On Poetry and Culture Shock

Exoticism is just another form of racism

Quick background information for foreign readers: Hundred of Africans try to come illegally to Spain everyday, sometimes en route to Northern Europe, sometimes to stay here. Sometimes on wee boats across the Gibraltar Strait, sometimes trying to cross on foot the Melilla border (Melilla is a Spanish town in Northern Africa, right next to Morocco). The ones that come on boats often die. No matter what route they use, they are very often caught and sent back. Nevertheless, I know that my vegetables have been picked by someone who wasn’t born here, and every traffic light in town has a black man trying to sell me tissues.

What amazes me is that the average Spaniard is passively sympathetic of Subsaharians (that is the fashionable, politically correct, term for black Africans), but hostile as can be of Moroccans, no matter if immigrants or not. Why is it? I have a few theories.

  • The average black guy by a traffic light is gorgeous. Seriously. Someone please go and make movie stars of the whole lot of them. Moroccan men, on the other hand, don’t normally fit into Spanish conventions of male beauty.
  • Everyone knows Moroccans are Muslim, and Spaniards don’t like that (and this was so even pre-Al Qaeda). As a culture, we have plenty of stereotypes about Muslims, but very few about subsaharians. Hardly anyone knows that many subsaharians are Muslim too. Ironically, much of it is related to our myths of Muslim treatment of women; who said life is a bed of roses for women in subsaharian cultures?
  • Get the two previous together: it is very easy to romanticise a gorgeous, exotic-looking person if you don’t know anything at all about their culture.
  • In the Spanish imagination, Morocco is not desperately poor, and Southern Africa is that distant place in the news where wars and famine happen.

    In short: It is so easy to feel bad about people who are very, very far away, and so hard to do something constructive for people next to you!

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