“I have the right not to give up in my efforts to put an end to this racist and hateful manifestation against Black people. The Pages are your privilege. My fight is my right.” – Elvira Swartch Lorenzo
By Elvira Swartch Lorenzo •
Originally published on Afroféminas •
It doesn’t matter what you think you are trying to represent, or that you may think you’re entertaining children. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tradition; if you paint yourself in a color that is not your’s, it’s racist.
The blackface controversy comes every Christmas like nougat, where we see some public figures and politicians practicing this tradition to disparage Black people. In this context, Alcoy y su cabalgata is the most offensive and violent blackface demonstration in Europe. They will think that I am exaggerating, but I will give four reasons why dressing up as a page in Alcoy or wear blackface during Christmas. Here are 4 reasons why Alcoy’s pages are violent:
1. The pages respond to a painful history that this country has not yet come to terms with slavery.
The black pages of Alcoy have their roots in human trafficking. As Afro-descendant thinker and historian Antumi Toasije said, “in several publications of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both in Alcoy and elsewhere, the characters carrying the scales are described as “slaves”…It is therefore clear that from the beginning of the parade the victims of slavery are being mocked and enslaved black people were being represented in a grotesque way.”
The parade normalizes slavery as “harmless,” and without consequences, which is completely false. The black faces that walk the streets of Spain, our very presence, is a consequence of slavery and the colonial past which are NOT studied in schools. Shame and guilt are likely the main reason for this. How does one justify the massacre of millions of people?
2. They perpetuate dehumanizing stereotypes.
In an environment such as the city of Alcoy, with a migrant population that normally occupies the lowest socioeconomic level and that is numerically approximately 10%, (the Black population is barely 1%) it is hard for racialized people to feel like raising their voices to complain about the parade. They have witnessed the virulent reactions that the very idea of not painting the pages provokes in Alcoyan citizens.
What image do children have of dark-skinned people? The only contact that most of these children have with Black people is this infamous representation. Portraying oneself as someone of a different race is not just a representation of one person, but it’s also using someone else’s skin tone as a disguise. Alcoy’s pages wearing stereotypical African garb and being painted black are an unacceptable reduction in this day and age. Many of these ideas and stereotypes persist today due to this representation. A young man dressing up as a page boy in Alcoy may claim that he does not believe in the biological inferiority of Black people, but his insistence on painting his face black – especially since the makeup work is usually deliberately unrealistic – is proof of his continued racist overvaluation of the importance of differences in skin colors. In this context, blackface is dehumanizing.
3. The pages of Alcoy are symbolic violence.
It’s not an innocent game. The way they openly ridicule Black people is obvious. The representation of the pages in the Alcoy parade is exactly identical or very similar to that of blackface in North America, the Dutch Zwarte Piet and a long list of representations of Blackness throughout the white western world. Painting their skin completely black, and a wide area around their mouth red – giving the appearance of large lips, and the flashy outfits are a deliberate attempt to portray Black people as quirky, ugly, and grotesque in a disparaging way.
4. It’s not fun for us.
I know that this matters very little in this society where blackface in general, and particularly Alcoy pages, are a clear manifestation of the disturbing relationships between the fun of the whites, the domination and the degradation of enslaved Black people. The black face of the Alcoy pages reinscribes the relations of slavery in the ways in which it implies putting on and taking off Blackness. It makes the property of our body, of our identity, questioned since it can be appropriated and discarded at will. These are some of the many reasons why I think that when young people in Alcoy disguise themselves as pages. They exercise intolerable violence against me. I have the right not to give up in my efforts to put an end to this racist and hateful manifestation against Black people. The Pages are your privilege. My fight is my right.
Elvira Swartch Lorenzo is a regular contributor for Afroféminas, and a daughter of Afro-Colombian migrants.