“Little Congolese!”

“Where’s your loincloth?”

“You have to go naked.”

These are some of the statements Black children in Spain have grown up hearing, thanks to the beloved Spanish candy Conguitos. Beloved by White Spaniards, a source of humiliation for Black Spaniards.

Spain’s Black Community is finding its voice amid the worldwide Black Lives Matter Movement and is demanding change. From calling on the government to regularize the immigration status of migrants to highlighting racial profiling and police brutality, this community has had enough and is ready to fight for change. One of those changes: demanding an end to the racial stereotyping of people of African descent.  The Black community and its allies have made a simple request to Spanish chocolatier Lacasa: stop selling chocolate candies with racist imagery. As of July 16th, a change.org petition asking Lacasa to change Conguitos’ racist imagery had amassed over six thousand signatures.

Black Lives Matter Protest in Madrid, Spain. June 7th, 2020

Lacasa sells a variety of chocolates but is most famous for its chocolate candy Conguitos which means little Congolese in Spanish. The candy’s mascot is a naked big lipped Black man which harkens back to the days of blackface, minstrel shows, and mammies in the United States. Many visitors to Spain are shocked to see the Conguitos’ mascot prominently displayed in shops across the country. There have been countless posts on Reddit and other social media sites by people expressing shock upon seeing Conguitos during a visit to Spain. Yet Conguitos is a beloved chocolate-covered peanut snack in Spain. Spaniards of every stripe will look you in the eye and say Conguitos is not racist. When Spanish newspaper El País inquired about Conguitos, Lacasa said:

…we are seeing that for the vast majority, the values associated with Conguitos are also associated with fun times and positive energy. If we thought that the product or its representation was derisive, we would be the first to change it. However, we sincerely believe that the mascot is respectful to everyone without exception and that it is accepted and appreciated as such.

Of course, the “vast majority” refers to Spain’s White majority. The majority holding something in high-esteem does not make the majority right, a fact Lacasa has conveniently chosen to ignore. Referencing the majority is an easy way for Lacasa to ignore the legitimate complaints of the Black minority which is stereotyped by its racist mascot.  In Spain, it is easy to erase Black voices. Unlike in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, until now, there has been no strong, unified Black community in Spain.

Spaniards in Blackface with the Conguitos Mascot

For many Black Spaniards, there is nothing positive or fun about Conguitos. Indeed, Conguitos was a source of torment throughout their childhoods. Many have shared their stories of racial abuse on Twitter and other social media. So far, Lacasa is not listening. This is not the first time Lacasa has been asked to change Conguitos’ racist imagery. In 2003, a professor at the University of La Coruña, María Frías, started a petition to change the racist imagery of Conguitos. Frías explained that the imagery was offensive, insulted the thousands of Africans living in Spain, and promoted stereotypes. Her petition amassed over 500 signatures and resulted in minor changes to the candy’s packaging, although it retained its racist imagery. Lacasa’s strategy has always been to wait out any controversy, a strategy it seems to be employing in response to the latest round of criticisms. Once the storm has passed and the public has moved on to other pressing issues, Lacasa hopes the latest controversy surrounding Conguitos will be forgotten.

Lacking a strong Black community to press the issue, Spain’s citizens of African descent have been forced to endure the candy’s offensive imagery for years.  Spain’s far-right party, Vox, has launched a campaign to support Conguitos, claiming these candies are a part of Spanish history and any attacks on them are an attack on Spanish heritage. This campaign has included the use of the hashtag: #ConguitosLivesMatter across social media platforms in Spain. Vox politicians have posed eating Conguitos, mocking current efforts to have the candy rebranded. Outside of Spain, it is hard to imagine a Western country where Conguitos’ racist imagery would be tolerated.

Conguitos is an example of Spain’s racism hiding in plain sight. An example of a country that has not yet fully reckoned with its colonial past. An example of a country that refuses to acknowledge its casual, systematic, everyday racism. An example of Spain’s insistence on ignoring the pain of its citizens of African descent. An example of the impotence of Spain’s African descendants in a majority White country which often refuses to acknowledge its racism. An example of a country that refuses to join the rest of the world in the 21st century by confronting overt racism. An example of a country comfortable with its ignorance of race matters. Lacasa’s use of racist imagery to turn a profit must come to an end. Whether the newly empowered Black Community in Spain will be able to change the script, only time will tell.

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