By Carlos Alberto Montaner
CNN en Español has declared war on prejudice. Its president, Cynthia Hudson, took the initiative. The first shot was made by Camilo Egaña on his talk show. Cynthia is a Cuban with the appearance and the name of a Gringa, or an American with a Gringo father and a Cuban mother, born in the United States, and convinced that stereotypes and prejudices do much harm to flesh-and-blood people.
She is right. I suspect – she has not told me – that Cynthia is tired of being told, to flatter her, that “she does not look Cuban” or, on the other hand, that “she does not look American”. None of that, I suppose, pleases her. She wants to be valued for her work and not for the circumstances of her origin. However, she cannot get rid of the ambiguity. We are forced to think in categories and that fatality requires characterizing people.
The Mexicans, the Argentines, the Spaniards “are like that.” There are categories for everything. Catholics, Jews, Islamists “are like that.” The capitalists and the communists “are like that.” The dwarves are bad, a Neapolitan song said, because their heart is very close to the a... Blondes are idiots, Nordic women are “of easy virtue,” and Indians are traitors. And the list goes on, and on, and on.
The overwhelming presence of prejudice, however, shouldn’t daunt us. Fighting for a better world means battling against stereotypes, and the most effective way to do so is to prohibit negative characterizations in the mass media. It is not hypocrisy. It is respect for the other.
That which intellectuals call with disdain the “politically correct language” is necessary. Minority groups should be called in a way they don’t feel insulted. If gays do not want to be called queers, there is no reason to call them using a word they don’t like. If blacks prefer to be labeled as “African-Americans,” and they resent being called “niggers,” because the word has acquired a negative semantic burden, there is no point in contradicting their preferences.
Image can also be an extraordinary weapon to explain without words the importance of fighting prejudices. Cuban American illustrator Edel Rodríguez has done more against prejudice than a hundred editorials with his famous cover of Der Spiegel which shows Donald Trump with a knife in his hand after cutting off the head of the Statue of Liberty.
When Cuban Italian Erik Ravelo, Benetton’s head of advertising in Italy, saw the photo of Honecker and Brezhnev kissing each other passionately on the lips, according to the Russian custom, he imagined a series of dissimilar couples that served to denounce different forms of stupid prejudices, even if the series was created in Photoshop: Benedict VI kissing the Imam of Cairo or Raul Castro doing the same with Obama. But perhaps the best graphic denunciation is against the Italian Matteo Salvini, the quasi-fascist leader of the very xenophobic Northern League.
The image chosen by Ravelo was the tragic corpse of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian-Kurdish boy just three years old, that appeared intact on the Turkish coast in 2015, after drowning when his family tried to escape the hell of civil war, allegedly heading to Greece or Italy. The corpse is no longer upside down on the sand. Thanks to Photoshop, Matteo Salvini holds him in his arms, face up, but the Italian politician has taken the precaution of covering his hands with latex gloves, so as not to contaminate himself with the harmful emanations of the foreigner.
Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. Eight years earlier, in 1925, he had published in Mein Kampf (My Struggle) all the possible stupidities about the Jews. It was evident that he would try to exterminate them if he ever came to power. He believed that the Jews were responsible for the evils afflicting Germany and Europe. Very few people confronted him. Not fighting against prejudice cost humanity 40 million dead. It is a constant battle, but our lives depend on it.Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.