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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.

Where Am I (Going)?

A Star Wars Parade in Retiro Park, and My First Week In Madrid

September 24, 2014
star wars at retiro park in madrid

So I don’t want this blog to be all about me and what I’m doing on a daily basis. Partly because there are already 23492374349410 travel blogs like that, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I just think I’m more creative than that. So creative that I just used the word “that” four times. Also, my day to day life will never be interesting, whether I live in the US, or Madrid, or Jupiter.

But once in a while I’ll write updates about what I’ve been doing/thinking/feeling, just in case any of you out there actually give a shit. So here are some updates, accompanied by pictures from a random Star Wars parade in Retiro Park last Saturday.

star wars at retire park in madrid

star wars at retiro park in madrid

So I got to Madrid like 15 hours later than I was supposed to due to a flight delay. I met a fellow Auxiliar on the way over, which was kinda cool. When I got here, I stayed at an AirBNB In Malasana, a couple blocks north of Gran Via. A really convenient location.

To be honest, I haven’t done that many exciting things in the just over a week since I’ve been here. I’ve gone out to eat a few times (and I’m disappointed to report that I don’t like jamón ibérico. Sorry Spain, I know it’s your national delicacy, and I appreciate that it takes a while to make, but it tastes like solid, chewy olive oil.), I went to Retiro (of course), and visited the Prado and walked around and stared at art until I couldn’t stand anymore. But I’ve done a lot of sleeping too. And watching The Simpsons in Spanish.

black dude

But I guess I haven’t been doing as much typical expat stuff? I mean a couple times I went to McDonalds instead of searching for local cuisine. And I could be making a better effort to meet/meet with people, and/or take advantage of what the city has to offer. But you know, sleep. And internet. And staying in bed all day and doing nothing.

greenthing

I’ve been trying to get out and socialize, though. Key word: trying.  Some Auxiliaries had meetups this past weekend at bars in the center. So I went, cause I was open to going and I wanted to meet new people and have fun and be a normal person. But it was loud, and crowded. The type of crowded where walking involves inevitably coming into physical contact with strangers that just makes you feel wrong. And I stayed for a while, but then was all like: Haha silly Keziyah. Just because you’re in a different country doesn’t mean you’re a different person. You’re still an introvert with social anxiety. Now go home and watch The Simpsons. And I was all like, you’re right, other Keziyah. So I guess I need to find social activities that don’t involve lots of noise and interacting with tons of people. Because I just cant.

red lady

I’ve been seeing more POC than I thought I would. Every time I see a black person, in my mind I’m always like “YAY BLACK PEOPLE.” But only see them in the center of the center, near Sol/Embajadores. The rest of Madrid is still generally pretty white.

I’ve been hyper-aware of how people perceive me as a black person, based on things I’ve read about racism here. So far things haven’t been horrible, but I’ve noticed less obvious things. Things that are so subtle that make you wonder if it’s racism, or if it could be something else. Like waiters in restaurants ignoring me, or not making eye contact with me, and instead directing their attention to my paler friends.

darth

Like, I also wonder what security guards/employees think when they see me walk into H&M or Mango. The other day at H&M, it was a good thing that I was paying attention because the cashier forgot to scan one of my items. I thought about how it would have looked had I, a black woman, walked out of the store and the alarm beeped.

After almost a week of searching, I found a piso (flat). It’s in Salamanca, right next to a metro station. It doesn’t have a balcony like a wanted, but it has large windows with patio doors, which is the next best thing. It’s a big room too, compared to many others I saw. In fact, it’s the biggest room I’ve had since college. The price of 480 per month is steep, especially since I’ll only be making 1000 a month from my job. But I was willing to pay for what I wanted. Here are views from outside my window.

outsidebalcony1

 

outsidebalcony2

 

outsidebalcony3

I really like being able to speak Spanish daily. However, here in Madrid lots of people speak English, or at least enough to sell you something. So once they hear my accent they might switch to English. That doesn’t help me if I’m trying to get better. So listen, Spain. I am a guest in your beautiful country and I’d like to speak your beautiful language. So just let me. Ok?

Oh, and I started Geocaching. I totally suck at it cause I haven’t found anything yet. But me and a few other expats here are considering doing the Banango race next month. That should be fun.

And I guess that’s it for now.

 

All photos by Keziyah Lewis. 

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