I recently wrote about European perceptions of race and the American elections. Yesterday while browsing through the election coverage on the major Spanish networks, I landed on a daytime talk show, La Mirada Crítica, right when one commentator (I don’t know her name) described Barack Obama as
Obama es que no es un negro negro, es un negro ilustrado, mira cómo anda, como se mueve, parece blanco. No es para nada la imagen que tenemos nosotros de un negro.
In other words, Obama was “not your typical black man”. He was an “enlightened black man” (“negro ilustrado“), “like Sidney Poitier,” and she mentioned his elegant and refined way of walking, talking, and dressing.
I would normally have disregarded this as an isolated incident, but none of the other commentators budged. This time I am not being just another American overly sensitive to political correctness due to his own country’s dreadful history. I am also not saying that this proves an epidemic of racism in Spain, for I do not believe Spaniards to be overtly racist. But while some apologists may argue (see comments) that the above remarks were not racist since the intention was to praise Mr. Obama, the remarks undoubtedly epitomize the racism inherent in the patronizing concept of the Noble Savage — the one who earns honorary white status by distinguishing himself from the pack through enlightened European modes of dress and speech (or through colonization and religious conversion).
As I pleaded in an earlier post on language and racism, Spain is due to have a serious conversation about how to talk about other races and cultures. Based on the American experience, better sooner than later.