Differentiating Global Attitudes Towards Difference

Shane Young
April 5, 2020

In my time in Europe, something I was especially aware of is people's attitude towards race in Spain and Europe in comparison to the United States. As expected, I found that racism takes different forms than in the United States, however, there are consistencies in their ability to recognize racism.

People in both the U.S. and Spain are quick to deny that people in their country and the systems that they operate in have racial bias. When asking different people in bars and restaurants about racism in Spain, most claimed that Spain was a very welcoming country, where people of different races can thrive in an economy that is reliant on tourism. The sentiment is similar in the U.S., as the majority of Americans claim they themselves do not have racial bias. This common dominator of disavowing racism is prevalent in both countries but translates to different outcomes.

The story of America's systemic racism begins with a racialized social control in the form of chattel slavery. Billions of dollars of free labor in unruly circumstances provided by African Americans was instrumental in the foundation of the U.S. economy. This set the tone for American attitude towards blacks for years to come. Black people were seen as disposable, profitable factors of production, signed off by the white political elite. Audre Lorde rightfully claimed that “institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people." America recognized that as long as there was "an institutionalized rejection of difference", there would be boundless opportunities for profit, even if it was at the expense of the humane treatment of an entire race of people.

This attitude was then reinforced by oppression through virulent segregation and domestic terrorism in the form of thousands of celebratory, publicly executed lynchings. Once legalized segregation was outlawed in the United States just over a half a century ago, American ingenuity found ways to segregate and oppress non-whites living in America. The American South, proudly promoting racial superiority across centuries was more explicit in their discrimination, while Northerners implicitly enacted the forces of government, business, legislation and banks to oppress communities of color. Through even more complex systems tailored to the norms of the time, the U.S. government created redlining to subjugate blacks to specific communities, restricted funding to these communities, and watched them falter with underinvested schools, poor businesses, overpriced houses, and an authorized influx of drugs and crime.

At the same time, the business establishment sought additional profits manifesting an era of deindustrialization and globalization which effectively stripped jobs away from American inner-cities. Once creating these opportunity deserts for racial minorities, America evoked the general fear of racial minorities and political power to usher an era of mass incarceration that currently criminalizes black drug use and enforces aggressive overpolicing in communities of color. In our modern society, people of color face the burdens of a racial history that are still bounded while the policies that systematically shaped our communities nationwide still implicate our healthcare, education, criminal justice system and access to housing, and many more common means that would promote equity and justice in our country. There is a common theme throughout this racial history: black and brown bodies serving as targets in a society that has indicated, through individual and systematic measures, that their lives have less value.

This developed history of institutionalized racism is truly unmatched and cannot even compare to Europe's history of the merciless colonization, imperialism and events like the holocaust developing the most prominent nations in Europe. Many European countries have gone through great lengths to reconcile with their racist history, which has allowed the general population to understand their country's relationship with people of different races.

The modern existence of American racism comes down to a lack of historical and racial consciousness in the U.S. We are not sufficiently taught about our history of racial injustice as much as we should. The denial of racism is one of the underlying factors that allows it to prevail even through 21st Century America. Even though we reject racism at face value, we live in a country where black and brown people are systematically affected by policies created to protect white privilege. The more we ignore racism, the stronger racial inequality will prevail through housing discrimination, education inequity, voter suppression, a racially skewed healthcare system, an unjust criminal justice system and so much more.

Meanwhile, Germany, the U.K. and many European countries have built countless memorials and museums, developed school curriculum, and created focused public policy in order to expose their dark past and enlighten current generations to prevent this history from repeating itself. In America, the opposite is seen in many cases. Confederate flags and memorials are still flaunted in southern states and it goes largely uncontested. You would never find marks of imperialism or the holocaust in many European nations. There is no pride around their dark history. But America is different. We have disremembered, bastardized, and falsified our racial history, which is why both individual and institutionalized racism is still a pillar of American society.

Studying abroad in Europe with the liberty to travel to different countries, learn about race relations and experience them myself was an incredible experience. In America, I often don't feel loneliness. In different aspects of my life, I often can’t go somewhere without being noticed. Whether it is in a business classroom as the only black student, in an innocent encounter with a police officer finding myself suddenly fearful for my destiny, or in a convenience store as I feel the storeowner's eyes burn through the back of my head anticipating my inevitable theft, rarely do I feel left alone. I am apart of a system in America, and even though I have been fortunate enough to escape many of the realities that peers with my skin color face, I encounter different issues being one of the few to escape the construct of a black man that America has so carefully constructed since its inception. As someone who is often called on to speak for his race, who is seen as a representation of everyone who looks like him, and is used as a pawn in a game of tokenism, my experience as a black man in America is rarely a lonely one.

This was particularly different from my experience in Spain. There are certainly individual accounts of racial discrimination in Spain. I witnessed the rude treatment of groups of black men on the metro. I am aware of racist acts from Spanish soccer fans towards black players. However, the difference in Spain is the lack of substantial systemic racism. Although I experienced blunt name-calling, assumptions about familial relations to Barack Obama, and conversations about my identity because of my skin color, I didn't feel like a necessary piece of a racial game like I do in America. I often sat in parks, restaurants and museums as a simple and lonely outsider. I didn’t feel as though my body or the bodies of black people around me were designed to fit in the societal construct as a specific role. The only negative attitudes I experienced were because of my nationality as an American, receiving the same negativity as my white friends, which in a unique way made me feel more American than I sometimes feel in my own country.

The substantiating difference is the extent to which racism has been embedded into American society, and the disingenuous history we tell surrounding it. The longstanding institutionalized racism that allows America to function and capitalism to work its course differs from Spain where multiple races have only been a reality since the conclusion of Franco's dictatorship in the 1970s. As Spain continues to become integrated and structurally affected by tourism, it will be interesting to see how native Spaniards react to the influx of people of different races. If they will continue to promote a welcoming society for people of all races or if they will enact deeply rooted systematic measures of racism while claiming to be a multi-cultural, globalized melting pot as we see in America.

Shane Young

<p>I am a junior from Connecticut studying Finance, Africana Studies, and Economics. At the University of Connecticut, I am a consultant &amp; the Director of Diversity in the UConn Consulting Group, VP of UConn FEC (teaching underprivileged elementary school students about financial literacy), President of the Club Basketball team, a practice player for the Women's Basketball team, a TA for the First Year Experience program, and a tutor for first-generation college students. In my free time, I enjoy playing basketball, working out, traveling to new places, having great conversations, discussing politics, reading, learning about and discussing injustice, and going out with my best friends and new people.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
University of Connecticut
South Windsor, CT
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