Bermúdez isn’t convinced it will make an immediate difference in the marginalization of the country’s black community. “There is no discussion about race in Spain,” he said. “It’s still a taboo, or it’s reduced to ‘It doesn’t matter, we are all equal'”.
Like other football leagues in Europe, the Spanish professional league has seen incidents of racial abuse. Last year, after his brother, Iñaki, publicly denounced racial slurs hurled at him on the pitch by opponents, Nico Williams spoke about the reality of discrimination but the general acceptance he felt as the son of Ghanaian immigrants.
“Nobody is born racist,” Nico Williams told Spanish newspaper Marca. “With education at home and education at school, I think little by little racism will disappear.”
Likewise, a visible and undeniable black presence within the national football team is not a panacea. Gerehou, for his part, fears this is working as a version of what has become known as the Obama Effect, closing a conversation rather than starting one, with the illusion of change inhibiting real transformation.
“There is a risk that people might say, OK, there are black players in the team, there is no problem,” he said. “It’s the same logic as if there is a black president, then racism must no longer exist. Representation has limits. Things like music and sports don’t always accurately reflect reality. There might be black players in the Spain squad, but that doesn’t mean that tomorrow there will be black bank managers or black lawmakers or black media executives.
However, he sees the presence of black, unmistakably Spanish players as a step forward. “It is important that the national team reflects the reality of society,” he said. “We are white and black and North African and Asian, but we are all Spanish.” For Bermúdez, it is a sign that the country is finally beginning to “accept and recognize its historical and current diversity”.
Mbomío’s conclusion is slightly simpler. She remembers those tournaments as a child, when she chose not to support the team that carried her flag but her reflection, and how much it would have meant to her not to have had to make that choice. Fati, Balde, Williams and Sánchez – both black and Spanish players – mean the contrast isn’t quite as stark. “It’s a demonstration,” she said, “that we exist.”
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