Black In Spain

So, what’s it like there?
I heard that Spain isn’t a good place for black people.
I heard that Spanish guys loooove black women!
I heard that Spain is one of the most racist countries in Europe.

The questions come from many places. Family back home. Friends of friends who are considering travelling here. Acquaintances on social media. And every time I get the questions, I always wish I could answer simply. No. Spain isn’t a good place for black people. Yes. Spanish men love black women. Yes. Spain is one of the most racist countries in Europe. But, I can’t. There’s too much nuance, too many instances and experiences that I’ve had that both confirm and negate those statements. So, instead of a definitive answer, I reply with the equivalent of ‘It depends’, or ‘Yes, but,’ then expound on that neither-here-nor-there answer as best I can for the audience that I’m speaking to.

As with any country, the topic of race in Spain is a complex one that has many facets and requires a more-than-surface-level exploration to even begin to formulate any definitive conclusions.

“Being black in Spain is hard sometimes,” I say with a sigh.

“How so?” My friend Annie replies.

We’re sitting on a bench in a park in central Malaga, sharing a bottle of cava. I take a sip from my little plastic cup before responding.

“Welll…” I begin, “First, there are the stares. Which honestly, aren’t always that bad, but it can take some getting used to.”

In the brief space of time before I continue, my mind flits to several incidents, tiny little moments, and curious occurrences that I’ve experienced in my now almost 10 months living on the Iberian peninsula. How do I summarize all of these things to Annie in a casual conversation? How do I recount those myriad moments that have either curdled my blood or left me shaking my head in bemusement? I decide not to go into it all right now. It’s a gloriously sunny day, I’m beginning to feel the effects of the cava, and I don’t want to ruin either my sunshine- or champagne- buzz with heavy talk. I quickly sum up my previous statement about the stares with some observations on times when I felt I was stared at rudely, and others when I felt it was out of admiration or curiosity. I get the feeling that Annie gets my feeling of not wanting to go much deeper into the subject, and, soon, we switch to more situation-appropriate topics.

Over the next few days, however, my exchange with Annie comes back to mind often. How would I sum up the experience of being a black American in this country? I realize it’s an important part of my cultural immersion and exchange to make note of such sociological differences, and to analyze them both critically (as a student of culture) and personally (as a black woman with my own story to tell). So, I decided to start not only being more aware of these moments, but also to start taking notes on the experiences that I’ve had so far.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing first-hand observations and experiences with the concepts of race, color, and culture that I’ve gathered during my time in Spain. In doing so, I hope to shed some more light on a subject that – in my opinion – warrants a more in-depth examination, especially in light of recent incidents regarding race and police brutality against black people back in the United States.

One of the many cries of frustration that I’ve heard from my brown-skinned kin from back home in the aftermath of these racially-charged incidents has been ‘maybe it’s time to leave the US behind’, or similar statements that paint the non-US experience as a more suitable one for black people. I hope that my experience as an African-American living in Spain reveals that issues of color and race aren’t exclusively American, and that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the pond.

Black in Spain is a series of essays and first-hand accounts of my experience living, working, and travelling as an African-American woman in Spain. My observations on race, color, and culture in Spain are meant to inform and enlighten as well as highlight the differences between the “black experience” in Spain and the US.

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5 thoughts on “Black In Spain”

  1. I think this article was much needed for myself and as a spot on view of how I envision my time in Spain would be like if I reapply as an auxiliary again. I skipped the first time around to accept a job offer, but sometimes I consider reapplying for the program. Although I crave adventure, I am a bit wiser than I I first graduated college 4 years go. Plus I thought I might be too old to sign up by now.

    I went across Spain on vacation for two weeks and my experience in that short time was similar to yours. The stares, the fetishism, etc. It caused me to wonder if I had moved here would I be truly accepted. I have to be honest when I say that I now know how a certain ethnic group in America feels when we are not embracing them into or circles like my friends in college. I distinctly remember never Indians exchange students hanging out with Americans. That’s the one ethnicity I never saw very integrated into our society. I wondered would my experience be the same in Spain and that I truly would not gain “real” Spanish friends. I may still apply as a backup plan, but I’m not as strong on it these days because I’m real about my expectations. Im not looking forward to the isolation and bad dating. I only see the ango aux. women on blogs with a succesful dating life, and only 2 AA women. Anyway, I will keep reading your site, as I enjoy your point of view and especially from another non early 20s AA sista in the same category :p I don’t mean to leave a Debbie downer type of comment, just discussing my observations that could be totally inaccurate in my short visit and hours on blogs.

    1. Hey, Kayla –

      Glad you enjoyed the essay. I think my time here has also made me more aware of how other non-Americans must feel trying to become integrated into or accepted in American social circles.

      As for your sentiments about what your experience in Spain might be like – I guess I have to say it depends. Yes, I’ve found that it’s not easy making ‘real’ Spanish friends, but probably for the same reason that immigrants to the US may have a hard time making friends. People aren’t always that willing to go outside of their comfort zones to invite / accept someone into their already established social circles who may not understand the language and culture that well. That said, I have found and made good connections with other expats from all over the globe during my time in Spain. I think this is because we’re all ‘strangers in a strange land’, and are more open to new friendships/associations. I only ever felt isolated when I was placed in a teaching assignment in a small town, where there were very few expats. In medium to large cities, I’ve always been able to easily find kindred spirits, even if only for a short time. Despite the racial insensitivities that I’ve encountered in this country, I am still glad to have had this experience. It’s a beautiful country, and I’ve had the opportunity to experience and learn so much! These observations / issues with race make up a small part of an overall great experience.

      1. Everything you just said makes all the sense in the world to me. It’s just up to me whether I’m up to the experience then!

  2. In Spain some of the comments you hear are so shocking that they remind me of the sort of thing you d hear from a racist 1950s movie, but they are said with such ease as though the person doesn t know what they are sayin is offensive. While others are silly like why are you black or man I wish I could tan like you .

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