It seems Marshawn Lynch has been working more on his political protest plan than his running game, which was too bad for us hardcore Raiders fans who had to endure watching Tom Brady soundly defeat Oakland at the legendary Estadio Azteca a couple week ago. It was great for the political commentators though, those talking heads who mainly speak to each other in the famous echo chambers known as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. They went bananas when the running back stood up for the Mexican national anthem and sat down when the Star-Spangled Banner was played. Lynch must have thought he was making a statement in Mexico reminiscent of the iconic black-gloved fist gesture made famous by Tommy Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics, but Lynch should’ve done his homework on Mexican race relations before performing his protest.
It was obvious that Lynch was doing his skit for an American audience and wanted to poke his finger deep into the eyes of Trump and his conservative followers. He probably stood up for the Mexican anthem thinking that Mexicans in the USA also suffer from the same racism and oppression that black athletes across the country have been protesting against. This is understandable since for some time now the Black Lives Matter movement and undocumented migrants, especially the Dreamers, have been constantly in the news. So by standing for the Mexican anthem, Lynch was showing his solidarity with these groups. Mexicans residing in the U.S., as well as Mexican Americans, appreciated his gesture, though the relationship between Mexicans and blacks in the U.S. is not so rosy.
However, while Lynch’s was right to point his accusative finger toward his country, unbeknown to him, his protest reminded many in Mexico that Mexicans are also racists. The country has a long dark (no pun intended) history in this regard.
Africans arrived with Cortés in 1519 and actively participated in the conquest of the Aztecs. During the colonial period (1521-1821), the Spanish brought as many as 200,000 African slaves into what would become Mexico as a result of Bartolomé de las Casas successfully defending the indigenous population from being enslaved. After the country gained its independence, the second Presidente, Vicente Guerrero, who was of African descent (yes folks, we had a black president 180 years before the U.S. voted for Obama) put an end to slavery in 1829, which at the time perhaps consisted of only around 10,000 slaves. The reason for this small number was due to the miscegenation that characterized the colonial period and which allowed most of the descendants of slaves to blend into the general free population.
In the next hundred years, this miscegenation continued aided by the liberal ideology of the reformists in the 1850s that sought to eliminate race as a factor in the country’s citizenry. This was achieved with the Mexican Revolution; after 1920, the post-revolutionary governments based much of their legitimacy on the idea of mestizaje, which eliminated race as an issue. Indigenous people and Afro-Mexicans were expected to discard their ethnic cultural identities and blend into the mestizo nation. Indigenous groups were able to resist this Mexican melting pot, but blacks eventually became an invisible minority, though in states such as Guerrero and Oaxaca there are even today many towns in the area of the Costa Chica with large populations of Afro-Mexicans where Marshawn Lynch would fit perfectly and go unnoticed by the locals if he would lose the dreadlocks.
These black communities survived the Mexican cultural holocaust that was the result of the mestizaje policy pursued by the PRI government until late in the 20th century. But as some anthropologist have lately stressed, with the weakening of the nation-state model, these groups have discarded the belief that they are mestizos, a mixture of indio y español, and have rediscovered and embraced their African roots. As they recuperate their cultures, they redefine the idea of Mexicanness, which makes many people in Mexico and the USA very uncomfortable. In Mexico, they’ll say, there aren’t any Afro-Mexicans, only Mexicans because everyone is mestizo and thus equal.
But let’s say, Marshawn Lynch was a Mexican residing in El Ciruelo, Oaxaca and took a bus to the city of Puebla. The bus is stopped at a checkpoint on the highway and the Mexican Migra boards to check IDs. Even though Lynch says he’s Mexican, he’ll be pulled off the bus with other suspected undocumented travelers and he’ll have to prove to La Migra that he is not Cuban, Haitian or Hondureño. Lynch will have to endure all of this humiliation because of his black skin. Yes, racial profiling is alive and doing well south of the border.
These incidents are sometimes reported on television newscasts. The strange thing is that when people see these reports, they probably won’t notice the racist motives and how La Migra violates the constitutional rights of nationals that look like Lynch; what will surprise them is the fact that there are black Mexicans living in their mestizo country!
In 1989, the Mexican government finally recognized La Tercera Raíz, the African part of the national culture that has been negated since independence. It was more of a show for the outside world than an attempt to make the Afro-Mexican communities visible within the country. As of 2014, the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca have constitutionally recognized Afro-Mexicans as an ethnic group, but there are no mechanisms in place to quantify the numbers of these nationals. It is understandable, then, why many Mexicans still ignore the third cultural root, and thus they are unaware of the history of slavery and the many contributions that Africans made in the creation of the cultures of Mexico. What is more telling, black stereotypes and offensive images abound in the media much more so than in the United States without anyone calling out the people perpetuating them.
The federal government, of course, pays lip service to the Afro-Mexican communities, especially when Peña Nieto states that México es un país inclusivo. That’s right, Mexico is an inclusive country: that’s why Afro-Mexicans are included in the network of abandoned communities suffering from governmental neglect; that’s why they are included in the most impoverished club that has forced people to migrate to the USA, and that’s why they find themselves included in the domain controlled by drug cartels and their never-ending cycles of violence. Si señor, México es un país inclusivo.
You can be sure Lynch’s protest will be overanalyzed in the U.S. where race and identity politics have center stage, but the next time the Raiders play in el Estadio Azteca, I want to encourage him to sit down not just for the Star-Spangled Banner, he should also sit down for our national anthem to remind Mexicans that we also suffer from the same malady that he is protesting against in his home country. In other words, to remind Mexicans that we have to deal with the racism that runs rampant throughout our so-called inclusive nation.