Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Spain Shows Its Racist Side... Again

Okay, so I'm married to a Spaniard. I'm Black. I wrote a book, Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain (due out March 4, 2008) about being Black in Spain and Spain's peculiar attitude and history with Black people.

So of course I have to comment about this latest incident of Spanish fans spouting racist taunts at Black Formula One driver, Lewis Hamilton. True confession, I know nothing about race car driving and what I do know is from watching Will Ferrell and Sacha Barron Cohen in Talledega Nights (very funny movie) so this is coming from the heart.

This SUCKS! It is ridiculous that in the year 2008 people in any country can dress up in blackface (yes they did! see photo above!) yell foul racist language in a crowd and feel that it is okay in the name of supporting your favorite race car driver. Hello? or Perhaps I should say, Hola? And don't forget Spaniards are not above throwing banana peels and making monkey noises during soccer matches when Black futbolistas come on the field. Por favor, people.

Time International writes a story about this latest incident and Spain's history of rabid, racist sports fans. You can read about it here

Being that my children are half Spanish and my husband still calls Spain home, I still have to figure out what to do with this information. Do I boycott any future trips to my husband's homeland? Do I keep going but wear Black in protest and refuse to speak to any of the locals? Probably not. Because there are still parts of Spain and Spanish culture that I love. And while many people may view these incidents and write off Spain as a Black spot of Europe (no pun intended) I have to remember to use some perspective.

If a Spaniard, or any other foreigner read about the Jena 6 tragedy or any number of racial profiling police brutality cases, they'd say America was a racist country as well. And we are! As is Spain. But as all of you know, despite the acts and attitudes of many Americans, this is still a country that in many ways embraces and celebrates diversity. I wouldn't say Spain celebrates diversity, but the people individually can be very welcoming and open-minded when it comes to racial differences...except in Sports!

So I will continue to go to Spain. And maybe my role there will be to be a cultural ambassador and knock some sense, I mean educate Spain's citizens about Black people, political correctness and well, just what is appropriate during a Formula One race.

Wish Me Luck.



Rose-Anne said...

I have grappled with the same problems here in Germany, where one still sees blackface. This past week, during Mardi Gras, there were people walking around with black face makeup and afro wigs, and one even had Fred Flinstone-type bones sticking through the curls. No lie.

I've come to realize that they just don't get it. They have a different level of cultural understanding, of what blackface actually signifies. Obviously, b/c they wouldn't be "supporting" a Formula One driver by portraying caricatures of him.

What to do? Educate them, one ignorant, black-faced moron at a time. I don't think they'll "get it" until they're told that they're being offensive.

When I once told a German at a German/American festival that he should take down the Confederate flag he had on his float, he was like, "Why? This is also an AMERICAN festival." I resisted the urge to slap him and calmly explained why that flag is offensive to a lot of Americans, myself included. "Oh," he said, "I guess I didn't think about it like that."

Mango Mama said...

I'm often amused when Europeans pronounce their tolerance of Africans/African Americans, as if they should be commended. Tolerance is not embracing or welcoming. It's simply tolerating one's presence for a fixed amount of time and many Africans in Europe have been made to feel as if they've outworn their welcome.

Me said...


All I can say is Mm-mm-mmm. But oddly, it's strangely comforting to know that dressing up in Blackface is not unique to the Spanish people.

Glad to know throughout Europe this is a trend.

Mango Mama,

I agree 100%

Thanks for reading the Meltingpot!

LorMarie said...

I was wondering what your thoughts were on this. I've heard of one too many incidents regarding racial taunts against blacks by Spaniards. For a long time I've wanted to visit, but these stories have left me hesitant. Would you write a post on your experiences (positive or negative) in Spain as an African-American? That is, if you have not done so already. I would be very curious about what it is like for you when you visit. Before I write Spain off as a beacon of racism that I should avoid, I'd like to see how widespread this is. Sometimes, the media does take an incident or two and blow it way out of proportion. Again, just curious.

Me said...


I'm glad you're keeping an open mind about Spain.

I'm not trying to push my book, but my memoir that is coming out on March 4, called Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain is alllll about my experiences as a Black female in Spain. Of course there is no final answer as to whether or not Spain is a racist country or not, but I think I give a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Happy reading!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I am moving to Rome in four weeks. Spain is one of the places I would love to visit (since I will be so close). One of my friends lived in Spain for a while and loved it. Another couldn't wait to leave after people constantly pointed at her and made racial comments.

I cannot believe those fans thought it was okay to wear blackface. sigh.

I am looking forward to reading your book. I just saw the write up in Essence about it.

Anonymous said...

I live in Italy and I have seen people with blackface on TV- I was dumbstruck. It was on some sort of "comedy" show, and sadly that wasn't the only time I've seen it. I'll chalk it up to ignorance.

glamah16 said...

I saw your comment on nyc/caribbean ragazza. I also read about your upcoming book in Ebony.I was drawn to the interview because I studied in Paris. I have a German live in partner and am thirty something now. I read about this incident in Spain and it surprised, yet didnt surprise me.While Europe is fascinating, it's not the Utopia for African American artists as we thought of it in the thirties.With changes in politics ans economics, racisim always finds a way to rear its ugly head.Especially at sporting events. Will that deter me from moving back to either Germany or Sweden with my man?No. I was scared to meet his family and friends who had honestly never have been around black people and I was welcomed from day 1. The funny thing is now over here in the US, he has opened his eyes to racism and slights which a lot of people just want to dismiss as something from the past.
Looking forward to getting your book!

Moca Media said...

You may be pleased to know that I have plugged your book on my Madrid-based blog. You can see the post here:

I am a biracial American originally from melting pot New York City, living in Spain, married to a Spaniard, with two bicultural, bilingual, multiracial children.

I was pleased to learn about your book, hear your interview and saw it as my duty to write the post. Good luck! Also, enjoy my website,, where my mission is to provide "alternative" information about multicultural melting pot Spain... : )

Me said...

Hey Moca Media,

Thank you so much for the props! I love your site and will add it to my links list soon.

Keep it coming!


Anonymous said...

I am a Canadian Korean living here in spain with my spainsh partner. I am always commenting/screaming about the problem of racism in Spain. I see crazy shit here all the time and people are always looking at me and sometimes I have to wonder what the fuck am I doing here. I am so happy others have experienced/witnessed these kinds of things. While I agree that many Spaniards are open minded, I would argue that many many are ignorant beyond belief and blatantly racist unknowingly to themselves and the rest of SPain.

LT said...

Hey Anon,

Thanks for reading the Meltingpot. I'm glad you found us, and I'm glad to hear from another woman of color what your experience is like in Spain, especially married to a Spaniard. Maybe we could start a support group, "loving the man but not the racist bs in his country." Just a thought. Buena suerte!

Anonymous said...

I just gotsa say y'alls is trippin'! How can you claim that Spain is a racist country? First thing is first. We, who are African American ex-patriates have chosen to live in a foreign country with which comes responsibilities. We can't expect political correctness based on our American history, values, and standards. Who do we think we are? How much do Americans know about Spanish history apart from the 15th century discovery and the introduction of the slave trade? Why hasn't anyone mentioned here the fact that "we" (Americans) have smeared an age old Spanish tradition with our perverse use of the robe and pointed hood as a symbol of hate, violence and rage. Yes I say "our" because the KKK is American and is still running strong. Regarding the Hamilton black face crowd, the gorilla hooting at football events...I wish America was bold enough to be able to do those type of things and not have "racism" attached to it. Haven't you got all worked up watching your favorite team? Didn't you hate the opponent? Does that mean you hated the race of the opponent? That's just good old hackling that doesn't leave the sports stadium. I heard comments of fans on the issue and they honestly said they were unaware of the hurt it caused the players and this has virtually ceased to be a problem since it has become public knowledge. I have lived in Spain for 11 years and although I would agree with most bloggers here, there is a great deal of ignorance on the Spanish end concerning the American race situation and past. My own Spanish wife says things that would be considered racist in America. I have explained to her on several ocassions what could be understood by certain comments she or others who I know love me and my black skin have made and they had NO IDEA how I or someone of my race could interpret these comments. Many comments here are looked at from an American point of view. We can't just stereotype and demonify the entire country because of a few thoughtless individuals who chose to haggle a little spoiled rich English brother. And trust me, if Spaniards knew that wearing blackface and bones in their hair would offend people, they wouldn't do that type of stuff. Every single town in the freakin country paints some citizen in blackface to represent the African Magi on the celebration of the Epiphany in January. Not to offend their brothers and sisters across the Strait but to acknowledge his role in the adoration of the Christ child. We African Americans need to get over the stigma that everyone is after us and trying to make our lives difficult with their hate. It ain't like that. I have been to 100's of Spanish villages for work and the only incident I've had with racism in 11 years was with a gypsy. I caught him stealing from me. He told me to go back to Africa. Go figure.

LT said...


Thank you for your comments. It is always enlightening to hear from a man, as most of my readers seem to be women...or at least the ones that comment.

It sounds like you forgive the Spanish for their lack of cultural awareness, but at the same time admit that it is there.

I think most of us do as well, but that doesn't make it any less annoying to deal with. Not to mention at times hurtful. And this doesn't only apply to Black people. Asians, Hispanics and people of mixed heritage have also felt the brunt of Spain's unique cultural ignorance. And of course we are not condemning individuals, but a culture where this kind of ignorance is acceptable.

And I think it is okay to complain about it, talk about it and hear from folks like yourself who might show an alternate perspective to help us all figure it all out.

Thanks for reading the Meltingpot.

Anonymous said...

I'm and African American female living in Barcelona for a month and I just came back from a weekend holiday in Sevilla. Although its was nice and scenic, I have to give the people an "F" on embracing diversity. They were boldly rude to me, refusing to take my order in restaurants, looking at me and frowning and walking into me in the street. I'm a New Yorker, so I can take rough attitudes but I'm usually able to give it right back when necessary. I felt a bit apprehensive to speak my mind fearing I might come up missing or some crazy story you hear of Americans abroad. The scary part was that there was no one and I say NO ONE around that looked like me! I think the Tourism Boards need to invest and focus on educating on Diversity!

Iván said...

I recommend the movie "Bwana", about diversity and racism in Spain.

Anonymous said...

I beleive this post is a bit old...2008, but I stumbled across it on the internet. I'm not going to try to change anyone's opinion, but i agree with the gentleman that lives in Spain (anonymous) that wrote a while back. Ms. Tharps, you're a writer, research your history, Spain has 3,000 years....Too much preoccupation with race on this blog...and in your books, blogs, etc....This is american thinkings through and through....It's a young country and just now elected it's first black president. Pues....Well, when all is said and done, I think we're all jewish!! It so said where the women in the world are going.....

Anonymous said...

its quite simple, american racism cannot be compared to that of spains. African-americans have fought against and integrated into the system and you will indeed find blacks in every facet within the american infrastructure. Can u say this about spains blacks? in this respect spain is like 40years behind in real multi-ethnic societable integration. Seperatism is true racism, not someone calling me a ridiculous word. Are there black lawyers or doctors in spain? i have yet to see a blackman in a suit in spain on his way to the office. Racism in spain and much of europe is deep-rooted in so much that its almost accepted. Bananas being thrown out on the football field..r u kidding me? let something like that happen on a u.s. football field i can garauntee there will be a different outcome.

Anonymous said...

I studied abroad in Spain for a couple of months in Avila and didn't have any real issues with being African-American. The only time I felt that my race was a problem was when I was at the beach in Huelva and got a sidelong stare from a Spanish woman. Even that time I was with two of my friends that are not African-American. Overall I really enjoyed my time there; I visited Toledo, Sevilla, Segovia, Madrid, and La Alhambra in Granada, I did a lot of walking around alone and when I came across other people they were generally polite. I guess I was just so overcome with beauty in other things besides the people that I missed overt racism....? Or it could just be that I was fortunate not to have had any really disheartening experiences. There are many different instances. I know a lady who went and said that she had several negative racial experiences while in the same town I stayed in. Its sad that some people can have such negative experiences and have a negative view about the entire country because of it. I know that the way people use racially charged words in Spain is usually not the same way we use them here, intending to hurt others. I think that it makes sense to be upset, since U.S. nationals do not know what it is to just throw around those types of words and make those kinds of gestures, but its important to remember that they have grown up in an environment where it is normal to make what we would deem inappropriate comments. In the southern states in the U.S., some White people still look at you funny. I'm thinking we'd be hard-pressed not to find a place in this world where skin color or ethnicity is not a divider. Its not to say that we should be ok with it, because we probably never will be, but the environment one is raised in has a huge impact on what one deems acceptable, and it is incredibly hard to bypass. People who make insulting remarks and gestures don't think about it because in their immediate surroundings it hasn't been necessary. In the U.S., you are faced with a variety of people from different backgrounds every day (well, sometimes it depends on where you are), so you get used to being cautious about what you say and do so as not to offend anyone. I mean, world equality would be great with everyone being treated with earnest respect and not simply respectfully tolerated, but it probably won't happen in this lifetime. I'm just wondering if we tire ourselves out talking about how ignorance is causing people to mistreat and misrepresent one another if all it does is continue, even after efforts to educate people on the error of their ways.