Balthazar Black Face Row Overshadows Three Kings

Madrid´s Three Kings Parade and celebrations have been overshadowed by a row over the hiring a white actor to wear blackface and speak in a bad African accent for a Christmas video message sent to local children in the Charmatin district of the city.

Manuela Bergerot, spokesperson for Madrid’s Mas Madrid opposition party, called the Christmas videos “foul and disgraceful,” and yet another example of the ruling Popular Party’s racism.

“If in 2024 you are using blackface, it means you haven’t understood the diversity of the neighbourhood. Respect for racialized people is the least you should ask of the public authorities,” tweeted the Madrid MP.

The use of blackface this time of year is nothing new in Spain, which celebrates Three Kings Day on 6th January. The day celebrates the Epiphany when the three wise men, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar – visited the baby Jesus, bringing gifts.

Traditionally Melchior represents Europeans, Caspar Asians, and Balthazar Africans.

In Spain this has traditionally meant a white man with a blackened face but in recent years this has been increasingly seen as distasteful to modern Spaniards, reflecting the country´s more diverse ethnicity.

According to Mas Madrid, there are an estimated 130,000 people of African origin in the autonomous region of Madrid out of a population of 6 million.

In Spain the sub-Saharan population has grown to around 2.5% of the total in recent years.

Madrid´s City Hall defended themselves telling Spanish broadcaster Cadena Ser that they had hired five black men and one white man to dress up as Balthazar for the video messages. However, they said the white actor was the one who was available after two black actors became sick with COVID-19 – they didn’t elaborate on the other three however.

Elsewhere in Spain, other Three Kings Day celebrations continue to use white actors.

One of the most important and oldest is the the parade in Alcoy, Alicante, dating back to 1866. Dubbed a “Celebration of National Interest,” it also involves hundreds of locals dressing up in exaggerated blackface with big red lips to depict pageboys, who help the three kings to collect children’s letters and deliver gifts.

The activist group Afrofeminas has been calling for an end to Alcoy’s blackface tradition, which it calls “the most offensive and violent in Europe.”

In 2022, Spanish authorities prosecuted 755 hate crimes for racism and xenophobia — representing 43.5% of the country’s total hate crimes, according to the most recent report by the Interior Ministry.




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