Thursday, August 14, 2008

So, are the Spanish racist?

Well, here are the items I found in today's papers on the subject of the photos of both the male and female basketball teams making slanty-eyed gestures:-

First, a letter in El Mundo:-
I read with shock the criticisms of the Spanish teams for the supposed racist content of the ads in which they stretched their eyes so as to imitate the Chinese. The ad is of dubious taste, infantile and unimaginative. But racist? I can neither believe nor was expecting such a facile journalistic response from various foreign media.

Secondly, the comments of the one of the team members:-
It doesn't make sense that in the USA and the UK they think we're offending the Chinese people. It wouldn't offend me if someone made an ad showing himself as Spanish.

Thirdly, the comments of the President of the Spanish Sports Federation [who is not, by the way, Luis Aragonés]:-
The criticisms in some British and American journals such as the Guardian and the New York Post are malintencional and are designed to try to damage the image of the Spanish basketball teams. They are clearly inappropriate. The gesture was affectionate. The twisted intentions of the English and the Americans would be worth more if they worried more about the racist antecedents of their own countries.

Fourthly, the view of the leading Spanish player [Gasol], who actually plays and lives in the USA:-
Well, I thought at the time it was both funny and offensive. I would not have taken part if I'd known what reaction it would cause.

And, finally, some comments from non-Spanish observers, together with a long Spanish response that is typical in that what it says is not incorrect while, at the same time, the writer misses the point. Thus justifying the headline I saw somewhere - The Spanish just don't get it. Which is true; they don't. Hence the screams of pain and the counter-accusations.

So, the answer to my opening question - Are the Spanish racist? - is possibly No, the Spanish are not racist. Or, rather, they don't think they are because they don't mean to upset anyone. But in this, as in other things, they show a remarkable inability to empathise with other cultures. And so can come across as racist. Just as they can come across at times as being exceptionally rude whereas they think of themselves as very polite. Which, on a one-to-one basis, they always are.

Some would say that, as regards sensitivity to racism, things have gone too far in Anglo countries but not far enough in Spain. And others would say, I guess, that it's a waste of time hoping that that a balance will be struck between the extremes. But you never know.


And now for two 'positive' photos taken in Pontevedra this week . . .

Although this is a mess, it's a legitimate mess as it's the excavation of the Roman approach to the original Burgos bridge, across which runs the Portuguese Road to Santiago. The council is to be commended not only for doing this work but also for keeping it open permanently and for changing the traffic flow so this could be achieved. Bloody nuisance as the roadworks have been for at least a year now. Especially for anyone trying to find the Parador. Which was tough enough before.

Secondly - The Pontevedra council has recently removed the granite blocks used to stop drivers going into this part of the old quarter and replaced them by more-attractive-but-still-granite large words such as this one - VILA. Its mate [albeit a few hundred metres away] is BOA, and together they mean Pretty City. In Gallego, of course. And also Portuguese, I suspect. A bit self-congratulatory, perhaps, but acceptable.

Finally - and reverting to negativity - here's the parking offence that annoys and mystifies me in equal amounts.

Let me explain . . .
1. Those who park like this - to go to the pharmacy - can't be bothered to drive 15 metres to a side road.
2. They park either on or [as here] right next to a crossing, obscuring the view for both drivers and pedestrians.
3. They park just after/between two bends, creating risks for other drivers going either down or up the hill.
4. They force drivers coming down to overtake on a crossing AND to move into the middle of the road - across a solid white line - into the path of cars going up the hill as they are negotiating their bend.

I like to think the people who do this must belong to one or two categories of folk who disdain others - 1. the rich pijos who live at the top of the hill, or 2. the gypsies who live at the bottom. But perhaps I'm being too kind. Maybe you just have to be stupid. Or excessively 'individualistic'.

And I guess the police could stop this if they levied some punitive fines. But the signs are they don't care either.

Later . . .

Well, that was going to be that but, as I drove down to the bridge midday today, I came upon the spot featured above, only to find that not only was a car was parked on the zebra crossing but there was also a delivery van on the other side of the road. This, of course, obliged me to pass through a small gap between them. As I did so, I blew my horn in protest - only to have the [gypsy] driver of the parked car blow his in response and the van driver to throw up his arms in a protest of innocence. However, when I parked and walked back, I found that the van had driven into the unloading bay and the car had taken its place on the other side of the road. And, since it now had its hazard lights on, by Spanish convention everything was now alright. Safe, even. I leave you with the photo . . .


Alex said...

This is what Gasol said:

“I didn’t find it very funny. I didn’t find it offensive, either. I
guess some guys didn’t mind. To me I don’t want to be that way, I
guess, to be doing that stuff.

“If anybody feels offended by it we totally apologize for it. We never
meant anything offensive by it.”


Are you a liar or you can't read?

CafeMark said...

I think Prince Philip's influence has surfaced here (isn't he related to the Queen of Spain?). Bloody Greek!

Eamon said...

It wasn't racist in any way. It just looked stupid and how could a group of adults allow themselves to be photographed in such a childish way. However, in the UK people have been brainwashed since the 70's about racism and now the people are so nervous they can't think for themselves. The race card is played for everything possible which of course doesn't exist in Spain. In the UK people keep apologizing for everything and insist on saying "but I'm not racist" just to cover themselves for fear of being called a racist. People are checking their vocabulary at every instance in case they make a remark that can be seen as racist. Why are they concerned about something that doesn't have anything to do with them? Because it has become an obsession in the UK. Thank God we haven't got to that stage here in Spain. Oh better cover myself here. I'm not racist believe me and I hope any reader doesn't take offence at my statements. See I haven't been brainwashed!

Pedro J. said...


As Antonio said Gasol didn't say I find it offensive so I think you should correct that.

And just to clarify, that photo is part of a campaign for the Spanish market. If the chinese comunity in Spain, the Embassy of China in Spain or the cineses goverment would feel offended I think the ad should be removed and an official apologize given. None of then said the found it offensive or racist.
I'm in Vietnam, I asked vietanmese people if the find it offensive, none of then did, I asked french-vietnamese, they found it funny, I asked american vietnamese and 2 out of 3 found it offensive. So who has the problem?
This was campaign for the Spanish market.
So if the anglosaxon countries still feel guilty because of their racism issues in the past and nowadays. Shall the rest of the world go behave in such a sick political correctness? I'm sorry but the great majority of the world population is non anglosaxon... Try to live with that.....

Colin Davies said...


I am happy to correct the error. But I read that he was uncomfortable and that the sponsors insisted that he participate and they proceed with the ad. Perhaps he was misquoted in the article I read. These things happen.

But I have to ask, are you typical of the Spanish sub-set which resorts to personal abuse immediately Or if they don't like what they read and can't think of an argument? Of which numerous web pages give eloquent testimony.

Ironically, my mistake put Gasol in a better light than what he actually said. He lives in a culture where there is great sensitivity to this sort of thing and yet he couldn't anticipate or empathise with the likely Chinese reaction.

Oh, and by the way, I don't place too much importance on the alleged remark of the Chinese ambassador in Spain that no one in China would be offended. Diplomats, as they say, are honest men sent abroad to lie.

Pedro J. said...

My friends who works at the Emabassy of spain in Bejing and at the Economic and Commercial Office of spain in Shanghai, did a similar survey which their chinese friend over there and most of then asked him, why that would be offensive? actually most of my friends in asian embassies did the same because we wanted to know if is really offensive or just anglo saxon obession....

So the only complains so far come from UK and US..... Who has the problem???

Colin Davies said...


You may or may not be right but such personal surveys are not very convincing. In some cultures you always hear what the speaker thinks you want to hear. Spanish sex surveys are a possible example.

I'd be interested to see the results of a properly conducted survey among the Chinese IN SPAIN but I suspect we're never going to get this.

Anyway, it's not really the point. The point is one should avoid risking upsetting other people by drawing attention to their perceived 'different' characteristics. How would you feel if the Chinese depicted the Spanish as half-Arab, lazy buggers who sponge off their parents until they are 35? Or, more probably, if the Chinese depicted the Spanish in the way they really do think of all Westerners with their 'strange' faces and huge noses? A bit like how the Nazis depicted the Jews.

I'm not, of course, saying that this is how Spaniards really are. Just that some people do see them this way. And I'm sure 100% of Spaniards would be offended. And would not find it very funny or treat it as a 'gesture of affection'.

Pedro J. said...

Do you mean if the chinese media would picture the spaniards as the anglo media do.
I guess we would accept it with humour as we did so far....

By the way and just for your interezt Spain is the second county of the world in number of chinese kids adopted. Not bad for a country which like to abuse asians...

Colin Davies said...


Perhaps you could furnish me with some examples of the Anglo media featuring the Spanish as ugly people with huge noses. As I said, this is how the Chinese tend to see all Europeans.

Or of the Anglo media featuring the Spanish with Arabic features. We are talking physical characteristics here.

Do you really think the [rather volatile] Spanish would take this lying down?

And do you really think that adopting babies from the countries which have the most questionable [i. e. easier] processes such as China, Ethiopia and Rumania is proof of anything other than desperation on the part of the Spanish adopters? If so, I fear you are getting pretty desperate yourself.

Unknown said...

I remember the Spanish kicking up an almighty fuss during Euro 96 their was loads of "Spanish-baiting" in the redtops -- the Mirror listed "Ten plagues Spain has given Europe" (syphallis, herpes etc).

Anonymous said...

Hi Colin.

In my (obviously Spanish) opinion :-D there is no point in taking that childish gestures to extremes.

¿Do you really think that an entire team, the marketing guys from a brand with interests in China, etc. are all racists or dumbs?

If Chinese are not offended, Spanish don't ever think of anything related to offend, show any kind of superiority or laugh at them, who is to blame? They need to do a formal complaint to another anglo tabloid?

I can't see anthing other than "mirada sucia". Well, apart from the obvious need to start or heat discussions when there are sport rivalries. This is done the same way in British, Spanish, Portuguese and probably Angolan newspapers.

I admit that they could pay more attention on avoiding to be unpolite, even (or specially) if they don't know if what they think of ingenuous gestures could be interpreted as offensive. But taking this to the extreme is ridiculous.

What would you think of http://www.basicmedia.co.uk/doteu/worldcup/2006/06/dont_mention_the_war.php ?
Are Ronaldo (and, namely, the entire Brazil country :-D ) and the Korean/Japanese hostess (the same for theirs) terribly rude or the difference is only in the journalist?

What would you think if they were dressed with blonde wigs in Sweden? (We are talking about phisical appearance, not negative considerations like being lazy or ugly).

If it comes to the "my country is less racist than yours" discussion, please don't talk about international adoptions as if they were a bazaar. Obviously, adopting a Spanish child is close to impossible. I presume this subject can't be used as scientific research, but a simple search in google for "fácil adoptar de china" or "easy to adopt from china" brings tons of negative statements.

Moreover, if you think about rooted racism, older generations, presumably with a lack contact with another cultures, etc it has even less sense. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that it is dificult to find "racial superiority" thougts here. You would have an easier chance if you look for the "self-shame" feelings, as "everything that comes from outside is better".

So I think it's much more a problem of sensationalism on one side, and different perspectives from the other. A bit of short sight too, but far from the other two.

Pedro J. said...

Adopting a chinese child is very very easy it "only" takes between 2 and years and 30.000 euros....

Just a little bit of memory Colin....


of course didn't have any intention to offend. right Colin?

Anyway you are fully right.

Spain is worldwide known for heavy censorship in media and oppressing minorities.

In this particular case,the government treated chinese community here that if any chinese inmigrants asocitation or ngo would claim that photo as racist would put a special tax on spring rolls and instant noodles.
Thanks good after 3 weeks of our goverment keeping the chinese quite, the leaders of the free world represented by The Guardian came to help our abused chinese comunity....

God Save The Queen....

Colin Davies said...

All of this is off the issue. Which is:-

1. The Anglo attitude towards racism is to consider the impact on the people who are [allegedly] being insulted. The emphasis is empathetic. Potential insults are avoided, especially if they are of a characteristic [say slanted eyes] which Westerners have made fun of for hundreds of years.

2. The Spanish approach towards racism appears to be it all depends on the attitude of whoever made the comment or did the gesture. If this was 'innocent' [albeit stupid, childish, etc. etc.], then there can't possibly be racism. Luis Aragones is reputedly a clever man but this was his defence in the Henry case. "All just a joke. I never intended to insult him."

It is, of course, true that Anglo societies take things too far. But, if you are going to make a mistake, it is surely better to make it in this direction than carry on like many Spaniards believing that anyone who feels insulted is the one with the problem. It is, I have to say, a very self-centred attitude. Stuff your feelings. All that matters is how I felt and what I thought I was doing.

But at least some of the people involved in this incident have now said that they are sorry if any offence was taken when none was intended. This is a good start. Far better, though, to do some thinking in advance and avoid the risk of giving offence.

If you re-read my blog, you will see that this is what I was saying.

Pedro J. said...

1. The Anglo attitude towards racism is to consider the impact on the people who are [allegedly] being insulted. The emphasis is empathetic. Potential insults are avoided, especially if they are of a characteristic [say slanted eyes] which Westerners have made fun of for hundreds of years.

oh yes, slanted eyes is a tabu topic.

But if an English newspaper says the spanish football players will let a mustache grow to look like their mothers. That's not offensive racist or anything.

happily there is no double moral in anglos societies.... Oh wait...

An the point here is, that the supposedly offended part don't feel offended, the supposedly offenders didn't intend that. But anglos are offended and claim spanish are racist with nice articles as this one....


I'm sorry but I think what anglo medias are doing is hypocrite and abussive

Colin Davies said...


"But if an English newspaper says the spanish football players will let a mustache grow to look like their mothers. That's not offensive racist or anything."

Of course, it's offensive. Who says it isn't? This is a false argument.

2. The Spanish are not a separate race, most would say. They belong to the Caucasian race.

So arguably the comment is not 'racist'. But it's certainly offensive. Whatever the intentions of whoever said or wrote it. And regardless of whether 1 or 100% of Spaniards are offended.

Objectively it's offensive. Just like making slant-eyed gestures about the Chinese.

You don't seem to be able to grasp my points. Perhaps because you are so angry at what you see as hypocrisy and abuse in Anglo newspapers.

Or maybe I don't make them clearly enough.

Ah well. That's it from me.

Please - no more sarcasm. It really doesn't impress.

Alex said...

I could give you arguments, but I don't see the point with you.

If I said that I don't think it is racist, you would tell me that that proves I'm a racist.

If I said that my Chinese friends were not offended you would tell me that they say what I want to hear.
[which, incidentally, reminds that song
I like Chinese.
I like Chinese.
They only come up to your knees,
Yet they're always friendly, and they're ready to please ...

But since it is English you probably think it is very funny rather than racist]

People in China have slit-eyes and in Nigeria they are black.These are facts, no offences. I guess the problem with Americans and Brits is that their colonial and segregationist past is too recent. Within living memory. Many have to try hard to pretend they aren't racists and hide their feelings. So these racists cannot say in public what they think, so they criticise everything related to race to avoid making any "faux-pas" and being accused.

Obviously, things are much easier with a clean conscience

Nevertheless, younger generations seem to have a bit more of common sense.
This is what a young Brit thinks of the issue:
And if the misconceived Olympics ever get held in the UK and any team from another country were to wear bowler hats and carry rolled umberellas as a parody of the British that would be considered jolly good fun no doubt?. Which of course it would be. Only morons and the inadeqate seem to have a need to whine about these incidents.

Colin Davies said...

Well, Antonio, you won't be surprised to hear that I think your views are classically Spanish.

The Nigerians are black

The Chinese have slanty eyes

The Jews have big noses

The Spanish have a lot of Arab blood

Yes, these are all facts. But the funny things is, people don't like being reminded of them. Especially when they are used to manufacture racial stereotypes.

But I am relieved you won't be wasting any more time trying to prove to me how objective, rational and enlightened you are. After all, it is a lost cause.

Be happy.


Colin Davies said...

Oh, I forgot. It's fact that most negroes have big fat lips and funny curly hair. So every cartoon of an African in Spain must show these.

Pedro J. said...

Well, To me the funniest thing is everytime you say spanish have a loot of arab blodd and you think that's offensive. I'm andalusian here we have for sure the biggest portion of arab blood and we are extremlet proub of our "legado andalusí" I can understant that when you say that to an asturian or galician they don't like it much because in their case it's probably not much true, anyway, I'm not sure what you mean about arab blood, the muslims that came to the spanish peninsula came from arab countries and north african countries, are Moroccans also arabs? by the way which one is the arab race? Most of spaniards don't know how to segregate races, when you sumbit yourself at the register in at the city hall there is no race field.

Firts time I had to write was in Switzerland but for a british company of course, and I didn't know what to write, they had caucasuian, asian, hispanic, black... Am I caucasian? What the hell is Hispanic? Mexicans are hispanic I know many mexicans which look more europeans than many french. Asian, are kazakhs and indonesians the same race???

Sorry but as we have no history of racial segregation we don't know much about that.

By the way I nust life in one of the most racist countries in the world because here in Vietnam they remind me my phisical differences almost everyday. According the anglo approcah I should very offended althought and I don't see any intention from their side. And when girls says wow you ahave hair in your amrs like a monkey! I should give then some lessons of political correctness... Or maybe you are just racist when you point phisical differences of any person which is not whit?....
I think you and the rest of anglos who still think that gesture is racist regardless the intention should think deep about that...
But anyway it seems "Anglos just don't get it.."

Pedro J. said...

I should send this to the guardian, it shoes tat we have been always mocking asians... Renfe Shpuld apologize...


I'm pretty sure the the Japanese felt very offended by that Ad. I remember for some years Tortilla de Patatas and Flamenco where totally banned in Tokyo....

Colin Davies said...


I'm warming to your logic as I guess it means that, if I were to call you an insensitive, self-centred, naive pillock but insisted I had no intention whatsoever to upset you, then you could never be upset.

I have to say this has a certain appeal. Though I am reluctant to do it as I feel you might just be at least a tad upset, regardless of my intention.

And it might mean I could never sue anyone for negligence - say a drunk surgeon who killed my mother - if he/she insisted that her intention had been to do the job properly.

So I'd better re-think this . . .

Pedro J. said...

Well. This is the last comment I make on this nonsense topic.

We are not accepting lessons from anglo-saxon in racism, we do do not accept that your way of thinking is the only right and must be impossed all around the world.

And to summarize how stupid is it, just read this article from WSJ.


It seems this guy musy think the Chinesese are as dumb as the spaniards one don't notice that they offend and the others don't get offended. Thanks good The anglos are there to make us understand what we must think.

this is as simple as this
Spanish company want to make ad for spanish market, they want to make a wink to the olympics in Bejing.
Chineses don't find it offensive, spanish basket players didn't intent to offend at all.


Colin Davies said...


You are free to think as you want, either as an individual or as a nation. No one is trying to give you lessons, merely giving an opinion on how you think and operate.

And certainly no one is trying to impose anything on anyone in Spain. The fact that you think they are suggests that I might be right to think you lack logic and perspective.

And you remain free to comment on my or anyone else's opinion. We are all capable of drawing our own conclusions as to whether you are right or fair.

I do hope you are never hit in your car by a driver who, say, has a dog on his lap and who is using his mobile phone but is doing this in Spain where this sort of thing is not uncommon and, not intending to drive stupidly, thinks he is such a talented driver that he can drive safely like this. I doubt that you would be any more impressed by his intentions than I would.

I have enjoyed you contributions but, on balance, am glad that this was your last comment. If it was.


Alex said...

The last paragraph about the driver shows your lack of convincing arguments and your incompetence to discuss anything without being offensive.

You could also have mentioned the Spanish Armada and the Conquistadores. Two topics that the Brits usually like to mixture with everything.

Alex said...

only to have the [gypsy] driver of the parked car blow his in response

That's quite racist!!! Isn't it?

For a non-racist person the race of the driver is irrelevant!

Siempre hablan los mejores.

Colin Davies said...

Well, you see, Antonio, it links back to an earlier comment when I theorised it was pijos from the top of the hill and gypsies from the bottom of the hill who parked their cars in this spot. Because neither of them had a habit of showing much consideration for others.

Perhaps you could go to the Gypsy Label on the right and read what I've written over the years about the different types of gypsies here in Pontevedra before you [re]accuse me of racism. But you CAN accuse me of pijoism, if you like.