Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Driving up into the hills today, I decided to use my GPS. Not because I needed to but because I was curious as to whether it’d take me to a tiny village up near Monforte de Lemos. And because the pronunciation of the English lady in it keeps me in pleats. In a word, she can’t get remotely near any Spanish word – even Avenida – and she pronounces road prefixes quite bizarrely. So that the PO533 become the Poe533. And CRG becomes something like Cruj. Anyway, the little wizard couldn’t, in fact, find Trasulfe. Or not, at least, until I was actually in it, outside the house of the American friends who’d invited me for a curry. When it presented me with a little map with the name of the hamlet on it. Which struck me as quite tardy and rather less than useful. I wonder if the Spanish voice will give me as much fun with English names next time I’m in the UK. “Trafalgar Square” should be a good test.

Which reminds me . . . I rather feared I’d lose a few readers because of my paragraph on brand names last night. But, in fact, the number of folk using Google Reader actually rose today. Albeit only by one. Which was nice. What a select group of right-thinking people.

Interesting to see that the Spanish Senate has rejected a motion calling for the bullfight to be given the status of a ‘protected cultural interest’. This had been brought by the (need I say?) right-of-centre PP party, in response to the ban on the “Fiesta Nacional” by the Catalan parliament a month or two back. Perhaps the PP is full of non-progressive liberals.

Which reminds me . . . Another bunch of PP politicians have been arrested for financial jiggery-pokery down in Murcia. Will it never end?

Finally . . . I was a tad surprised yesterday to come across a shop in Pontevedra called “10 negritos”. I don’t think it’s stretching things too much to translate this as “10 Little Nigger Boys”. Though, I guess “10 Little Black Boys” would be possible. And perhaps more acceptable. The mere fact that you wouldn’t see even this latter name in other countries doesn’t, of itself, mean the Spanish are racist. But they certainly lack some of the sensitivities observable in other cultures. And, if challenged, are likely to insist these are excessive, as no harm or insult is intended.

Actually, the official definition of “negrito” runs something like this – “A member of any of various peoples of short stature inhabiting parts of Malaysia, the Philippines, and southeast Asia.” But I suspect this is not, in fact, what the shop owners had in mind.

Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published seven chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.


Rudy Vinyl said...

…no harm or insult was intended… seams to me, to be allways the Spanish excuse.  
Would someone please explain to me  what? the logo ( a small deform black boy ) on the paquet of ( Kongitos ) chocolate cover peanuts, a very well known Spanish product, ment to be ? ( for year as a designer I found  "it" distastefull & as a person disgracefull ) I can't wait. 

Alberto MdH said...

"10 negritos" translates as "10 little niggers" like in the original title of Agatha Christie's novel now known as "And Then There Were None". So I supose that the name of the shop is a reference to that book (wich remains whith the original title in Spain)

The Conguitos design, of course has clearly racist undertones (even with the recent dis-africanication of the logo)

Rudy Vinyl said...

Out of curiosity what? do they sell at the  (10 Negritos ) shop. Books?african Art ? African goods?……  

Mike the Traditionalist said...

When I was a boy there was a chocolate milk sold in a bottle with the name "topsy" and on the front of the bottle was a picture of a little black girl. Uncle Ben's rice with a black man on the front of the box and Aunt Jemima's pancake mix with a black woman pictured on the packet. No one thought anything about it. And to prove how inconsiderate I am, I went to see the Black and White Minstrel Show in London during the 60s. Here in La Coruña, near the entrance to a café, there is a statue of a black boy dressed in fancy garments holding a tray. Hmmmmm! Is it time for the thought police and the PC brigade to make an appearance in Spain in case some people are unable to sleep at night worrying?

CafeMark said...

Isn't it the case that the Spanish word for "black" is "negro", so in fact it's English speakers who have a separate word (intended in spite sometimes) specifically for black people? If any harm or insult was meant by the word, it was English speaking people who instigated it! It's all a load of rubbish anyway, my skin is not white and most "blacks" are not black.

MemorialHall said...

10 negritos does not translate to 10 little niggers, because there is no Spanish word for nigger. That’s why when racists refer to black people they will generally use “negro de mierda”, “puto negro”, etc… because negro by itself is not despective (though it can be with the appropriate tone of voice).

The “no harm or insult intended” excuse is not an excuse, it’s an explanation. The offensiveness of exaggerating racial elements in caricatures (like conguitos) is deeply ingrained in anglo culture, but nonexistent in Spanish culture, probably because we barely had black people in spain until very recently. Black caricatures have never been a way to denote the stupidity of black people (as in blackface shows), or to express hatred of them (we didn’t have any to hate until recently), but only a result of curiosity or a desire to express exoticness. So no harm or insult intended is a genuine reason for Spaniards indeed. And they will have difficulty understanding why anglo culture finds it so offensive unless they are very familiar with it.

The question is whether black people in spain are offended by it. I’d love to see a survey on it. Anecdotal evidence (asking two friends) is that they are annoyed by it, in a similar way as Spaniards are annoyed by bullfighter and flamenco stereotypes abroad, but not offended, suggesting that the offensiveness of racial stereotypes and caricatures is not a universal human value, but a cultural one.

This reminds me of the episode with the Spanish Olympic basketball (I think) team taking a picture while pulling their eyes to make them appear Chinese. The only people who appeared to be offended were Americans. For the Chinese (and Spaniards) it wasn’t even an issue.

Sorry if I sound a bit hostile, but it gets a annoying when others imply that not sharing their values is a form of backwardness or lack of sensitivity. Or even a subconscious form of racism. There is a lot of racism in Spain, but this is not it.

Colin said...

@ Rudy,

Will check tomorrow.

@ MemorialHall

Don't worry, I don't think you were sounding hostile. Your points are well made and well taken.

There are undoubtledly things about the way race is seen/treated in the Anglosphere which are questionable. And things may have gone too far. But, then, I'm not black so can't really tell which is the worse evil. I strongly suspect the racism which was the cause of the (over?)reaction.

On the other hand, one has to consider the attitude of the people who are being described, made fun of, or whatever. As you rightly say, it would be good to know how blacks (if that's today's aceptable word) see their treatment here in Spain.

From the angle of considering the attitude of others, I think it's correct that I'm discouraged from telling the sort of Irish jokes I used to tell as a young man. Because of the (justifialble) sensitivities of the Irish.

And it's rather hard to accept the monkey chanting that greeted black English football players as pure innocent fun, especially after they'd made it clear how offensive they found it. And it's fair to say that if the Spaniards who do this sort of thing believe it's not offensive simply because it's just fun to them and they don't mean to upset anyone, then the least they can be accused of is naivety. And it certainly looks like racism to other whites. And comes across as such to blacks.

This is a large subject. Very hard to do it justice like this.

Colin said...

Alberto MdH,

Yes, I thought it was probably a reference to AC's book, hence my use of 'nigger', Of course, the book has long ceased to be titled that way in English. Used to be "Ten Little Indians" but may be something else these days.

Oh, sorry. I see you've provided the latest title.

Rudy Vinyl said...

Have I? let the cat among the pigens?

1° Mike
I had a collection of "golliwogs " I love them.
I'm please that you can tell the diference between white and black people (impressive), but do yourself a favor and get a bag of "CONGITOS" if you must, and see what I was talking about.
Please don't bother to splained to me,
I all ready know.  

2°  MARK
As a little boy I all ready new that not everything in life was Black and White there was COLOUR! to…
and now I know that, it's not the same ( Dos tazas de té ) QUE ( Dos té  tazas ). 

3°  MemorialHALL
A bit of free Profesional advice ( I usaly get pay for this )
Black? Erotic + Caricature= JOSEPHINE BAKER! every time.… And Never, ever, ever CONGITOS! Everrrrrrrr.
I personaly think that Spain  is a racist country. I'm Spanish and Gallego to! by birth.
Please no more excusses, we must face the facts, and our Demons, it wil be better for all of us, and the sooner the better.
And to all of You thank you. no HARM or INSULT was intended.        

Alberto MdH said...


Ok I stand corrected. "10 negritos" is how "10 little niggers" is translated to Spanish (In Spain, at least) and the fact that negro translates both as black and nigger is a source of perpetual indignation for sanctimonious anglos.

But saying that "Black caricatures have never been a way to denote the stupidity of black people" is going too far. Spain didn't have discrimination against blacks since it had no black population until recent years. But in old times literature, comics and movies blacks were always protraited as stupid, coward, brutal or a combination of the three. Is was only with the influence of american cultural products and the transición that those cartoonish stereotypes dissapeared from popular art forms from the 70s onward (Beign replaced by a set of even more annoyimg but less offensive PC-stereotypes, but that's another tale)