Racism in Spain – Further Thoughts

In the previous post on racism in Spain, a couple of sensible comments seemed to suggest that while it is indeed a problem, none of us have the right to be too judgemental: “I think none of us is in a position to cast the first stone,” said Theresa. I couldn’t agree more.

When I arrived in Spain 9 years ago there was hardly a coloured person to be seen in Madrid. This was quite a shock coming from Brixton, an area of London where being white made you feel something of a minority. And unlike in the UK, here in Madrid there were no black or asian bus drivers, doctors, or politicians. None. Around 6 years ago a sizable Bengali community moved into the barrio of Lavapies, and around the same time mass immigration across the Straits of Gibraltar led to a huge increase in the number of Africans appearing on the streets of the captial – most selling pirated cds and dvds from blankets on the pavement, ready to run at a moment’s notice should the police turn up. But there are still no black people in what you might term ‘normal jobs’ – oh, except for one civil servant who works in our local treasury office, possibly the only non-Spanish civil servant in the city?

The point is that Spain is where the UK was in the 50’s: huge immigration in recent years from Africa and Asia (and of course Eastern European countries such as Romania) means there is a rapidly changing racial demographic, and the new arrivals are a long long way from equal opportunities and full integration. Yet despite feelings of uneasiness and occasional outpourings of racial hatred amongst more ignorant sectors of the population, things could be worse. Didn’t we see endless cases of racial rioting, random beatings, and the destruction of property and businesses belonging to immigrants in the UK in much of the latter half of the 20th Century? I’m seeing very little of that in Spain – or perhaps it just isn’t reported?

I don’t know enough about the complexities of the racial problems in the States to speak for those from the US, but the UK has had over 50 years to become the plural society of equal opportunities it purports to be today, giving some Brits the idea that they speak about racism in Spain from this lofty position of living in a society of racial harmony and tolerance. But think back. Think how hard it was to make the adjustments to today’s pluralistic Britain, how long it took, and consider how Spain is now doing fairly well at going through the same process. As Theresa implied, we have to ask ourselves if any of us are in a position to be too judgmental of attitudes in Spain.

It’s early days, and perhaps the real problems are yet to come, and while I want to make it clear that I detest racism in any form whatsoever, given the time line of recent demographic changes here in Spain, and given what we have seen in other countries that have undergone similar changes in the past, I think things could be a lot worse.

56 thoughts on “Racism in Spain – Further Thoughts

  1. Edith

    @ Faemina,

    I agree with most of the viewpoints in your post, but the problem is that ‘los reyes católicos’ didn’t see it that way at the time. They considered the Jews to be aliens, hence the expulsion order and the concept of ‘limpieza de sangre’.

  2. Bill

    AFAIK The inquisition took place all over catholic Europe – Spain was the most prominent and powerful catholic country at the time and therefore “lead the way”.

    Nobody knows exactly what went on, though I can imagine some Spanish nationalists might have attempted to play it down, while Spain’s opponents might have exaggerated it.

    However I’d still be interested in knowing which historians have trivialized it. If it’s just some historian(s) at the end of the 19th century, or indeed under Franco, then I really don’t see how it is relevant to a discussion on the extent of racism in modern Spain.

  3. Edith

    @ Bill,

    It’s relevant from a historical perspective because it shows that racism has a long history in Spain, like anywhere else in Europe.

    True, the Inquisition took place all over Catholic Europe and Jews were persecuted almost everwhere, but it was Spain which invented the concept of ‘limpieza de sangre’ (this shocked Simon Wiesenthal). The fact that Jews are not a race is irrelevant, because they were treated as such by their persecutors.

    As far as the historians are concerned, I’d have to look up their names but I have read several references in a book about Spanish history by Robert Lemm, a pro-Franco and pro-Opus Dei historian from Holland.

  4. bill

    @Edith – Thank you for the information.

    I agree with you in that the Jews were subject to racism. Racism has little to do with “race” as such, since there is no way of defining someone’s race and ultimately we are all mixed race and related to each other to some extent.

    To me racism is more to do with the persecution of a group of people because of something they have in common, be it religion, skin colour, hair colour, political leanings, or even the football team they support.

    Most Spanish people I know don’t trivialise the inquisition, although they don’t see what it has to do with them anyway – it was from a different age. After all, if the Spanish can’t move on from what happened in their country many centuries ago, what hope is there for certain other european countries where atrocities are still very much fresh in the memory?

  5. Edith

    @ Bill

    I agree wholeheartedly on the issue of past atrocities and modern generations: people should never be made to atone for the sins of their ancestors.

  6. Edith

    @ Bill

    Oh yes, and I also agree on the issue of ‘race’. There is only one race, the human race AKA Homo sapiens L. ! 🙂

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