Nayr Macedo is a Spanish national studying political science at university. Her hair is long, curly and red. She is wearing a miniskirt with tights, hardly any makeup and has a penetrating gaze. She speaks with determination. The 22-year-old may sound like an average Spanish student, but many people here insist on treating her differently for one reason: her mother is from Africa. “We never decided that we were black, yellow or blue,” she says. “It’s other people who tell me I’m black.”
Nayr, along with Moha, Paula and Rubén, is a young Spaniard of African descent. “Go back to your fucking country,” “I don’t rent apartments to people like you,” “If you shower do you lose your color?” “Is that your mom or your nanny?” “Come with me, I’ll give you ten bucks,” “You can’t come in,” “Your cousins are monkeys.”
These are a few of the comments that these members of the Afro-Spanish community have heard throughout their lives. There is no official census to determine exactly how many people of African descent live in Spain, but estimates suggest that the black population of Spain is around one million.
Paula Prudencia Napi Collins, 20, a student of management and public administration, is an example of the impact of Spanish colonialism. Her parents were born in Equatorial Guinea while it was still under Spanish control.
“I realized that I was black when I arrived in Spain,” she said.
The Spanish media has not helped to change the collective image of black people
“The fact that you’re black makes you live in a different reality to other Spaniards,” says Moha Gerehou, a 24-year-old journalist and president of anti-racism NGO SOS Racismo in Madrid. Despite the fact that he was born in Spain, Gerehou says he has faced discrimination on many occasions.
Rubén H. Bermúdez, 35, is a photographer. He has light skin and wears his hair in an afro, but says he does not know why he looks the way he does. That said, he is from an area in the western region of Extremadura where Spaniards held slaves until the 19th century – a fact rarely taught in Spanish schools. The country’s education system does not include any content that explains the relationship between Spain and Africa, despite the fact that the two share a border.
While in power, in 2010 the Socialist Party (PSOE) tabled a non-binding law covering the historical memory of slavery, which aimed to recognize and support the black, African and Afro-Spanish community in Spain. The legislation was passed unanimously in the Equal Rights Commission but has proved little more than a gesture.
Estimates suggest the black population of Spain is around one million
The Society of Africans and African-descendants in Spain is demanding that the measures become law and says it should be expanded to involve full integration of the black community. The society wants a law that specifically targets racism, whether it be institutional (political, judicial or health-related) or social (fair access to housing, the labor market, against racist attacks).
Of the 1,328 hate crimes registered in 2015 in Spain, the principle motive was racism.
The Spanish media has not helped to change the collective image of black people, argues Napi, insisting that instead “they have helped perpetuate the stereotypes.” Black people are often associated with illegal immigration or crime. Advertisements also tend to exclude the black community.
"Los Conguitos [a popular brand of chocolate] is a very crude representation of us: a black guy with a loincloth and a spear,” says Bermúdez.
Another of the areas where Spain’s black community is underrepresented is in politics. Rita Bosaho of Podemos is the country’s first and only black parliamentarian out of its 616 deputies and senators. She was elected in December 2015.
“We need institutions that really represent our society,” says Gerehou.
There is also only one black mayor in Spain – Juan Antonio de La Morena of the Popular Party who has led the town council of Villamantilla, Madrid since 2007. Equal representation would mean at least 177 mayors would be black, according to calculations from The Society of Africans and African-descendants in Spain.
“The racism in Spain is structural,” says Gerehou.
For Macedo, racism lies in the small details and daily obstacles. For example, one of her professors asked: “What’s a girl as black as you doing in university? Perhaps you should look for a husband because you shouldn’t be here.’”
Napi has felt discrimination while hunting for an apartment. “Either I’ve had really bad luck, or this is a racist society,” says the young student.
English version by Alyssa McMurtry.