in 2015 it bears repeating (especially during the Halloween season) that it is tied to a history of demeaning and debasing an entire race, robbing them of cultural self-representation, usually in the service of gross stereotypes and cheap gags.
Perhaps less commonly talked about is the use of blackface within various Latino communities, which plays into the vexing representational history of Afro-Latinos. See, for example, the popular costume of “La Negra Tomasa,” derived from the Guillermo Rodríguez Fiffe song and a popular cover by Los Caifanes, as well as the ubiquitous sampling of “Que será lo que tiene el negro” from Wilfrido Vargas’ “El Africano.” William Garcia – a self-described Afro-Nuyorican – has been vocal about the insidious racism in Latino media (see his recent “Blackface, Brownface and Black Lives Matter in Latin America” article), but lest one think this is merely another case of American media misunderstanding racial discord in a different culture, protests by Afro-Latinos in Colombia, Peru, and Guatemala against blackface characters, op-eds in national Latin American newspapers about Latin American racism, as well as the ongoing outcry over the Mexican character Memín Pinguín, point to a conscious effort to begin abolishing these offensive stereotypes.
And while one may wish this were all ancient history, this is not really the case. Former comedian-turned-politician Jimmy Morales, who was just elected as Guatemala’s president, has a history of performing in blackface. He’s not alone. Below, find 10 egregious examples of blackface in Spanish-language television, which need to be seen to be believed (so many Afro wigs! So much black makeup! So many offensive stereotypes!). Should one need to be reminded of why these characters are so problematic, let us just redirect you to this helpful primer on why blackface remains offensive. That some of these aired in U.S.-based stations (in a cultural climate where racism is still so rampant) is unacceptable, though the examples from their Latin American counterparts need not be so easily dismissed as “just comedy.”
Esta Noche Tu Night is a nightly show on Mega TV, an American network based in San Juan, Puerto Rico with studios in Miami and whose flagship station is based in Key West, Florida. Esta Noche has featured several blackface characters, including an Afro-Dominican character called Yeyo played by Cuban comedian Carlos Marrero. Controversially, the character’s involvement in politics only underscores the racial and economic inequality which it seeks to satirize.
El Torero Haitiano
Another blackface character on MEGA TV’s Esta Noche Tu Night, this bullfighter is also played by Marrero in even darker makeup, which presumably adds to the discordant image of a bullfighter from Haiti.
Pirulo el Colorao
A singing and dancing character with red hair, he made various appearances in El Show de Raymond Arrieta, which aired in Puerto Rico through Televicentro and WAPA TV.
Perhaps the most successful Puerto Rican blackface character of all time, Diplo was played by Ramón Rivero in his 1950s show La Farándula Corona.
Los Merengueros Dominicanos
Named Johnny Ternura and Coño Rosario (which leads to many punny jokes on the show), these two city slickers often visit TN3 (which airs on América TeVé, an independent TV station based out of Miami).
Played by Antonio Sánchez in No Te Duermas, a Puerto Rican variety sketch show from the 1990s, many of Cuco’s interviews end with a woman saying she’d love morcilla, a pun perhaps too on the nose even for the Boricua comedian.
Soldado Micolta was a soldier character on Colombia’s Sábados Felices. The character incited recent protests against Caracol, the television network that broadcasted the sketch show, given the flagrant racism on display. On October 30, 2015, Caracol announced the caricature would no longer be part of its program.
Parodies of Jefferson Farfán and André Carrillo
The two Afro-Peruvian soccer players were horribly mocked by Jorge and Alfredo Benavides on a popular show just a few months ago, after they made news for attending a high-profile celebrity wedding.
El Negro Mama
Another of Benavides’s controversial characters (he’s also been attacked for his depiction of a rural Peruvian woman that pokes fun at American Indian culture), el Negro Mama is a scheming, thieving man in many of his skits. His impossibly offensive catchphrase is “Podré ser negrito, pero tengo mi cerebrito.”
In Brazil’s comedy show Zorra Total, Rodrigo Sant’Anna plays Adelaide, a black beggar woman who spends most of her time humiliating her daughter.