Spain is a very white country – I didn’t notice the extent of it, though, until I moved to London.
In Spain, we rarely talk about race. At least I never did. To give an example, Spain doesn’t include a racial or ethnic category in their census and official documents never ask you to state your racial background. Therefore, an official breakdown of the country’s population by race doesn’t exist.
Genetically speaking, Spaniards are a mix of the different civilizations that have conquered the Iberian Peninsula throughout history, including the Visigoths (Northern Europe), Romans (Italy), and the Moors (Northern Africa). However, if we were to categorize the ethnicity of the majority of the population, they would be white.
Nonetheless, I never realized that I was living in a bubble. I went to a school where everyone only two people in my whole year (around 150 people) were people of color, and those two people were both transracial adoptees and therefore had been raised in a white family. Moreover, everyone was also Christian, or at least ‘culturally Christian’.
According to a survey done in April 2020, 61.2% of the Spanish population considered themselves Catholic. Out of the rest of the population, 36.1% of people identified themselves as agnostic or atheist, and 1.8% said that they practiced a religion different from Catholicism. This is of course related to the fact that, until 1975, Catholicism was the country’s official religion.
The fact that Spain’s population is mostly white and Christian is neither a good nor a bad thing. But it made for a very narrow experience of the world. I was never conscious of it until I moved to the UK.
I moved to London in 2016, an exciting year, to say the least, right after the Brexit referendum and before the USA election. Immigration was, therefore, a hot topic of conversation. Moving to London allowed me to come into contact with people that looked different to me, that believed in different things, that had gone through struggles, and it felt like my whole world opened up.
Granted, London is still in Europe. However, it has a very diverse population. In 2019, 40.2% of its residents identified as Asian, Black, or Other ethnic groups. I was excited about being an international student and I often asked people (I admit it, mostly POC) where they were from. The question usually (and understandably) resulted in annoying looks and people stating “I’m from here.”
Since then, I have learned about Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu traditions. I have learned to not make assumptions about people’s origins, diets, or religions. I have learned to recognize the statements and attitudes that are disrespectful, and I notice when a group of people in a position of power have no POC amongst them.
I notice when people stare at my non-white friends, or when they always get the ‘randomly checked’ at the airport.
I realized I had never been fully tolerant, or accepting because I had never been in a situation where I had to be. It is very easy to say that you believe a certain thing or stand up for something when no one is questioning it.
Leaving Spain put me to the test.
I have committed mistakes, I am sure, But I have learned to identify internalized racism and strive to be the best ally that I can be. I have learned the importance of listening and understanding. The most important step, however, was for me to recognize how much I needed to learn.
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