Racism Files

Racist Street Art on Menta Storefront in Malasaña, Madrid (NSFW)

July 28, 2015
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For the very first post in the Racism Files series, I’d like to give a huge shout out to Ben and Francheska, a British-American couple living in Madrid, for sending me this picture of the Menta storefront that makes me want to punch my computer screen. Via Ben’s Instagram:

(This is a part of my Racism Files series. Please read the Racism Files FAQ here.)

 

I mean, what in the actual fuck? Like, someone actually sat down and thought about this, maybe drew a sketch of it, and was like “yeah, this painting is going to be awesome.” Some of you may see this and think that there’s no issue at all. But listen. When a person of color says something is racist, you kinda want to believe them. Just because you don’t see it that way, doesn’t mean it’s not true. Especially if you’re not a person of color, when you say something isn’t racist, you kinda sound like this:

Ben and Francheska called it out on Instagram, which led to a heated debate with lots of whitesplaining. People were saying, among other things, that it wasn’t racist, that the store owner and artist just love black culture, that the woman is purple, not black, that what is racist in the US is not racist in Spain, and that they were racist for calling it out. The artist (Fatima de Juan) commented on the post, saying that the image is actually a caricature of herself:

Hello believers! She’s not even black, is a caricature of myself, a twerking writter, I’m a graffiti writter, she paints with her ass and is an irony, I paint what comes out of my ass. This is not offensive at all, it’s ridiculous. I hope that animal advocates do not be offended for having made dinosaur shoes. Anyway…

This is some next-level Rachel Dolezal shit, because the artist is white. But more about her later.

Menta posted this statement:

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The store owners thanked customers for coming to their defense after Ben and Franceska called the image what it is: a racist caricature. They say that Ben was the one who has a racist and sexist point of view, and that Menta “will always be a multiracial space” that supports artists, and that the artist deserves everyone’s support. The last sentence says “Ladies and gentlemen, open your mind. The world will thank you for it.”

Sometimes, we have to learn the history and context behind things in order to realize that they are offensive. So if you don’t find this image offensive, keep reading.

Did the artist mean to offend black people? Is she a raging racist? Probably not. But you can be racist without intention, and without being malicious.

Why is this offensive? Well, it’s quite obviously a sexualized caricature of a black woman. But why is that offensive? The same reason why drawing a similar caricature of a Jewish person or an Asian person is offensive. You can’t draw caricatures of races, especially people of color. It’s offensive because it represents the stereotypes that society holds against a race of people.

Black Stereotypes and Black Humanity

White people have been using images like this to mock and subjugate black people for many years. Black stereotypes have been present in all types of media for decades (minstrel shows, vaudeville, blackface, cartoons, movies, music.) If you aren’t familiar with the history of black stereotypes, please click on those links to learn more, and watch the video below. Black people are presented as jokes and stereotypes simply because that’s what society has thought, and still thinks of us. We’re one dimensional and simple: We are not allowed to be fully human, complex, or diverse.

The artist behind the work above is Fatima de Juan, a graffiti artist and graphic designer. Here’s some more of her work, taken from her Instagram. It looks like she has an obsession with objectifying the black female body.

 fatima2 fatima3

fatima4 fatima5 fatima6

fatima7 fatima8  fatima9

Now, look at these old stereotypical images of black people, many of them from cartoons that are currently banned, and tell me if you see the resemblance, especially with the exaggerated lips and eyes.

stereo1stereo3stereo4

stereo5stereo7stereo8

 

stereo9stereo10 stereo2

All of these images, both the old illustrations, and the artwork by Fatima de Juan, represent stereotypes of black people, specifically of what we look like and who we are: animalistic, primitive, and hypersexual, for example.

These stereotypes are offensive because they reflect the idea that black people aren’t considered to be complex humans. In the case of the storefront photo, and many of de Juan’s illustrations, the black woman is nothing but her sexualized body. She is an object, something used to make de Juan’s art look “urban”, not a real person. The idea of black people being denied complexity and humanity also manifests itself in real life and has very serious consequences.

Slavery is the most obvious example of black people being denied humanity. Slaves were literally considered to be subhuman and scientists would do research to prove how subhuman black people were. Caricatures of black people look the way they do because artists purposely drew them to look like monkeys. Even though slavery has ended, racism still exists, and black people are still denied our humanity in some ways.

Being denied our humanity can have deadly consequences. Here are just a few examples:

1. Cops and the general public see black children as older and less innocent than white children. Tamir Rice, a 12 year old who lived in Cleveland, was playing with a toy gun at a park last year. Police were called and when they arrived, they barely got out of the car before they shot him to death, no questions asked.

2. White people perceive black people to be more tolerant of pain. This is called the racial empathy gap and researchers believe it helps explain racial disparities and discrimination.

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One of the many products you can find at the Menta shop.

3. People perceive black people to be more guilty. There are too many statistics to cite here: black people are more likely to be pulled over, stopped and frisked, arrested for the same crimes as whites, incarcerated for the same crimes as whites, given longer sentences for the same crimes as whites, be shot at or hit by police officers…

4. Black people are perceived to be less intelligent and competent. There are studies that show that resumes with “black sounding” names get fewer callbacks from potential jobs.

The bottom line is…

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One of Menta’s old storefront paintings, also by Fatima de Juan.

I could go on and on. My point is this: Innocence, sensitivity, intelligence, fragility, complexity, beauty, goodwill…These are all characteristics that black people are not considered to have because we are not considered to be fully human or complex. So when I see an image like the ones drawn on the Menta storefront,  a caricature of a black woman, a caricature of me, yes, it does piss me off. Because that’s how we are seen–not as whole, human beings who can feel pain, and be innocent, and be beautiful, and get a good job. But as less than human, shells of people, only to be “appreciated” when white people need labor, or entertainment, or an “urban” hairstyle, or sexual fantasies, or someone to use as target practice.

By the way, you can’t just make a caricature of yourself as a black woman when YOU ARE NOT BLACK. You do not have to live in a black body every single day of your life. Being black is not just an identity that you can put on and take off like clothing.

I did live in Madrid for 8 months, but being that I’m from the US, I know more about American racial history and politics, so everything I’ve said so far is very US-centric. But I still think it matters even though this painting is in Madrid. First, because American media is very popular and influential around the world, so often, people in other countries learn stereotypes about black people from American media.

Conguitos, a popular candy in Spain.

Conguitos, a popular candy in Spain.

Second, I believe that white supremacy operates very similarly all around the world, which is why I wanted to start the Racism Files series in the first place. Black people are also discriminated against in Spain. (The racial hierarchy in Spain, and in Europe in general may not be exactly the same, but I do think it’s similar.) Which is why an image like the one above is alarming.

Please feel free to send me anything racist you come across during your travels, whether it’s street art, an experience, a news story, or anything at all. Thanks again to Ben and Francheska.

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23 Comments

  • Reply sebastian July 29, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    I think you’re right and the classic Baltasar king and the men painted in black with red lips here is another example too. It’s not OK and it shouldn’t be as “normal” as it is here. Good luck in Saudi Arabia, tough reality you’re about to experience there as well.

    • Reply Keziyah July 29, 2015 at 4:51 pm

      Yes. I remember when people dressed as the wise men came to my school in Vallecas around Christmastime, and I was kinda shocked to see the blackface. I think it’s also normal for people in Spain to wear blackface around Halloween and Carnival too, right? I’m assuming most people just don’t know the history and the significance.
      Thanks for wishing me luck, I’m going to need it!

      • Reply Anti-racebait July 29, 2015 at 5:54 pm

        The history of black face being racist comes from your country, not Spain’s. Spain does not have to appease what you think is racist. Good luck in Saudi Arabia, you’re going to need it.

        • Reply Keziyah July 29, 2015 at 7:09 pm

          As long as black people are discriminated against all over the world, including Spain, then yes, Spain does have to be sensitive to racism, even if the origins of a racist practice is not from Spain.

        • Reply Jarrett July 30, 2015 at 1:36 pm

          You’re incorrect. The notion of imitating slaves was well done by the Spanish in their colonies in the Americas. Then this leaked over into the British colonies. The Spanish imitated the slaves from their clothes to their speech and made fun of them because they couldn’t do anything about it. If you wish to learn more please search “el español bozal”. Así puedes encontrar material que explica el lado de la habla pero los textos que los lingüistas utilizan son obras hechas por los españoles.

  • Reply hyh July 29, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    but the girl in the graffiti is pink….

    • Reply Keziyah July 29, 2015 at 7:12 pm

      The features of the woman’s body are all stereotypically black. Of course, not every black person has big lips and a big butt, but many of us do, and those are physical traits that we are associated with. And if you look at Fatima de Juan’s other artwork, she paints woman who are clearly black in a similar way.

    • Reply Bottom Line July 30, 2015 at 1:25 am

      Being sensitive to racism is not the same as what you are pointing out. Being sensitive to racism means not persecuting a particular group. You are offended by a piece of art that in the United States is considered racist because of your country’s treatment of African Americans. Where is the black Spanish people crying out how horrible black face is? How many black Spanish people are protesting in front of the store for it to be erased?

      Some Americans come to our country and love pointing their fingers. Most are amazing and are doing a great job. But look at what you have on your site. You have an entire section in your site dedicated to “Racism files”. You are given the opportunity to travel around the world and teach English. Truly a wonderful gift. And what do you do? You want to be negative. You shame countries about things you don’t culturally understand because of your own insecurities from your country.

      I understand your country’s problems and why you would be insecure as an African American. White police killing your black citizens at an alarming rate, your black incarceration rate, and your black on black gang killings. It must be scary. But if these topics seriously affect you, then go back and fix them. These seem not to be a big problem here in Spain.
      Bottom Line recently posted…Racist Street Art on Menta Storefront in Malasaña, Madrid (NSFW)My Profile

      • Reply Jarrett July 30, 2015 at 1:57 pm

        That’s right writer! You be happy that they let you travel in their country! DON’T YOU DARE CRITICIZE EVER-GLORIOUS SPAIN because you have the opportunity to travel here! SPAIN IS PERFECT! But I am curious what do the local Afro-Spaniards think? Do they even feel comfortable voicing their opinion? How much have they been educated on Spain’s interactions with their country? A lot of times texts in Afro-Caribbean countries praise the Spanish and highlight the awesomeness of the Spanish and not the dark sides of their stay. The United States just recently started trying to undo this but I don’t think Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela for example have even started.

      • Reply Keziyah July 30, 2015 at 4:01 pm

        Why is pointing out racism being negative? Am I supposed to just ignore that racism exists and hope it goes away?
        Well, I won’t. Because as a black person it affects me. And it affects black people all around the world, not just in my country. Black people are discriminated against in Spain as well, and people can ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist for the sake of being positive, or people can learn from it and try to do better.

  • Reply Aluizio Rosa July 29, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Why is this racist?? I’m black and I don’t see any racism on that graffiti.. It’s a caricature! What I see that it’s art.. Unfortunately, as an artist, this days people can’t interpret it and give it a meaning without being a pejorative one. Btw the girl is purple, not black!

    • Reply Keziyah July 29, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      Her skin may be purple but her features are definitely black, plus the artists frequently paints black women.
      As for why it’s racist…well that’s why I wrote this blog. Even if you don’t see anything wrong with it at first glance, there is a racist history behind images like this one.

  • Reply Bill July 29, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    “The same reason why drawing a similar caricature of a Jewish person or an Asian person is offensive. You can’t draw caricatures of races, especially people of color. It’s offensive because it represents the stereotypes that society holds against a race of people.”

    And if you believe that all races CAN be caricatures? And yes, including whites. are you still racist or just have a different point of view?

    • Reply Keziyah July 29, 2015 at 7:16 pm

      You shouldn’t draw racial caricatures of anyone. However, because white people hold economic, social, and political power over people of color, doing a caricature of a white person would not be harmful. Doing one of a person of color is very harmful, because people of color don’t have nearly as much power as whites.
      You see lots of political cartoons making fun of rich people. That’s because rich people have power, so they’re not really being harmed. But you wouldn’t draw a cartoon making fun of poor people, those who have no power, because that would just be a shitty thing to do.

      • Reply Manolo July 30, 2015 at 2:10 am

        “Doing one of a person of color is very harmful, because people of color don’t have nearly as much power as whites.”
        “These are all characteristics that black people are not considered to have because we are not considered to be fully human or complex.”
        I think there are much more self-racism in your comments that in the caricature itself…
        The simple fact of being scandalized by the work of an artist and taking things out of context in the way you did, it just shows a large accumulation of hate and a huge inferiority complex.
        Besides all that, to generalize about racism in whole Spain the way you do, shows that in the eight months that you lived in Madrid you have not opened a history book. The day you read a little about the origins of Spain, you will stop to write nonsenses like this.

  • Reply Charles July 29, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    You´re OVERREACTING sooo F*****G MUCH! Your post is completely ABSURD!

    • Reply Jarrett July 30, 2015 at 2:02 pm

      Adeus Charles

  • Reply Kristie July 30, 2015 at 7:25 am

    I lived in Madrid for two years just a barrio over from Malasaña. Racism is definitely very prevalent in Spain just not as exposed as it is in the US. This post is really well written and some of these comments (especially that you’re overreacting or the one hinting at an inferiority complex) are ridiculously ignorant. Please continue writing and good luck in Saudi Arabia!

    • Reply Jarrett July 30, 2015 at 1:58 pm

      Adeus Charles.

    • Reply Jarrett July 30, 2015 at 2:02 pm

      Kristie ignore my comment. I meant to post it elsewhere. Sorry!

  • Reply Erin July 30, 2015 at 10:35 am

    God help the ignorant who have nothing better to do than defend their ingrained racism on your blog. Thank you for writing about this, and good luck in your future travels and adventures!

  • Reply Holly July 30, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Great article!

    It amazes me how defensive white people get when you call them out… like they have something to protect… hmmm…

  • Reply Lulu February 4, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    The ignorant, knuckleheaded comments trying to explain away the racism you clearly laid out in this blog are of many, many reasons I’ve given up on people. Thanks for this post and wishing you and all people of color (especially black people) strength in life and in this world.

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