Blackface at Epiphany parade sparks outrage

In some Catalan towns a white actor in black facepaint interprets Balthasar, one of the Three Kings bringing presents to children

A white man with his face painted black to portray Balthazar, one of the Three Wise Men, in Girona (by Gerard Vilà)
A white man with his face painted black to portray Balthazar, one of the Three Wise Men, in Girona (by Gerard Vilà) / Alan Ruiz Terol

Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

January 10, 2018 02:43 PM

Anti-racism activists accuse Epiphany day parade organisers of using the controversial practice of blackfacedark face paint worn by white actors to interpret people of colorfor the character of Balthazar, one of the Three Wise Men who bring presents to children at the end of every Christmas season.

Known as the Three Kings in Catalonia, Barcelona and other towns already started casting black citizens years ago, but in other parts of the country the practice remains common.

“It’s horrible. It makes you feel angry, sad, outraged… I personally feel humiliated,” said Daouda Dieye, a Senegalese who’s lived in Catalonia for 12 years. “You can’t understand it unless you are black.”

Dieye is a member of a trade union of unlicensed street sellers in Barcelona. This year, the group organized an alternative parade involving black people with their faces painted white. “We wanted to show how ridiculous it is,” said Dieye.

One of the biggest towns were Balthazar was, in fact, a white actor this year was Girona. Eva Palau, a Girona city councilor, said they were offended by the accusations: “We are not racist,” she said. Yet, she acknowledged that some people might be hurt “due to feeling excluded.”

The Three Wise Men in Girona (by Gerard Vilà)

“Racism is not an opinion—it’s a violation of rights and a form of violence,” said Mònica López, a spokesperson for SOS Racisme, an anti-racism NGO promoting the rights of immigrants. “The fact that a person is hurt by our actions should force us to reconsider what we are doing, even if we have good intentions and it’s a tradition.”

A century ago, blackface was a very popular form of theatrical make up in United States ‘minstrel shows,’ commonly portraying black people—often slaves—in a comedic way, frequently based on racist stereotypes, and contributing the spreading and acceptance of prejudice.