“Mexicocoa” Shows Need for Journalistic Diversity

My mom taught me never to say “I told you so.” But, if there was ever a time to say it, that time would be now.

Just two weeks after I called for greater diversity in campus journalism, The Grape, Oberlin’s edgiest news magazine, published a piece titled “Spicy Mexicocoa.”

In short, the article was a disaster. It centered around a recipe for a “spicy” mixed drink composed of only hot cocoa, milk, a shot of tequila, and a half shot of honey or maple syrup. Though the ingredients list was brief, there’s nothing on the list that would make the beverage “spicy” to anyone with a palate that can handle even the weakest chai tea brew. Beyond the absence of spice, the beverage referenced was a “Mexicocoa.” It’s a fair inference to assume that the drink was called “Mexicocoa” for no other reason than the presence of tequila. There was no indication that the drink was of Mexican origin; it just had a shot of tequila in it.

The piece was published in the “Bad Habits” section, a section well-known and beloved by some for its cheeky humor. The community response to “Spicy Mexicocoa” was far from cheeky. Many were hurt, angry, and upset. Frankly, there was a lot to be upset about, and there is blame to be had.

For starters, somebody actually thought this story was OK to write. Now, I’m sure the author didn’t mean to cause harm or impose strife on those impacted. Oberlin, however, probably understands better than most campuses the idea of intent versus impact. While it may not have been purposeful, the piece reduced Mexico and Mexican culture down to a shot of tequila. It played on a caricature of a community already maligned by a gross history of subjugation by the U.S. In this national climate, where leaders in the highest branches of government continue to make gross generalizations on the morality and character of Mexicans, the piece was profoundly inappropriate. The article was also founded on the fact that many perceive Latinx cultures as “exotic,” so it’s not unheard of to see someone automatically associate anything they perceive to be Mexican as “spicy” and vice versa.

Modern editorial processes have several safety mechanisms in place to ensure that these sorts of callous and puerile mistakes don’t happen. After the piece was written, an editor should have raised concerns at the very least. The editorial staff has the responsibility to protect the integrity of its sections and publications. A good editor would not have published this feature. But they did. And they thought it was fine to publish. Then two editors-in-chief read through the magazine. They also thought it was OK to publish.

The editorial processes and safeguards in place are clearly not infallible, and this piece represents supreme negligence or sad ignorance by the editorial staff. These types of journalistic safeguards work best when applied by a diverse staff that represents a potpourri of racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender expressions, geography, sexual orientation, and other defining identities. This may sound like a broken record, but diversity is good. Diversity is vital.

To avoid generic claims of bias, I’ll point out, once again, that the Review is not without its fair share of blame. Just last week, it published an eye-rollingly simple take conflating anti-racists who advocated for the removal of the Indians’ Chief Wahoo with avid sports fans clinging to their beloved mascot (“Chief Wahoo Logo Overhaul Long Overdue, Despite Fan Disappointment,” The Oberlin Review, Feb. 9, 2018). The piece, seemingly well-intentioned, argues that “neither side is more correct.” Vague and vacuous centrism may not be adjacent to overt bigotry, but it’s certainly akin to the ignorance and complicity at the core of both conceptions. “Both sides” arguments usually seek to silence or numb the oppressed and exonerate those responsible for harm.

Some would say I’m just bitter. Others might say I’m taking a cute, harmless joke and turning it into a raucous incident. But I really just think we can do better. Is this what passes for humor on this campus? Is this all we can get from our campus media? Really? There are way too many talented content creators of color to publish such mediocre and absent-minded pieces throughout our campus outlets. There are too many socially conscious individuals on this campus for us to consistently allow these lapses in judgement. Obviously, people will make mistakes — that’s inevitable. With this in mind, doing the same things over and over again and expecting things to change is absurd.

We have to do better. We have to change.