Thinking Out Loud: Thoughts on Race in Spain

Seville, Spain, (2016-2017)

“That is completely stupid”

“Don't tell me what to do, I don't mean it that way”

These are the responses that I heard from my cousin and friend, respectively, when I told them 'you shouldn't say the n word, you're not black'. Needless to say, I’m not surprised that I received such responses, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t hoping for a different reaction.

I remember scrolling down through my Snapchat page, when one of my friends posted a picture with the caption 'my n****'. The picture itself was a photo of her friend, with a Snapchat filter. Both of them were white. I decided to try and explain to her why she shouldn’t say that word. Instead I was met with the same problem I encounter every time I try to 'educate' someone, and I'm sure many others encounter the same issue: people get defensive.  By getting defensive, I mean they get mad. Enough so to call you names, and spurt out all kinds of ignorance. It makes you wonder if at the end of the day worrying about making a 'change' is worth it, especially if you're not an American citizen. Because even though every country has its problems, like mine does, it will never be the same.

Today, I want to write...I want to scream...I want to explain, what it is like to fight ignorance from my perspective, a 18 year old girl from southern Spain, in a country where everyone seems aware of other people's racism and sexism, but never of their own. Or are we? I'm not completely sure. After spending hours going back and forth with my friend, I realized I couldn't convince her. I couldn't make her take the picture down. This didn't affect anyone because she doesn't have any black friends, but to me, it was important to try.

 

As many people know, Spain is one of those countries that lacks in diversity. Although we have a substantial influence from various ethnic minorities: like Latinos and Asians, there aren’t many black people. At all. This creates an environment where many Spaniards view black culture through a certain prism, a prism that is lacking in understanding, yet abundant in ignorance.

Many people have judged Spain for its old cultural tradition called 'La cabalgata' in which many white people paint their faces to become black and dance to famous songs while they give candies to kids surrounded by floats the day before Christmas presents day. In the US this would be a serious issue since their is a sizable black population and their is a disgusting history behind such a thing. However, the issue here is that, within Spain, it's not a matter of mocking black people, but to represent them because of the lack of diversity. It has never been something to mock or disrespect anyone (like it could be in other countries) nor will. That's why I'd say it's understandable. However, the reason why it's not justifiable, is because at the end of the day, I feel that you should be aware of your privilege, and the fact that you can wash off all the problems that being black carries, like systematic racism, is something that I don't believe we as a culture take into context since such things do not apply to us. My mission here isn't to stop the 100 year old tradition, because I can't do that. What I try to do is simply provide context to things that many within my country may overlook or just flat out ignore.

 

It's hard to not be aware of the influence that the US has on the rest of the world: nowadays you will get judged for not knowing enough English to maintain a conversation, even though many Americans don't know Spanish despite being the second most spoken language in the world, not to mention within the US. Here in Spain, Donald Trump is shown on TV more than our own president, we've had an abundance of TV shows discuss American police brutality and racial issues. Yet, even though almost everyday, we are confronted with the struggle people of color go through in America, I wonder how it’s possible that people my age, in my country, who are addicted to social media don't react to these topics? They know there’s a problem, but still decide to ignore it?

My friends dislike me for bothering them with my ideals, and trying to inform them of controversial issues, like sexism, feminism, racism etc, but I believe that one day when they're older, they will see how harmful oppression can be, and they will stop ignoring movements against it, or even worse, ridiculing them. Because perhaps someday, they will see the reality of oppression upon their future daughters, upon their future black friends, or even upon their future partner. They shouldn't get defensive, but they do, because deep down they know they're part of the problem for not trying to help, because fighting is hard and it’s better to just ignore it right? I feel like they’re all thinking, “well, someone will end up doing something. Not my problem.”

 

“There isn't racism in Spain”

False, and I’m sooo tired of hearing this. There is racism everywhere. And, I strongly believe it is systematic. My friend, Patri, (a woman of color) and I always discuss these controversial issues, because somehow I want to be prepared if I have to argue against ignorance, which happens every day. We always come to the conclusion that an oppressor is someone who ‘doesn’t share privilege’: someone who has it, but does nothing to help, or change the world we live in for the better of those that do not possess the same innate privileges.

I can’t change people. I’ve tried my best, and it has always led me to arguments, fights…and honestly I recognize part of the problem is me. Because I can’t shut up. Or according to everyone, tolerate other opinions. It may be true, but I don’t think I’m engaging in activism to tolerate racist opinions. Still…when I constantly meet people who scoff at my ideals, I begin to wonder, why am I pretending I can change people’s minds when black people have been trying to for years? Sure, I do have privilege, but it disappears completely when you’re surrounded by deaf people. Because no one hears you.

I’m a person who likes to read a lot about systemic issues, this article is just a way of expressing how I feel in the society I’ve grown up in. All the things I’ve learnt have made me a better person. Although a more stressed and angry one too, because when you open your eyes to the bad in the world, you see...you finally, see, and that’s something I wouldn’t trade for the ignorance I used to possess. For me, one of the best things I ever decided to do, was to listen to people of color speak on their struggles. It opened me up to things that were always in front of me, but that I never really noticed. If I offended anybody, know that I’m still learning, and my opinion means nothing compared to the people who actually live these struggles everyday.