Blackface controversy hits Spanish Three Kings parade


(CNN) — A Spanish tradition of people wearing blackfaces to represent one of the Three Wise Men — or Three Kings — in parades across the country has led to calls for an end to the controversial practice.

The events are held on January 6 to celebrate the arrival of the wise men (“reyes magos”) in Bethlehem before the birth of Christ. People fill the streets and exchange gifts in the evening to mark the end of the Christmas season in Spain.

One of the wise men, Balthazar, is often depicted in art as a Middle Eastern man or as a black man, according to Western church tradition.

In several Spanish towns and cities, including Alcoy in Valencia and Igualada in Catalonia, Balthazar’s aides wear black faces during parades.

Criticism of this controversial practice has grown in recent years, with calls to scrap the use of blackface and for Balthazar to be played by a black person.

People at the pageants wear a black face to mimic Balthazar.

Cristina Quicler/AFP/Getty Images

Afrofeminas, an anti-racism group, wants the practice abolished.

“It doesn’t matter what you think you’re trying to portray. It doesn’t matter what you think makes your kids so happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tradition. Yours is racist,” said Elvira Swarch Lorenzo , a member of the group, in a statement.

“The parade helps to normalize slavery as something innocent and unimportant in the collective imagination, which is completely untrue,” Lorenzo said.

Afrofeminas argues that ancient tradition perpetuates modern injustices. The “inhumane stereotypes” spread by the practice further fuel prejudice against migrant populations in the places where the parades are held, the group adds.

TV3, a television channel in Catalonia, told CNN they only broadcast from the parade in Barcelona, ​​where blackface is not used.

“TV3 has rejected proposals to broadcast some cavalcades live precisely because blackface was being performed,” a spokesman for the channel said on Thursday.

But despite criticism, preparations for this year’s parade, which will be held on Friday, continue. The organizers of the Igualada event told CNN that “about 1,000 volunteers” will take part in the parade.

“Participation in this celebration is open to the entire population, without any form of distinction or discrimination,” said the organizing committee of the Cavalcade of the Kings of Igualada. They said the volunteers “are the reflection of an open [and] inclusive city.

The organizers said “we are always respectful of criticism”, adding that “critiques are analyzed and taken through an internal process of debates”.

The organizers said they were trialling solutions “that continue to include the historical side of the celebration, the volunteers and the citizens of the city.” However, they did not specify what these solutions entailed nor how they planned to respond to the criticism faced by the parade.

“This year, 2023, and as it has been since 1899, the parade in Igualada will be majestic, and above all, it will be magical,” the organizers added.

Jordi Martinez, deputy mayor of Alcoy, has defended the tradition. “It’s an honor for those who dress up, it’s not humiliating,” he told La Vanguardia newspaper.

He admitted that “steps will have to be taken in due course” to reflect the concerns of those opposed to the practice, but ultimately “the success of the parade is that we make it as traditional as possible.”

CNN’s Jack Guy contributed to the reporting.

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