Ahhhh what was it like being in Black in Spain? I thought you’d never ask.
At 20, I studied abroad in the sunny and southern city of Granada, Spain. I had on rose-colored glasses. I just wanted to exist. As I traveled around Spain, Morocco, Italy, and more that is what it felt like. But there were times when people would stare and point at me as I walked down the street in Spain. Other times, I was being stopped and asked if I needed to marry a Spanish man for a visa to stay in the country.
At 22, I moved to teach English as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Logroño, Spain. As a teacher, I wine-tasted my way through Spain’s wine region. I planned the Spring break of my dreams to vacation in Greece. However, I also had to address the n-word in the classroom and became the face of Black American culture as my students knew little about it.
Being Black in Spain had its ups and downs – and obviously I liked it enough to go back twice! But living in the south then moving to the north provided me with two opportunities to understand some differences within the country itself. I am not here to disparage Spain, but I want to share some lessons and experiences. So, here are some things for Black travelers to be aware of in Spain.
Black Travel in Spain Tips
Blackface is still very common in Spain
During my time in both Granada and Logroño, I witnessed blackface. Coming from the U.S., I had seen it before so the sight of it was not new. However, its prevalence caught me off guard.
Blackface came up during Spain’s Three Kings parade and celebrations. It was on commercials, in-school celebrations of the holiday, etc. Asking some Spaniards about it, many did not understand its implications. A few did, but still based on their response to it, it was not a pressing issue to change for them.
Your English level may surprise people
Throughout my experiences in Spain people always seemed surprised that I knew English. Or rather, that I was fluent in English as it is my first language. To be honest, I do not really understand why this was always a shock. People know who Beyonce and the Obamas were, so obviously, they were aware Black people are in the U.S. Thus, if you are a Black American, some people may be shocked when you open your mouth every now and again. And some even assume we speak French instead of English largely due to the African immigrant population.
Our “American” status may surprise Spaniards too
Oh the lovely, “what part of Africa are you from?” question. Don’t we just love it? NOT. I got this question often on my travels in Spain and Europe as a whole. People often assumed I was anything but from the U.S.
It was exhausting when I attempted to explain Black American history in Spanish. If you are a Black American, this question may arise. You do not have to answer it. You can play the dumb, “I don’t speak Spanish” card. Just know, it may be a question that comes up often and it’s 100% your choice to choose how you respond.
Do not assume there are no Black people in Spain
Black people are in Spain y’all! This was an assumption I had, and due to my own ignorance, I was wrong. Afro-Spainards exist whether they are immigrants or first-generation Black Spaniards. Their visibility is another question.
Black Spaniards have and are currently fighting for representation and equality. I went to an event hosted by LMDES and there were Black Spaniards discussing these experiences. Because at the end of the day, Spain is still a homogenous country.
Furthermore, Black people seem separate from Spaniards. In places like Madrid, there is a neighborhood called Lavapies where I found the most Black people reside. In Logroño, when I looked for an apartment, I was told not to live in a certain neighborhood upon arrival. I later found out it was a predominantly immigrant neighborhood, full of Black people (not from the U.S).
A few weeks after, I further learned they were all Black African immigrants. I suspect that my U.S American and English language status played a role in why I was not treated the same as them. I will expand on my social identities more below.
Spaniards will stare and point
Whew, this one took some getting used to. Coming from Black American culture, we do not stare and point at people. Spain operates differently. I could be walking to class, on a bus, or on a beach, and people would stare and point. It was so blatant and uncomfortable at first.
Most times, I chose not to engage and tried to ignore it. Other people I know have asked what they were staring at. I was told staring is a cultural difference which I understand, yet it doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. And Spain isn’t the only country in the world that stares, so it’s not necessarily unique to them either.
During my time in Logroño, I noticed other Black people stared too. Eventually, I befriended an African woman and her son on my daily bus route. We began chatting every now and again, and she was also surprised I spoke English. When I told her I am a Black American, she responded that she knew “we were not the same.”
Black Americans, be aware of our nationality, language, and passport privileges
In the same breath of speaking English, we should be aware of our travel privileges. While our race is one thing, our U.S. American and passport privilege are magnified when we travel. As mentioned previously, there were instances in Spain when I was treated differently than Black people who didn’t speak English nor are from the U.S.
However, this is…complicated. Our travel privileges are not like others. We know that many of our privileges we do not feel when we are in the U.S. Black Americans ended up in the U.S. due to the colonization done by Europeans, including Spaniards.
Even though we may not be fully conscious of our nationality, language, and passport privileges until we travel, they still exist. And they impact how we move through the world and are perceived by others. It is good to have self-awareness and understand the complexity of our identities.
Black women can be and often are fetishized
People dating outside of their race is not new and you are free to do as you please. That is not what I am referring to. Yet, there were multiple occasions where Spanish men attempted to caress my skin because they wanted to “touch a Black girl.”
When I studied abroad, I walked to and from the place where I volunteered. On one occasion, a Spanish man old enough to be my grandfather chased me down to ask if I wanted a husband. He said he loved Black women and had been “looking for one.” It was an uncomfortable situation.
These instances were few and far between, and were similar to being catcalled as I walk down the street or go to the corner store in the U.S. I think being seen as “exotic” was a weird phenomenon for me because that’s not my experience in the U.S. at all.
Pack hair care things you will need
Beauty supply stores or Black hair care stores are rare. Do not rely on buying any products related to our cultural grooming practices in Spain as they often don’t use the same products and there aren’t as many Black people there. While some cities may have some things, it is still very limited compared to our normal.
This means packing any Black hair care tools and products before you visit. If you are in need of Black hair care abroad packing list, I got you covered here. We have our priorities and hair is at the top of the list!
Being Black in Spain? Racism still exists
“Is Spain racist?” is the question everyone asks. Truthfully, I do not like generalizing entire countries. I have not met nor interacted with every person in Spain. Each person’s experience is different based on where they are and who they interact with during their visit.
But, Spain is the home of Christopher Columbus and we know how his exploration ended in the U.S. They are the original colonizers. So yes, there is racism in Spain. I would be lying if I said it was not even though my bad experiences were rare. Most of my interactions were pleasant.
Occasionally, people had clutched their purses around me when I walked past them. I got my bags randomly checked in grocery stores more than my white counterparts. I heard stories of people being denied entry in clubs because they did not want too many Africans or Black people. Afro-Spaniards are fighting for the same representation in Spain that we do in the U.S. That is no coincidence. Racism is a global issue. Even a popular tourist destination such as Spain cannot escape the ugliness of it all.
My final piece of advice for Black travelers in Spain
I’m not here to make a decision for you. That’s on you. My two times in Spain were not perfect. And the funny thing is, I never intended to go to Spain. As a Spanish major in undergrad, I was a girl who just wanted to go abroad. Literally anywhere. Given what I know now, I still would not change my decision! Living in Spain changed my life and perspective in so many ways.
Yes, there are experiences I wish did not happen. But, I learned so much about who I am outside of those experiences too. I learned I could, not only survive but thrive in another country and its language. I saw places I dreamed of and met people I’m friends with years later. So go and make your own adventure too, in Spain or beyond.
Want to know more about Black experiences in Europe? Read this post.
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(This post was originally published on January 21, 2021 and updated on March 1, 2023)
Thank you so much for sharing this helpful blog post. I’m actually planning to travel to Italy soon, so I enjoy reading about your experiences.
No problem! Thanks for reading.
Thank you for sharing. Do you think racism in Spain is mostly due to ignorance as opposed to racism in the US?
In a way possibly because I heard from other English teachers in Spain that colonialism and slavery is taught like “we gave them languages and they gave us labor.” I don’t know if that’s everywhere (I don’t want to generalize), but in some places. So I guess it comes down to what history people are taught (which also happens in the U.S too). All this to say honestly it’s so hard to tell sometimes at this point lol.
What was your reply to the African woman after she said that she knew “we wasn’t the same?” Because, this is the same attitude of African immigrants in the USA… Trying to distance themselves away from African Americans. Me, being a resident of Los angeles… Chicanos or Mexican Americans act exactly the way Spaniards act… Far as making condescending and racist remarks against Black Americans.
Hmmmm I don’t think it was in that regard. It was more of “we’re both Black but still different.” I didn’t take it negatively. It was more about noticing that even though we shared a similar skin color (Black but she was dark-skinned) she knew we were culturally different. It wasn’t condescending at all in that case! But I know everyone’s experience is different.
Do you have any advice on learning Spanish as an adult?
Here’s what I can suggest: watching Netflix shows in English with Spanish subtitles and language learning apps such as duolingo, babbel, etc. Also consider listening to music in Spanish, labeling things in your house with Spanish words to beef up your vocabulary, and/or getting a tutor.
Thank you for sharing this. Traveling to Barcelona, Spain and Rome, Italy with a few of my black girlfriends in a couple weeks and was curious about the black experience over there.
No problem! I hope y’all have fun!!
My wife and I – both black, educated, in our 60s and comfortable – put on our ‘aristocratic’ look when traveling Europe. We dress very well – always. Then, when we get stares, we look up and down at our poorly attired gawker’s clothes and turn away in fake disgust. That always works! We only stay in the better hotels or the pricier Airbnbs to avoid true barbarians. We rent luxury SUVs so we can look down on goofy people staring at us from their cars or the street, and then we turn away hauntily, nose in the air. It’s all in fun, just like their blackface, yes? I’m there to golf and cycle; she does the museums and tourist stuff. In between, we’ve met some great people, but we take no BS from the others. It takes a little money for blacks ‘to be above it all.’ But it’s well worth it.
Thanks for sharing your experience!
Thanks for the blog. I’m planning on living in Spain. Stepping out and try something new. I’ve mostly had negative comments but, hey, crabs in a barrel right!?
Hey Shirley! Listen do you – whatever makes you happy.
I’m not African American (I’m black french) but I read a lot of stories of POC traveling or living in Spain. I have the opportunity to work/volunteer for one year in Northwest Spain but I am a bit worried because this part of Spain doesn’t have many foreigners.
Have you visited or do you know other POC who visited or lived in Galicia, Asturias and Castilla Y León regions ?
Hi! Thank you so much for commenting. I have not visited that far of northwest Spain as much, but I did live in Logroño for a year which is a city south of Bilbao in northern Spain. Logroño did not have many foreigners either. So I would say be prepared for the stares and questions about where you’re from. I also got a ton of questions in the school I was working in from students about my culture, appearance, etc. Not gonna lie it was overwhelming at times but I never had any major life-threatening incidents. I don’t regret my experience, it just took more emotional labor than I anticipated sometimes haha. Hope that’s helpful and let me know if you have more questions!
Thanks for taking the time to lay out this information. Its hard for some people to understand why information like this is essential for us. I’m black from NYC and visiting Fuengirola, Spain later this week. In every travel video I’ve seen from the area the only black men I saw were selling handbags on the corner. I’d like to enjoy alot of the local food and bars and am hoping I won’t be treated like a street merchant everywhere I try to go!
Thank you for your comment Chris! I know Black men can have different experiences from Black women while traveling but I hope you have a wonderful time!!
I’m considering living in Granada for a couple of months as a solo black woman. Are there any safety concerns that I should be aware of? Also, compared to other parts of Spain, how racist is Granada?Obviously, you can’t generalize an entire city, but is the probability of encountering microaggressions (or even overt racism) lower since it is more south and a college town?
Hi Natasha! So happy to hear you are going to live in Granada. I would say I had less racist encounters while I saw there. I think it is because they are used to college students being there. Do be warned though that regardless of where you go in Spain you will probably be stared at as a Black woman. I also feel like I got more questions about my Blackness in southern Spain because I did not look like the other Black people (whether Afro-Spaniards or African immigrants) who lived there. Overall, I loved my time in Granada!
Great post. Thanks!
As a Black British woman, I moved to a town just outside Alicante, Spain with my two young daughters in the early 2000s. Yes, in the beginning the stares were a little uncomfortable but as the years went by, I do believe we were accepted by the locals. My children feel they they were never discriminated against, but being young maybe they never recognised the signs…. My children are grown up and have moved back to the U.K. I am now here on my own and do wish there was more of a black presence here. 5 black people to maybe 25,000 people!
Wow that’s amazing! I’m glad you and your family had such a great experience.
thank you for this run down! i am currently planning on relocating to spain on a digital nomad visa (somewhere between valencia and cartegena) next february. it’s helpful to understand what to look out for. some of your experiences remind me of my travels through greece & italy mostly. men would express how much they love “chocolate” (women)… it was cringeworthy i decided i would just visit for vacations vs settle down for a longer period. i am used to people staring since i grew up in germany in the 80’s-1999, but the pointing will be new!
You’re welcome! I’m glad you thought it was helpful and I hope you enjoy your time in Spain.
Thanks for sharing. Very insightful. I also hail from Milwaukee. I totally understand your desire to travel.
You’re welcome! And always nice to see fellow Milwaukeeans traveling!
Wow this was a very intense article to read. I will never visit Spain after knowing this, the pain that we still go through here in the US is enough for me.
Yeah to each their own! But nothing compares to the U.S. This was far less intense than being born and raised in the U.S so I wouldn’t let this discourage you too much.
Hi Sojourner, I am planning to visit tenerife soon and I’m so hesitant due to all these negative stories I read about pertaining to poc. I check YouTube live videos every day to see if there is a black person and usually I don’t see any. Have you been to tenerife? What are your thoughts about the island? I’m considering canceling and instead going to the Caribbean where at least I know I’m accepted.
Hi Temitope! I have not been to Tenerife so I can’t speak to that experience. I will say that my time in Spain had more good than bad. It’s really up to you. No place in the world is a utopia for Black people, so I wouldn’t let some ignorance deter you from taking the trip
As a woman of colour, with dreadlocks and living in spain, I consider myself to be an educator. When people stare, I smile. I tell myself they have never seen a black person and it’s my job to show them that outwardly, yes we are different but we are all part of the human race. I can be the nicest person going for them to learn just a little about me. I have travelled to many countries in my teen and do believe I’ve been to small town where they hadn’t even seen a black person on television, much less in person! I have changed their views. Don’t go anywhere with preconceived ideas, just believe everyone is nice and if they’re not, we just need to educate them. In the town where I live, in the early days there was a white guy (he looked like a homeless man) with dread locks who was telling people in the bar he hadn’t washed his locks for 6 years!! I was horrified, I have locks! You can imagine what people were thinking. I called him aside and had to explain to him there was no reason for him not to wash his locks despite his European hair texture. I invited him to my home and made him wash his locks and then I proceeded to style it! I’ve now been doing his locks for many years. When I’m on my travels people ask him when I’m back as his locks look a mess (unfortunately he won’t wash it when I’m away). Sorry if I’ve strayed a little from the subject ……
Thank you for sharing! I think it’s beautiful you’ve chosen to educate others in that way. That can be a bit emotionally laborious and tedious for others but if it works for you I know they appreciate it! We can all learn and grow
I’ve been reading these comments about being black I. Spain for some time now and I must say, I have NEVER experienced any if these things you people say happening. No touching my hair, no stares none of that. In fact people have been overtly polite and accommodating. If you look for it or expect it, you’ll attract it. Attitude says a lot.
Thank you for sharing your experience! However, you have to remember there are peoples experiences outside of yours. To essentially say that we attract racism is very disheartening and simply a ridiculous thing to assume after myself and others were vulnerable in sharing on this post. I implore you to think about why it was easier for you to blame those of us who experience racism then those who perpetuate it.
Please don’t put words in my mouth. I’m simply saying don’t go looking for it based on a few comments. I expected you you be counterintuitive as you’ve been dominating this platform with YOUR experience. But there’s es no need to be labelling my comments as ‘ridiculous and throwing words like ‘disheartening’ and racism. If anyone is disheartening it’s you. I’m being positive by saying don’t let other people’s experience put you off. People always throw insults when someone goes against the grain.
Hmmm I think we have different interpretations of what someone means when they “if you look for it or expect it you’ll attract it – attitude says a lot” because that sounds a lot like discrediting our experiences because they do not align with yours. But that’s okay! You are basing that off your experience just as this is my website and I share my travel experiences as well. Again, thank you for sharing – I hope you continue to enjoy your life in Spain!
My boyfriend and I are traveling to Madrid from the US soon for vacation. We are both African American. Do you have any experience traveling there specifically? Your post was very eye opening and much appreciated.
Madrid was cool for me! I love love their food and museum scene. I didn’t live there, but I do feel like since it’s the big city they’re more used to seeing non-Spaniards. But you can still see the division between Spaniards and Africans from the continent. Spain is just super homogenous no matter where you go so you’ll probs always stick out – I still think it’s worth the visit though!
Super helpful, thanks SO much! We’re looking forward to the trip. Can’t wait to eat lots of food and see sights!
Thanks! Have so much fun on your trip!
Sorry that you had problems in my country.As an Spanish person,I have to recognize that some people are a little racist.And maybe the majority we are in a subconscious level.
But I think that you maybe misunderstood some things:
-Black faces: according to the Spanish tradition, one of the 3 Wise Men that adored Jesus was considered from Africa. How could you represent that in the Christmas Parade if you don’t find a Christian Black man that want to participate? Inmigration started in the 1990s and lots of African men are muslims, not christians.
And we don’t want to offend anyone, our history is different and we don’t know the horrible story behind blackfaces in the US (I learned that in the internet).
-Spain was a quite homeogenic racial country( all mediterranean white type)until the 1990s.
We tend to associate African people-poverty,inmigration,problems.That’s not fair, I have to recognize it’s horrible, but that explains why when you tell you are American people treat you different-tourist or student-rich country-No problem
-Stares.We stare a lot to foreigns, to people that look like diferent. If you have had red hair and look like Norweian, we would look at you. And we are quite curious: we make lots of questions to foreign people,we want to know things of other countries. It looks like rude from the outside and spanish educated people try to avoid it, but it’s partly in our nature to stare to a different person and wonder where they come from .
-We are not subtle, we can offend without purpose.Sometimes there is simply ignorance and not a real purpose of offending you.
Having said that, I hope the situation will improve in the new generations and you would feel safe and happy with us.
Hi! I understand where you’re coming from but everything you said I already knew as I was learning about cultural differences in Spain during my time there. The point is that it still doesn’t make it okay. There are things that are embedded into cultures around the world that are racist and discriminatory even if they are part of tradition or part of the customs (especially here in the U.S). So for future reference when a Black person (regardless of their nationality or ethnicity) says they experience not-so-good things in a country due to the color of their skin it is not in the best faith to try to explain it away. Thanks for sharing!
I’m sorry, I did not mind being impertinent or disrespectful.
Of course you are right.
I wrote because the “staring” brought me memories.
My mum is really polite and and I remembered her reprimending me for staring to one of the first afrikan girls that came to town.
I was admiring her colourful dress, she looked like a princess in my eyes.
That’ s why I wanted to clarify that sometimes behind the “staring “ there is just a mix of curiosity, symphaty and even admiration.
Of course, as my mother told me, people can feel really uncomfortable and vulnerable, specially if they are alone in a foreign country.
You have a very interesting blog. I ‘ll keep reading your articles.
Good look and best wishes from Spain!
Understood! Thanks for elaborating. I can definitely tell when it’s genuine curiosity vs just outright staring (it’s hard to put how into words but I can haha). I don’t mind the genuine curiosity though – that’s the beauty of travel. Thanks for reading!
I am so happy I found your blog. My sister’s and I are going to Tenerife this summer. I know you said you hadn’t been there but you have helped ease some of my anxiety about traveling. I’m feeling more prepared.
I’m so happy to hear that Christian! I hope you all enjoy your trip – I’ve heard Tenerife is beautiful.
Thank you for taking the time to write this wonderful blog. My wife and I have planned a trip to Spain this summer for our anniversary. A co-worker lived in Spain as a child and he was telling me about the racism which alarmed me – we had already purchased tickets, booked the airbnb – the works! We’ll be principally in Marbella then a quick flight to Barcelona.
We’re a mixed couple, my wife caucasian born in England and I’m black; we’re both Canadian. We’re a family of 4 but we decided to leave the kids with their grandparents, which after I spoke to my work friend, seemed fortuitous.
Should we be worried in Marbella? I’m guessing Barcelona, is more cosmopolitan and should be ok. But maybe I’m wrong? I don’t want to needlessly worry my wife — it’s supposed to be a celebration! But if people are pointing and staring…yikes. My wife is one of those ladies that attracts attention – I’m afraid we’ll stick out like sore thumbs!
Thanks again for a lovely post!
Hey! You’re welcome – I’m glad it was helpful. In my experience there were less stares in southern Spain when I went to Malaga and Mijas (similar to Marbella). I would say the staring and pointing happens but it didn’t make it less fun or exciting. You will stick out, so you gotta be comfortable with it and not worry too much about what other folks are doing!