Countering Colorism in Latin America

Trends / Realness
Federico Roales
Nov 15, 2022
The lack of equitable representation is an uncomfortable topic in and of itself. And although it is not classified1 as a characteristic or alarming problem for the region, the echoes of structural ethnic racism and discrimination based on skin color are still very much a force in Latin America. They are reinforced when analyzing how they have affected, and still condition2, the levels of schooling, employment status, and socioeconomic indices of the dark‑skinned Latino and Indigenous communities in the region.  

Although not covered daily in the mainstream news, the implications of colorism are of great concern for Latin American consumers. Prejudice based on skin color is the main reason why Latinos believed they were targets of ethnic discrimination, according to our VisualGPS consumer survey results. In Mexico, one of the region’s most populous countries, skin color was classified as the most determining factor3 that affects educational status, monetary income, and living conditions. More than 55% of Mexicans declared4 having suffered discrimination based on their skin color.
The Black community in Latin America is visually under‑represented: while it is estimated that between 20% and 25% of the population5 has some type of African descent, Black people are represented in only 10% of the most popular images and videos in the region, according to VisualGPS. However, further analysis reveals that their inclusion presents differences according to skin color: there is a marked tendency to represent Black people with lighter skin tones over darker. In this way, the inclusion of dark‑skinned people is next to nil: it is relegated to specific touristic content from the Northeast of Brazil or the Pacific coast of Colombia, or to studio sessions and images that seek to show multi‑ethnic groups. Dark‑skinned Black people are always shown surrounded by people of other ethnicities, but rarely interacting with people of the same skin tone together as a community.

And what about representation of Indigenous communities? In Mexico, for example, it is estimated6 that the Indigenous population is approximately 15.1% (more than 16 million people), while in Argentina there are more than 36 indigenous communities. However, these communities7 remain completely invisible to public institutions, as well as to the collective cultural imagination of society; so much so that their visual representation in the most popular images and videos is less than 1%. This minimal visibility today is likely a result of the historical construction of Latin American nations based on a white and aspirational European citizenry, where subjects with other skin tones were displaced and branded as foreigners in their own homelands.  
So, what types of representation are missing? Scenes showing the dark‑skinned Black community and people of Indigenous descent in their daily lives (family gatherings, shopping, going to work, or playing sports). Popular images also lack a crucial element: they do not provide cultural context or show community traditions.

What should brands take into account? If we consider that 3 out of 4 Latin American consumers expect companies to visually reflect their lifestyle, visual stories must authentically promote the ethnic diversity that characterizes Latin America. There should be a special focus on making Black and Indigenous communities protagonists in visual storytelling, focusing on their daily environments, families, leisure time, work, and with other members of their communities.
[1] Culturas del Antirracismo en América Latina ‑ (University of Manchester)
[2] Forbes Mexico
[3][4] INAGI, Mexico. 2017
[5] World Bank, 2018.
[6] IWGIA, Mexico. 2021
[7] DW. 2021
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