Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Oh, Spain. Not Again.

Just when I think I can hang my happy flag about Spain, somebody sends me a link to this blog post at Black in It's an open letter to Spain decrying the virulent racism endemic to their country and culture. And she makes some good points.

Of course, not every citizen of Spain is racist, but as Black Girl in Cairo suggests, the country could benefit from some serious sensitivity training and acknowledgement that yes, they have a problem. It would be a welcome first step.

Of course I'm married to a Spaniard and think of the country as my second home, but that doesn't mean I don't cringe and roll my eyes heavenward when I hear about what happened to Black Girl in Cairo.

Funny thing is, I know a lot of Black people who LOVE Spain. Who have never experienced anything but the most respectful treatment in the country. One of my best girlfriends, in fact, is planning to move to Barcelona permanently. And then there is my favorite Black Girl in Spain, Ieishah at Fat Juicy Oyster keeping it real on the Iberian Peninsula. Maybe she can tell us what Spain should do to curb their enthusiasm for being mean, rude and/or ignorant towards non-Spanish people.

What about you, dear readers. What have your experiences been like in Spain or with Spaniards? Do you think there is a market there for Diversity Training 101? Is Spain any worse than any other European country? Do we expect more of Spain because they are often thought of as not quite Europeans?

I'm listening.



AnaCeleste said...

Hey! Great questions! I actually studied abroad in Madrid for nine months from Sept. 07-May 2008. Unfortunately, unlike you Lori, I didn't meet my future husband there ;) (BTW I loved Kinky Gazpacho). I read the post by Black Girl in Cairo and totally agree that the country needs to do more to acknowledge racial insensitivity. While there, I found most of the people pretty open and nice for the most part. My Spanish professors were all cool, but one of them made it a point to emphazise that "Los espanoles no son racistas," which I didn’t buy. I remember a week after my arrival, I went to el estanco to buy my abono. I used a passport sized photo taken of me with my hair in twists and the lady at the counter made a weird gesture with her hand and signaled to her co-worker, I guess to call attention to my hair. I let it slide, but of course I didn’t forget. Not used to seeing big 'fros, the host señora I stayed with called my hair "extraño" one morning. I just laughed that one off.
The issue of immigration was a big topic while I was there with the influx of people coming from S. America, eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa really changing the cultural makeup of the country. I noticed in Madrid that certain neighborhoods tended to house immigrant populations and that it was a bit segregated. It also seemed that S. American immigrants were often referred to negatively, even by my host senora on ocassion. As immigrant or first generation born children of parents from these countries fill the schools Spain will have to incorporate cultural sensitivity training as well as have open dialogues about racism. I don’t know all that they teach as far as Spanish history is concerned, but I hope they give attention to Columbus’ role in the transatlantic slave trade, as well as the Amerindian slaves Columbus brought back to his country. They should also be honest about Spain’s history of cruel colonization without sugarcoating things. Heck, we need to do the same here in America in relation to Columbus. I hated being lied to as a kid. I currently spend weekends with a Spaniard from San Sebastian who practices his English with me as I practice my Spanish with him and he’s been cool for the most part; friendly and open. Come to think of it, I will ask him his take on the racial climate and the issue of diversity. I visited Italy while I was abroad and I liked it just as much as Spain. I didn’t experience any racism in my short time there, but that’s doesn’t mean it’s not prevalent.

Frenchie said...

Hey! Thanks for linking my post! I'd like to agree with Ana in hoping that Spain speaks the truth about what Colombus's role in genocide and slavery, no sugarcoating. i'm sure not all of the people on Spain are racist but the countries issues with race are quite clear. I'l also look into getting your book!

ieishah said...

I'm having these very unpleasant flashbacks to being a young grad student in England, and being put in the position where I had to defend America, which I never wanted to do because America's effed up, but at the same time, from where I sat (resident of both countries), America didn't seem radically more effed up than Britain. It was in London, that a man followed me from Big Ben straight down the Thames repeating that I was a "f*cking nigger". In Costa Rica, a man called me a "puta negra" then threw his drink on me in a club because I wouldn't dance with him. During my life in travel, there've been at least a handful of them to recount.

Not to diminish Frenchie's experience, which must have been scary and infuriating (!), but at least there was a door separating her from and her assailants: I know how horrible it is. I have experienced this. In my opinion, if you haven't had these kinds of scary racial experiences, you just haven't traveled enough.

And though this has never happened to me in Spain, it has happened to friends here. Having said this, (and Lori you know) I don't share your idea that Spain is more racist than everywhere else. Or that having a black president is proof that America's less racist than everywhere else. My experience tells me that EVERYWHERE is racist. I first heard the 'throwing bananas at Black soccer players' story from a Belgian who told me HE USED TO DO IT. This is not a 'Spanish thing'.

As for Spain, if only we could break Spanish history down to Franco and Columbus. If only saying, 'REMEMBER SLAVERY!!" would do it. It sounds logical but only if you don't understand that that history is not the only part of Spanish history that's been systematically erased. I'll leave it at that for now cause it's too complicated for a comment section.

Is Spain racist? Hell, yes!! I was just trading war stories with a Thai friend today! But is racism a specifically "Spanish problem"? What can Spain do? Sensitivity training?? I mean, can I answer that question with a question? What can the world do about racism?

Dee said...

Spain, you did it again. And not in a good way either. I remember the whole Colombus saga of "discovering" the New World lesson being pounded in my head repeatedly since I was in the first grade. I always wondered why we had that designated day in October off. It was Colombus Day. Let's not forget the Colombus Day parade held every year in NYC. I was shocked to learn that the indigenous peoples--South Americans of non-European decent hate Colombus and do not observe Colombus Day at all.

Can someone say Pau Gasol? Spain's latest basketball import is often at odds with his Lakers teammate, Kobe Bryant, who is Black. One blogger (probably White) recently stated that Gasol is the hot ticket in the NBA and the stand-out player on the Lakers team. She makes no mention of how many times Kobe has lead the LA team to victory and winning chamionship titles. Maybe she just has a crush on Gasol. Who knows?

Do you know the Black mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves? Back in 2008 she was scheduled to sing the title role of Bizet's Carmen at the Washington National Opera with German Villar, a Spanish tenor singing her jealous lover Don Jose. Well, as it turns out, Villar was MIA on opening night. Thiago Arancam, a Brazilian tenor took his place. Now I don't know the whole story, so please don't attack me, but it's one of those things that makes you go, "Hmm."

Anyway, racism exists in all four corners of the world, not just Spain. Remember this: to solve a problem, one must first acknowledge it.

AnaCeleste said...

I totally agree with Dee and Ieishah about racism being existent all over the world. I guess becuase the post was about Spain, that's where I focused. But you're both absolutely right. It is foolish to be naive about racism only being confined to the U.S. Our country is no where near post-racial and neither are other parts of the world. While it may seem like diversity or racial sensitivity workshops won't completely solve the problem, at least getting people to acknowledge their prejudices and racism is better than just sitting around and doing nothing. We may never be able to solve the issue of racism, but speaking out about it indicates that we want to see people work on changing their attitudes.

ieishah said...

"Is Spain racist? Hell, yes!!", I believe, is an acknowledgement. At least on my part.

Do you think that if I wikipedia'd racist incidents in the US or Germany or the UK, and lined those suckers up against Spain's, that Spain would average more? What exactly are we alleging?

When the story broke last week of a black man in South Carolina shot then dragged several miles behind a truck by his white co-worker, did anyone say, 'Oh, USA..."

Read the story here:

Spain's racism is much more on the surface. (Which sounds so wrong after the above link. What's more surface than being shot and dragged 10mi?) For many reasons they don't feel the need to hide it. They are more insensitive (and that's an understatement) with it. To read this as them being "more" racist than anyone else, is a bit strange.

Dee, real talk, do you honestly believe that Denyce Graves, black woman in a very white world of opera, ONLY experienced racism in her career from a Spanish man? Word? Can I sell anyone a bridge here, too?

Furthermore, the Spanish killing the natives of the Americas was not, per say, a racist genocide. Race was invented later as a justification for the genocide, not to mention the budding new world order (in which most of Europe still heartily partakes. England still sustains the pound off its Commonwealth.) But okay. Let's talk about Gasol some more.

Dee said...

Ieishah, I hear you and I've done some investigating of Denyce's opera career on my own. She says that she experienced racism in America. Several directors, both American and foreign, said she wouldn't be a good for a role but never said why.

I only stated the Spanish tenor because the topic was "Spain" after all. But Denyce has definitely felt that she was passed over for a lot of operatic roles because she was Black. So I'm not just trying to single Spaniards out---she's encountered racism all over the world. She even has racism within her own family--relatives refused to come to the wedding of her first husband because he was White. Other Black opera singers have encountered racism: Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Shirley Verrett, Annabella Bernard, Simon Estes and others. So I'm not limiting the whole race issue to Denyce Graves. I just happen to follow Denyce Graves very closely in her career and I like her a lot, so maybe I feel the need to speak up on her behalf, despite the fact that I've never met her.

You get me Ieishah?

ieishah said...

Dee, I got you sis!

Remi said...

I am very passionate about cultural diversity and can write forever about the subject of racisim!
I have to agree with Ieishah and say that racism is EVERYWHERE!

From what I gathered when I went to Spain was that by nature, they are very open and say what's on their minds. So if they want to abuse you racially they will. For the record as well, they feel very much inclined to diss their own people. Just get a Catalan and someone from Madrid together!!

Unlike Spain, other European countries are more subtle about their racism. In the UK, it is not unusual to be discriminated to even open a bank account based on the colour of your passport.

Like what's been written in other comments, not every Spanish is racist and also, there is a clear distinction between being racist and purely ignorant.

I am Nigerian born but raised in the UK and I cannot count the number of times people (white and other) have made ignorant comments about Africa. I can even go further on that point to stress that there is racism in the black community as well, which is at most times overlooked.

I believe that thanks to globalisation, countries like Spain will have no other option to change their outlook on cultural integration if they seriously want to be force to be reckoned with economically. Also, lets not neglect the younger generation who are the leaders for tomorrow (cliche, I know. Music is one of the biggest forms of social influence and I have seen some Spanish kids blasting Jay Z in their ipods!

So to end, my point is to accept that there are problems in Spain, but not to write it off. To also accept that there is racism everywhere and to challenge ourselves into what exactly we are to do about it

Anonymous said...

I have also read the blog "Black in Cairo", and posted my experiences there. I have lived in the UK, Germany and recently worked in Spain for 5 months (in an office as an IT professional).
I stress in an office ... because during my stay in Barcelona, I was constantly verbaly abused as "trabahando, puta, mala, mala vida etc.". This even at the place where I worked.
During this 5 months I had to move houses 5 times always finding another accommodation sharing with a Catalan. Yes at the beginning they seemed to be nice, until you moved in. Then the intrigues, lies and abuse begin. I was forced to go to the police twice to report these intrigues.

I have suffered racism both in the UK and Germany. In Bracknell, HSBC refused to open a bank account for me. I was working with a reputable IT company in Bracknell and was paid well. The female bank clerk was not interested in this. She saw me and I supposed assumed all sorts of things and refused me. I said nothing and just went to Barclays to open an account. As a student, I had a bank account with Barclays, and closed it when I left for Germany.

Anyway what I am trying to say is I have suffered a lot of racism in both UK and Germany. But never so much racism in such a short time - 5 months, as I did in Spain. The Spanish can be extremely vulgar in regards to their racism. During one of my house moves I remember having to rush to the shops to get a container to move my things. I was rushing because I had to get to work after this. As I paid for the container, one of the assistants began to laugh and shouted out "tiene suerte en la avenida". I was in too much of a rush to respond to this.

I just do not understand why they have so much hate for me, although they know nothing about me!

Pedro Baum said...

I agree with you, that it is a group of Spanish people that ruin it for everybody. Same with every other country in the planet, and try working as a foreigner in Japan!
However, it might be partly due to the culture in Spain. They are more straightforward with words.

I'm from south america, and I worked in the US in a fancy research laboratory. My immediate superior was from Spain and he constantly referred to me as "sudaca". It was the first time I ever heard the term. I didn't like being called that, but I ignored. I realized there is a strong anti-latin america sentiment in Spain, so I will simply not go there.
It all got stranger when he asked me how it was for a white person (I'm from a german immigrant family) to live among sudacas and "indios". That was just it, no matter what color you are, you grow up identifying with the faces of the people around you: I was really offended, and he thought he was complimenting me for calling me white, etc.

They need sensitivity training, something on those lines.

Anonymous said...

What seems to be missing from this discussion on immigration is the role of European colonialism and its heritage in the form of global capitalism. For those posters here who decry the presence of immigrants in their countries, I have one thing to say: chickens come home to roost. Europeans invaded, colonized, and even committed genocide all over the world from Australia to Africa to Latin America and India. Before this massive wave of violence emanating from Europe, countries like Spain, England, France, Holland, and Portugal were very resource poor nations but had large populations and over developed militaries due to the centuries of warfare there. So if white europeans don`t like immigration, no worries then we can exchange populations. Here are some of the steps we take:

Raage said...

1. Evacuate all your armed forces from other countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Diego Garcia, Djibouti, etc...)

2. Evacuate all white people from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, and the rest of Africa, North America, South America, Australia, NZ, Hawaii, Israel, even if they were born there.
This evacuation will include your corporations and other property or business interests in those countries will handed back to the natives of those lands..

3. In return you should expel all non-white immigrants from Europe and those immigrants will have to hand over any property obtained in Europe back to the white native europeans. Quid pro quo.

4. As for people of mixed race heritage they should be given a choice of where they want to reside and be fully integrated into those countries since they are the true victims of this situation.

5. From there on every country should live off their own resources and not invade another country for oil, gold, diamonds, cheap labour etc...

Now I think that would be a fair and equitable solution to the legacy of European imperialism. What do u think?

Adam from South Africa