#BlackLivesMatter in Barcelona

During our discussion of La Haine, someone mentioned that the concept of a "race issue" doesn't really exist in France, and this reminded me of a discussion I participated in this fall while I was abroad in Barcelona. About 10 people in our program got together after the Ferguson decision to have a round table, and we ended up talking about experiences with race, racism, and xenophobia in Barcelona and elsewhere in Europe. Our program advisers were surprised to learn that some people in the program had experienced racism everywhere from in classes to on the metro (for example, professors treating students of color differently, people staring and touching hair on trains, etc).

Alarmed by our experiences, one of our advisers came to do another discussion with us, asking us to share our experiences in order to improve the program for future students. It ended up being a frustrating conversation, because our adviser insisted that there's no racism in Spain, only xenophobia. We were arguing the difference between individual prejudices based on race and the systemic racism we saw all around us (no professors of color, convenience stores run exclusively by South and East Asian families that everyone called "Pakis" or "Chinos"), but our adviser insisted that what we were seeing was xenophobia against Moroccan immigrants, East and South Asian immigrants, and even non-Catalan Spanish immigrants (something he experienced as a non-native Catalan speaker).

This was a message we had already received from another professor in our introductory seminar, but we didn't feel it was accurate, and it was frustrating to have white Spaniards and Catalonians invalidate the injustices we saw around us by defaulting to terminology. Even if further research into the terminology did reveal that racism is dead and gone all the way from the Pyrenees to the Strait of Gibraltar, that still wouldn't negate the sting of "well, no students have ever mentioned this before!"


I was disappointed to be out of the US for the beginnings of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, because it meant that I couldn't participate as actively as I wanted to. However, my abroad experience ended up being shaped by the movement, and it in turn shaped my perspective. It allowed me to appreciate and question the merits of being humble and accepting that life in Barcelona is different from life in the US, and the corresponding merits of challenging the norms in a foreign country that are more visible from the eyes of an outsider.