Ahh, it’s happened again, the Spanish have come under fire for racist behavior at sporting events, and are totally confused by the world’s reaction.

In a nutshell, some Spanish Formula 1 fans decked out in ‘fro wigs and blackface, uh-huh, blackface, were in the crowd heckling black British driver, Lewis Hamilton.


The reason it’s interesting is that the Spanish fans in question adamantly insist they’re not being racist. I know, sounds absurd, it’s blackface for Christ’s sake! But no, Toni Calderon, one of the fans in question, quoted in The Independent insists:

We went last Sunday and we dressed up to celebrate Carnival. We wanted to give a touch of humour to Montmelo and have a laugh at the father of [Lewis] Hamilton. We didn’t have the slightest intention to laugh at anyone, nor to laugh at the British driver for the colour of his skin. I am not a racist and it has made me ashamed to appear like that in the British press. Also, as I am in the middle of the photo [of four blacked up fans], I seem like the protagonist. This has angered me.

Poor thing. Well, this is not the first time Spaniards have been confused by accusations of racism at sporting events. Four years ago there was an international friendly here in Madrid against the English team. The next day it was all over the British press that the crowd of Spanish fans were making monkey noises every time a black English player got the ball. I had a few Irish friends who were at the game, and said that, seated in the midst of a large group of Spaniards they were shocked to see little kids joining their parents in the taunts, and generally felt embarrassed and hoped the stadium would open up and swallow them.

And what did the Spanish press have to say about that incident? Nothing really. It wasn’t news. And in talking to some of the Spaniards at the bar I was then working at, the Spanish response was the same as it is this time, What racism? That Guardian article sums up the feeling nicely.

Is Spanish racism so ingrained that they’re blind to it, or are they really just innocently heckling? The BBC has an interesting article on how it’s just part of Spanish sports culture. But man, and I hate to say it, it does make them look like a backwater. It’s hardly confined to Spain though, I did once know an Italian who thought nothing at all of making monkey noises at the TV when black players on his own team came on the screen. Baffling.

Sometimes the world feels like a “pañeulo” and sometimes the gulfs waiting to swallow up cross-cultural understanding appear vast. This is one of those times. I love this country, but sometimes, it leaves me mystified.