To The WALK community,
On February 25th, 2020, I attended a Carnival festival in Stiges, a small beach town located an hour south of Barcelona. The festival was a blast and it was my first Carnival celebration! Carnival festivals happen all over the world, especially in countries where Catholicism is the primary religion. It is a way to celebrate Fat Tuesday and mark the beginning of Lent, the Christian observant period before Easter. The events are known to draw crowds dressed in elaborate and intricate costumes. Throughout the world, Carnival attendees can dance to loud music and participate in or view intricate parade processions. Celebrities such as Rihanna and Nicki Minaj have been known to don beautiful West Indian outfits with elaborate feathered headpieces during Carnivals in their home countries.
While in Stiges, I was blessed to be able to see so many beautiful costumes. The atmosphere was electric and there was so much dancing. I was having such a great time until I unfortunately saw a man dressed in blackface. For those who may not know, blackface is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “dark makeup worn (as by a performer in a minstrel show) in a caricature of the appearance of a black person.” As you could probably imagine, I was stunned when I saw a man wearing an orange dress with a black long-sleeve turtleneck underneath and paired with black gloves. He completed the offensive outfit with a black painted face, red overdrawn lips and an afro wig. I simply starred at the man in shock and discreetly took two photos as evidence to send to my friends and family. I did not approach him, instead, I choose to document the blatant mockery of black people and afro-centric features. Looking back, maybe I should have approached the man and asked why he decided to wear that costume. Instead, I thought about my safety and how he might be very drunk and potentially combative.
The reason why the costume disturbed me is because I believed blackface to be apprehensible worldwide. Prior to this incident, I had never seen anyone dress in such a manner except in history textbooks and Twitter (when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was outed for wearing a blackface Halloween costume years ago). I thought that since racist acts are largely condemned by the American mainstream media, the rest of the world’s media would follow and blackface would be condemnable internationally. This incident proved me wrong. The man was with his friends and a romantic interest. They were all laughing, drinking and dancing. His friends did not seem to see a problem with his costume, neither did the partygoers around. Since I am black, I am more hyperaware of instances of racism, and I seemed to be the only one that noticed how offensive his costume was (at least during the time I was around him). The following day, I spoke to two of my Barcelona professors about the situation. I showed them the photos and explained my discomfort. One of my professors told me that since there is a lack of diversity in Spain, things of this manner are considered acceptable. The other professor told me, “it’s just Carnaval,” and said that the man wearing blackface is the same as a man dressing in drag.
I understand that cultures vary, and countries develop in different manners; however, I find it absolutely unacceptable that Spain, a country that led the slave trade and colonized many black and brown bodies, has norms that tolerate blatant acts of racism. Although this article might not seem relevant to your life in America, it is extremely important. Our student body is incredibly diverse and hails from every corner of the globe. We are part of the future leaders of this world, and it is important that we understand the myriad of faces that injustice carries, so that one day we can enact change. Sometime in the future, one of you will be at the helm of a world-renowned institution. When that day comes, please remember that racism is still active all over the world, and please enact tangible initiatives that change the way that blackface, brown face, yellow face, etc. are viewed as acceptable in the world. Thank you for reading and I do hope you share this article with your friends and family, some of who might be guilty of this act themselves, or view this type of behavior as normal.