President Vicente Fox said Friday that U.S. activists who have condemned a new Mexican postage stamp as racist should read the beloved comic book on which it is based before they make judgments.
"They don't have information, frankly," Fox said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
U.S. black activists and the White House on Thursday criticized the stamp featuring Memin Pinguin, a sort of Jim Crow-era image of a black child that has been a cartoon character since the 1940s. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and leaders of other black and Latino organizations have urged that the stamp be withdrawn.
The stamp is recognition of "character very loved in Mexico and that has absolutely nothing discriminatory about it," said Fox, adding that he himself has been fond of the comic book since childhood.
"And it appears to me that it has provoked a great national unity, because those who are making opinions from outside don't have information."
He said White House spokesman Scott McClellan should have known more before objecting to it Thursday as an example of racial stereotyping.
"Frankly, I don't understand the reaction," Fox said. "Let's hope they inform themselves ... and later form an opinion."
Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar said the government "emphatically rejects these complaints, which are the products of lack of knowledge or people who want publicity."
"By no means is Mexico considering the possibility" of withdrawing the stamp, Aguilar said, accusing critics of being "people who want to take advantage of this ... to seek publicity within American society."
Commentators in Mexico's press also expressed incomprehension at the complaints.
Novelist Elena Poniatowska, a noted supporter of leftist causes, was quoted in the newspaper La Jornada as calling the criticisms "absurd."
"In our country, the image of black people is one of enormous goodwill, which is reflected not only in characters like Memin Pinguin, but in popular songs ... like 'Little Black Watermelon,'" a song about an unruly black boy.
Some of their defense appeared to be founded what they see as a relative lack of knowledge about the history of blacks in Mexico.
"It's the United States, not Mexico, that has a history of slavery," wrote columnist Sergio Sarmiento in the newspaper Reforma.
In fact, Mexico had hundreds of thousands of slaves during the colonial period, though it banned slavery before the United States did.
Mexico did not have formal legal segregation nor did it experience a large-scale civil rights movement that focused on rooting out racism.