Univision fired host Rodner Figueroa for comparing First Lady Michelle Obama to a “Planet of the Apes” character. Figueroa did so during a segment with Paolo Ballesteros, a makeup artist who transforms himself to look like female celebrities.
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) commended Univision’s decision to let the host go, it also plans to create a task force this September during its national conference in Orlando to analyze race portrayal in Spanish-language media.
NAHJ president Mekahlo Medina called Figueroa’s comments racist in a statement on the association’s site and expressed his dismay.
Univision, the fifth largest network in the U.S., took a stand against racism and we are all better for it. But what was Figueroa thinking when those words came out of his mouth? Why was it okay for him, at that moment, to compare the First Lady of the United States or any person to an ape? And why, still today, does he think that was not racist?
In the statement, Medina also touches on the “hierarchy of skin color and race,” perpetuated by the lack of diversity within news media.
How many dark-skin or afro-Latino anchors do you see on Spanish language newscasts? How many indigenous Latinos do you see on any newscast, English or Spanish? There isn’t a single Latino/a anchoring an 11pm English language newscast in Los Angeles, despite the market being 53% Latino and overwhelmingly English speaking or bilingual.
Figueroa has released an apology letter to the First Lady in which he denies being racist and explains that he has biracial roots.