Being B(l)ack in Spain: Morena vs. Negra


Of course being in Spain puts race on the top of my reflections list. My Catalan teacher, despite our rough introductory sessions, is pretty cool. (well we don’t talk about Africa anymore…lol… and she’s an Obama supporter… whatever that means).

We were talking about the difference between people’s experiences in Catalonia vs. other parts of Spain. Of course she was proud that her region was more progressive than others, and I would have to agree with that.

Specifically, I told her about how living in Cordoba was difficult because there were so few black people in the town. Every where I went it was “negrita” this and “negrita that” and that was when people were being polite.

My experience in Catalonia hasn’t been perfect, but talking to my teacher about what I’m called made me realize that I’m referred to as morena here. I prefer this term because frankly “negrita” is to close to the N-word (cultural relativity aside… Don’t call me a NEGRITA!).

Case in point:
Walking through Placa Catalunya (more or less the heart of the center of the city). I heard someone yell out to me “hey morena que guapa estas” or something like that (hey black girl, you are so pretty!) Well, let me make it clear, I wasn’t smelling myself that day. One of his friends said, “that one over there?” and he replied “No, una morena- morena!” (no, not a brunette, a black girl!). I thought it was funny.

Today I went to buy a cell phone and all the clerks sat behind little stands scattered around the store. Customers just need to wait and then walk up to whichever one is open. When I came in there were two people standing at the door (a man and a woman talking on a cell phone) and two sitting down waiting for a friend. I came in and was a bit confused by the store set-up so I stood and watched to see what everyone else did. Two other people came in and just walked up to the empty stands and conducted there business. When one was done, I walked up and the woman begins yelling “hey we (i.e. the man that was at the door) have been waiting way before she came in!”

I am not about to cause an international affair because of some random rude woman. So I said, ok whatever, I will wait. The guy at the door took my place. But esa  mujer did not stop there. She said something about me to the person she was talking on the phone with, I didn’t hear it all, but I did hear “una morena” (a black girl) and, “no they can’t just do what they want.” (something to that effect) WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was so mad after hearing that! But then she went up to her kiosk. Then again, what would I have said/done anyway? On one hand I know what I heard, I may speak Spanish with a stutter, but I hear it just fine. On the other hand, one must be absolutely sure. Raising a raucous in a room full of white folk in a country that is not my own, in a language that is not my first, is probably not the best thing to do either.

Actually I am even madder now, because its only as I write this that I realize that two WHITE people/Spaniards (whatever the heck they were) had come in after I did and jumped in line (hence the confusion) y esa mujer did not say anything. It’s only now that I am fully convinced that her actions ring of something that starts with an R and ends with an –acism.

Now, I am mad at myself, because if I had realized it earlier, I would have made that point. But the time is passed.  I hate events like these because they for me they are the ones that cut deep. I was minding my business, just trying to grab a phone before catching a train ride home.
They were just words, but I hate myself for having such a delayed reaction/reflection time. I don’t remember her face in fact I could meet her tomorrow and not realize it. But I will always remember what happened today. That is what for me is the saddest part of it.

No, I’m not going to walk around ready to hit the next Catalan I see, but its events like these that give me pause and remind me that of what some people still think being black/of color signifies. It aslo makes me swear off living abroad.

Event like these, even if they only happened once a year, are much more than I care to encounter. No the U.S. is not the holy Grail when it comes to race relations, but it’s a dynamic that I have grown up in and like it or not, am a part of.

Dealing with events like these would make me one of two things: 1. Crazy/clinically depressed 2. Angry + volatile= dangerous. Life is too full of other things to add racist b&^%7@!, no matter how petty, to it.


29 thoughts on “Being B(l)ack in Spain: Morena vs. Negra

  1. Malik M.

    I am brown (medium) skinned Black American. I’ve been to DR as well as Peru. I never encountered overt racism in either place. In Peru I was called a Moreno. In Santiago, Dominican Republic I was also called “Moreno”. Racism exists everywhere, but I felt more comfortable in those countries more so than I feel in the USA. In both places people assumed I was a native and only realized I was a “Norteamericano/ Gringo” until they heard my accent. They describe a person’s color casually and in openly; yet I feel that this is cultural rather than racist. Negrita/o is a term of affection for people of all complexions of the countries which I’ve visited in Latin America.
    In Peru, I noticed all peruvians of asian descent were called “chinos”. In both DR and Peru the upper class is more or less white or lightest complexioned…as it is in most places of the world. I try to have a positive attitude when ever I travel and enjoy the variety of all of us “human beings”.

  2. Hey I’ve been living in southern Spain for a few months. I am 14 years old and have been finding it very hard to integrate with the Spaniards as a black female. I start school in September and I’m really worried about making friends and being accepted any advice? Thank you.

    • Sarah

      Hello, just be yourself. Be super kind to people, and smile even though it can be difficult. Those ignorant and closed minded people will treat you with respect once they get to know you probably because they have never had contact with black people before.

    • Janna

      Be strong. Remember that if you do experience racism or discrimination it’s not because of who you are, it’s because of the other person’s ignorance. Be yourself and show confidence. I know the teenage years are not usually the kindest 🙂

  3. Borja

    Dear Sasha,
    The Lack of acceptance in Spain was just related to a confusion, for us, you look dominican republic or any other latín america Black female. I dont want to piss u off, but we/they are not used to get along with people that usually works as mades or housekeeping.
    You should have come to Madrid, where we are open minded,

    • Andrea

      Sorry?! I don’t know wich part is worse, that you’re putting black latin american females under north America females, that you’re assuming that their jobs are house cleaning and being maids, or that you are assuming that we/Spaniards are all classist like you and think that are jobs more respectable than other. It’s funny how you said you are open minded and then you write a comment like this.

      For the girl that has written this post:
      I’m sorry that you’ve had to encounter a woman like that. Hopefully you’ve met fantastic people here and you have wonderful memories of Spain. I hope that, If you come here again, we as a society have mature enough to treat everyone, no matter the country, race or sex as they must be treated; equally.

      Best wishes,

      • Janna

        Right lol. Basically saying you assume the brown people are the maids and that your kind doesn’t get along with “the help” doesn’t make one sound open-minded at all smh.

  4. gazelledusahara

    Looking at these comments years after I originally wrote this post has been interesting. (Happy that it resonated with some enough to post). Just wanted to point out that there are bad (racist) apples everywhere in Spain and everywhere in the World. No region is immune from it; that was kind of my point. Catalonia is one of the most progressive regions and I still had an an unsavory encounter with discrimination.

    Also want to point out that I get really annoyed by the “well you look different” excuse. I don’t that holds water for grown adults. The truth is, they should know better. Period. We teach children not to stare at people with visible disabilities, to not single handi-capable out for being different, because we recognize that it’s discriminatory to do otherwise. This isn’t necessarily a universally accepted concept, but it holds for many societies. Unfortunately, many of the same communities that stare and make people who are racially or ethnically different feel uncomfortable.

    So yeah, staring at me because I look different is stupid and ignorant. But, that’s just MHO.

    • antonio

      Morena or negrita is very lovely way to call a lady whom greatgrandparent marry a white! Almost white! In south america any black descent can only have a job as cleaner! Also due this ppl normally no attend school due strong racism in past that is still casting them out or cox their parents education they cast out themselves! Racism is unfair but does exist where u cant notice also! There is a heritage on.manners ..voice tune..others that may explain why racism..but I repeat. .its unfair!
      All best

  5. Castaño

    You should also think that in Spain “morena” means both “dark skin” and “dark hair” (it is also a surname).

    I am Spanish and my sister has black hair and very white skin. I can call her morena as something very friendly. I have Brown hair and White skin. If I go to the beach, and I am sun bathed, someone could call me “moreno”.

    Morena as negra (black) or pelirroja (red haired) is not an insult. It depends on the way that you say it.

    Some examples of songs about “morenas” and not speaking about racism:

    • gazelledusahara

      hmmmm….it seems like you didn’t understand the underlying message in my post. I am well aware of the fact that morena can either refer to hair color or skin color and point that out in the blog entry. And I pretty much say in the very first paragraph that I prefer being called morena rather than negrita.

      Thanks for the music though.

  6. Ari

    Hey! I loved your video and your explanatory post. I´m from Spain and I must say that in my opinion Spanish people tend to be more classist than racist. But anyways and counting on the fact that this post is about racism I must say that I´ve found how confused people can be on how to use certain terms and I´m not justifying them, on the contrary I have very strong feelings about that specific stupidity called racism.

    I always thought calling a black person moreno, morena or morenito or negrito was WAAAAAAAY more racist than putting it as simple as it is: it´s a black person. I have never had any problems with calling someone who´s black, well, black, but I´ve even heard comments such as “oh you can´t say that in public because “negro” is racist but “morenito” isn´t”. Excuse me? How is “morenito” or “negrito” not racist? I honestly cannot tell where all this confusion is coming from plus being racist in Spain doesn´t make much sense to me. I am light brown, coffe mixed with milk if you want and the majority of people I know are. In Germany and the US I was considered “a woman of color” which simply made me laugh just because I had never been self-aware regarding color before, but some people outside my country made me self-aware.

    I guess race was never important to me because belonging to a culture that is mainly white makes it easier for me.

    Anyways, thank you for your video, I just hope you´re not bothered by people insisting on how Spanish people are not racist. There´s a little racist inside all of us, unfortunately, at least when you belong to traditionaly dominant cultures. (Hello white males.)

    • gazelledusahara

      Welcome Ari… I am NOT the woman in the video that many people are clicking on to get here…. she just linked to my blog post because it illustrates her point.

      The morena vs. negra thing has a lot to do with semantics and the cultural context in which the words are used.

      As an (African-)American woman, and because of the ways I have tended to see negra used more negatively, I don’t like the word and see morenita as far more neutral because it refers to hair OR skin color. Negra pretty much always refers to skin color.

      As for the person of color thing, again it’s all about context. It’s the socially acceptable term to use in the US… I can’t speak for Europe.

  7. Hello! I am Aliya a 19-year-old girl born in Dakar Senegal with French/ Egypt descendant and grown up in Barcelona Spain from 4 years and dealing university studies nowadays. I contact you because from the Afro department of the Association residents in Spain we saw your video on your experience in Spain in this case in Galicia and feel very alluded with your experience and I would like to clarify a bit a few ideas.

    It seemed to us to be brilliant that you were deciding to come to know Spain because a country until you do not live with them you cannot know since it is and the truth is that here the black this very ignored race and is underestimated very much and overcoat when you are from African countries. In Spain they tend to put differences of color in general when you have a dark skin you suffer more racism than when have a skin rather clear or ‘morena’. The racial conflicts are suffered and many are lived daily young guys of my age suffer it in the colleges, institutes etc… Because already of very small they classify the color.

    To my me to great side to come hitherto up to this level of studies because there are same the teachers who fight in order that you do not come far in your life. And it is something that if it depends on that you present or cities it improves but more or less it is everything same, I remember that in this last January it came to visit a friend of mine called Kaya of The angels with his mother they came here in Barcelona and in some of the meetings they decided to take the train Before I was coming from the university and then in the lunchtime his mother commented on me: Ali, because here the people when you rise in a train look at you and do they feel in another seat as if it was that they run of you? And he says to me is that in the United States in the public sites we sit down all together as if we were a tin of sardines, and adds there there is many cultural diversity … but what makes us equal is that we are human and American…

    And it is a very infinite topic right here the people of white race that it makes friends ‘ negro / morena ‘ or pairs suffer racism for going with people of ‘color’ and indeed here it is an ordinary enough topic.

    Finally I am going to tell you personal my topic that I spend to myself for which it sews leave Spain. Were going I and my sister with my small nephew for the street and a woman started insulting us saying things as ‘ negress of shit ‘ and then he says ‘ you are low first we go the Chinese and then these slaves ‘ so my sister I bring over and ask him to whom it was going? And she said to you so we do not come to the violence because it does not take you to any place and we went directly to the police to put a denunciation.

    They happened the months till when I come ‘theoretically’ the judgment and when we were underestimated us in such a way that the judge did not come and I give the orders to the secretary in order that it was informing us of that my denunciation is not cost because it is not any ‘ indictable topic ‘. And this it was the feeling mas hardly that I never had here imagine that there are no laws against the racism since I am nationalized Spanish mind.

    And from there “I” decided “to ‘leave” Spain because I realized that for much that was fighting against this mentality it is the reality and they take it very present and nowadays I am living in Paris and it me goes very well here they consider me to be a person. Only I go to Spain occasionally to visit to my ‘some’ family.

    It might be explaining many mas to you anecdotes but it would become very long, I hope that you have understood well the reason of the letter and if you need to know some thing mas in bottom you can comment on it to me perfectly.

    Thank you!!

    • gazelledusahara

      Hello, I AM NOT the woman from the video. She linked to my blog page, but this is not her blog. You will need to message her via her Youtube page.

  8. Do you realize that negro is the spanish term for black?, it is not an insult, we don´t have those silly tabús you have in the US (Like saying “n-word” instead of nigger o negro). Having said that, you have to assume, you like it or not, that negrita is a very kindly and friendly way to refer a black girl, actually you don´t have to be a black girl to be called negrita, i call negrita to my girlfriend who is tanned white. I think racism lies on your eyes, typical american way of thinking where everybody is worry of showing some slight sign of being possibly “racist”.

    • gazelledusahara

      Thanks for apparently, not really reading my post and just coming on here to reiterate information that you would have known that I am well aware of, had you taken time to read the post.

      Here’s a quote from the few paragraphs I wrote in the blog post:
      “My experience in Catalonia hasn’t been perfect, but talking to my teacher about what I’m called made me realize that I’m referred to as morena here. I prefer this term because frankly “negrita” is to close to the N-word (cultural relativity aside… Don’t call me a NEGRITA!).

      Case in point:
      Walking through Placa Catalunya (more or less the heart of the center of the city). I heard someone yell out to me “hey morena que guapa estas” or something like that (hey black girl, you are so pretty!) Well, let me make it clear, I wasn’t smelling myself that day. One of his friends said, “that one over there?” and he replied “No, una morena- morena!” (no, not a brunette, a black girl!). I thought it was funny

      I said PREFER to be called morena rather than negrita, Yo hablo el Castellano… so yes I know negra means black. And I know that it’s not always meant as an insult. I know that in Spanish and even Portuguese speaking communities, it’s even used as the generic word for girlfriend.

      But, please don’t act like it’s never used in a negative way…. because it can be and has been used in that way and that’s why DO NOT PREFER the word negrita. Also, if you read my account of what happened in the phone store you would know that I am talking about more than just the use of one word or another, you would also know that I try to reflect on these types of experiences and put them in perspective.

      El racismo exists everywhere, and you are prime example (it seems) of those who choose to ignore it in their own communities rather than fight it. The fact that you think color does not play a role in Spanish society clues me into this blindspot of yours.

      At the end of the day, If I don’t like a particular word, I am free to express my preference for something else. This post is several years old, but for the record I have spent time in Spain on three separate occasions,not as tourist but as a student and then as a researcher. I am genuinely interested in the intricacies of Spanish culture and multiculturalism in the Spanish context. With that said, I am NOT pulling these experiences out of a hat. It’s patronizing when people who have ZERO idea about what it’s like to be a person of color in a place think they can tell me what I should be “happy” or feel honored to be called. How about you don’t refer to my skin color at all?

      At the end of the day, I have a had a lot to say about Spain… so sad that everything seems to come down to this post… that people don’t really read, but love to leave comments.

      Is this idea so revolutionary? sigh.

      • Tara brown

        EXACTLY ! Tell him girl! I can’t stand people like him. I currently live in Spain. I live in Valencia. I’m an English teacher and I’m so happy I came across the video on YouTube which was linked to your blog post. Being black in Spain has been an interesting experience since I can identify with the same annoyances and struggles. I have wanted to leave Spain because of the lack of diversity, my inability to connect with people who understand me on a racial and cultural level. I have been an offered a contract position to reach at a university here but the lack of cultural understanding and diversity is keeping me from wanting to stay. It’s been difficult as a black American and I’m not fond of the totality of Spanish culture. Their racism isn’t as overt but it’s extremely detectable. You get tired of being the only black one amongst all groups and dealing with the stares and questions. I had a person ask me if black people get darker if they tan since they’re already dark. Like wth???

      • gazelledusahara

        I am so sorry you’re not having as good a time as you could be … and thank you for your understanding. People really can’t even begin to understand what it’s like to be in a place where you are experiencing things very differently from everyone else so they look at you like you are crazy. But your experiences are valid. And yes, it gets played out pretty quickly. Being black and going abroad shouldn’t have to be as complex as it can sometimes be! I wish you the best in deciding whether to stay or go (and if you stay, hope you can make it up to Barcelona frequently because it was still a lot better there than it was in some of the other regions I went to :-/

      • For starters, there’s just one tiny thing that makes me believe Spain is far less racist than the States or any other Anglo-Saxon country: when you fill in a form here, you will never, ever, see a box asking whether you are Caucasian, white, black, afroamerican, Asian, or whatever. We don’t even know what all those words mean. Am I Caucasian? Am I white? Spanish? Whatever, I always put “I don’t want to say” just out of sheer ignorance. We may be not cultured on the subject of racism, but really: We. Don’t. Care. About. Your. Skin. (Obviously I am not talking here about the whole Spanish population. It’s a generalization. There are racists everywhere in this rotten world).

        That being said, you should know that here in Spain is quite common (again, I am generalizing) to talk about the unknown people around us referring to their physical features. Example: maybe, when you start working at a new place and nobody knows your name yet, you will be called “la negra” o “la negrita”, just as I would be referred as “la del pelo corto” (as short haired girls are not as common as those with long hair), my father would be “el gordo” (he weighs more than 115 Kg) or my mother has always been “la rubia” (her hair is unusually fair). I get it’s not nice to be so focused on looks, but you should understand that, regarding racism, Spain hasn’t had any history on the subject as black population has always been extremely low here. As I said before, we may be not educated on the subject, I accept that.
        What I mean with all this is that you might be called “negra”, but that would not be necessarily an insult (in most cases) or a case of racism. We are not so sensitive in that matter. Hell, even I would refer to you as “la negra” until I knew your name, and I consider myself an educated, open-minded and definitely not racist person (I have gone to university abroad, travelled a lot and met people from many countries in the world). You should understand it’s just who we are (especially older people). We are harsh, moody, loud people. When in doubt, take no offense and go get a beer with us. We are nice 😉 (Again, in a broad sense).

        About the phone store, that was just a rude woman using the way I explained to address you. And regarding the “negra-negrita-morena” thing, don’t expect anybody to call you “morena” here in the south. There are slight differences in the uses of words among the regions in Spain, and in Andalucía, “morena” only means “tanned” or “with black/dark brown hair”. On the other hand, “negrita” strikes me as a very silly way to refer to anyone. “Little black girl”, really? What the…?

        By the way, I am from Córdoba, and I am really sad you had a bad time here. I am sure you just had bad luck with your company and I apologize for them. If you ever decide to come back, let me know! I can show you the nice side of this town, hahaha.

      • gazelledusahara

        Thanks for the invite Emme, not sure if and when I will ever go back to Cordoba though, 4 months there was bastante, no?… there are other parts of Spain I still haven’t visited.

        Yes, you don’t have native Spaniards who are black or the long twisted history that the US has with race. But that does NOT mean that black people can’t experience racism in Spain. Honestly, a lot of the racismo I have witnessed wasn’t necessarily even directed towards black people: Latin Americans, Moroccans, South Asians and Eastern Europeans have all been the butt of cruel jokes and treated with disdain before my very eyes. What am I to make of that? Prejudices exist in every culture. Spain is not immune.

        I’ve pointed out many times and even some of my other posts, I am well aware that Spanish and Spaniards can be more blunt. I understand the cultural nuances of negra, morena etc.

        I am a reasonably intelligent person and know when someone uses these words with malice, vs. when they are just using them as descriptors.

        Please understand, that when you try to explain away an experience I have had as not racist (i.e. what you did with the woman in the store…. maybe you need to reread that encounter because she said “We can’t let THEM get away with everything.” unfortunately, I remember all my conversations, no matter what language they are in originally in English, so I couldn’t write down what she said in Spanish. But please don’t patronize me and tell me she was just calling me negrita as a way to describe me. She was clearly annoyed that a woman of AFrican descent, that she assumed to be an immigrant was in the store. Who is the “them” that she was referring to? obviously African immigrants.

        That’s el racismo, I also believe in being blunt and calling things as they are.

  9. Sandra López Muñoz

    Hi! My name is Sandra and I’m from Sevilla, a city of Andalucía in Spain. I’ve already seen your video about your AWFULL expirience in my country and, first of all, I wanna say that I’m sorry hat you felt like this with that family in Galicia. But, if you allow me, I would like to say a pair of things about Spain and their diferents areas along the country, so may be you could understand better what happend to you in you visit.
    I won’t lie, the are a hole part of the population here that are -excuse me for the word- very, very stupid. But is not only that, the are ignorant in most of the parte, and the are very close mind too. This is cause by multipler factor like 1) after our periodo of dictator with Franco people mind radicalized about many of thing, but most of all in the diferentiation of people, even their own! So, don’t worry thinking that the looked at you only because you are black (a word that, personaly I hate so much). If yo were with skin but with both colours of eyes, for example, the would seen you in the very same way, because is no how you look like, but that you ARE NOT spanish. That’s all. Even my, that I’m from de southern part of Spain, I’d look like a weirdo for them, because were look diferent in the clothe we wear, the way we think, and most important, the way we speak.
    2) I although want you to know that in Spain is exactly the opposite way than America. Here, “black” people is not a “normal” thing. Let me explain this. Yeah, of course we see black people in the street, but normally you see them like immigrants that, unfortunally, aren’t integrated in our society like regular laboral people. The sell stuff in the street (bags, movies, sneakers, etc), but -at least in 24 four years I haven’t see it- they are not doctors, bartenders, lawyer or any other regular job ruler by the goberment. So, that’s a special factor that explain why some people here see black people like usless or someone that they are STEALING their helps for central goberment. This is a horrible way to think, but this is how it is. They are no used to see black people like another normal citizen, ant even knowing that surely will sound terrible for you, is the truth, because we have not here the grand black population like in USA.
    Personally, I think that is a thing that we, like a country, we need to change, no only in fact, but also in mind. And that Sasha, is the most difficult thing to do here. I can asure you that.
    Other thing that made me laugh about your video was your description about your “kidnapping” in the grand’s hand. Let me say you something. Here, in Spain, that’s is a very common thing to do with people. I mean, friends and family usually tangled their arme, like you described, for taking a walk -along the beach, a mall, a park, anywhere- so son’t feel it like she wanted to keep you bound to her for meaning reasons. It’s just something than we make here, is part of our culture, I guess, but I understand that made you felt unconfortable. Actually, sometimes it make me too, at least if is someone that a don’t have trust enough to do it.
    About the “Noche de San Juan” and the people not approaching you in the beach, that could be by two reasons: 1) In north they are -or people say that- lees affectionate than in south, so may be that’s why they were more reticent to meet someone that it was obvious that it was a foreing -remember all that I’d explain earlier-. 2) All the reason that I’ve mentioned before at once.
    So, that’s the thing. We are still a very undeveloped country as in the “open mind” thing, and I’m very sorry that you had to went precisely into one of this families, but, as you well said at the end of the video, we are not -thankfully- like them. Here there are so many people that see other -no matter where they come from or what is their skin colour- that are wishing meet someone like you.
    And, if you ever come back to Spain, I’m sure that you’ll have the oportunity of meet them back, and may be you could change your mind and erase that awfull memories about Spain. More so, if you ever decide to visite Seville I would please to show you, not only my beautiful city, but also their charming citizen.


    • gazelledusahara

      Hola Sandra,

      I am NOT the woman in the video, she just linked to this post, because it describes the morena vs. negra paradigm.

      Also, I am WELL aware of how negra is used in Spain and Spanish in general and how it isn’t neccessarily used in a bad way.

      I can’t really speak to the rest of your comments because these do not reflect my experience in Spain.

  10. Obono

    Please, ppl rejecting that Spain is racist and is only classist , stop lying!!!
    Spain is one of the worst places in Europe to be a black citizen.

    Luckily for Sasha, was not stop by police asking for “papers” every week just because she is black…..
    Or called Negra de mierda….and hundreds of racist issues that afropeans have to assume when they are in Spain, because there it is consideer it “normal” or politically correct.


    Nice blog & youtube channel
    Regards from a Afro Spanish exiled in Africa tired of all that racism

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