Updated August 6, 2022 8:37 a.m. ET
When Spanish rapper Frank T heard a joke from Block Party by Dave Chappelleit stuck in his mind.
The comedian brings an audience member onto the stage for a rap battle, and the person was wearing a shirt that said “Free Tibet”, to which Chappelle said, “that’s not a n—– in Tibet! ”
And for Frank T, he knew he would use it somehow.
“I figured if I ever started something, I’d call it ‘there are no black people in Tibet,'” he told NPR’s Michel Martin.
Among the many challenges faced by immigrants in Spain, especially those arriving from sub-Saharan Africa, he is among three comedians who take up one – the lack of visibility in Spanish media for black people.
And they do it with a podcast launched this year and with a title that plays with Chappelle’s verse: No hay negros in el Tíbet.
It means “There are no blacks in Tibet” in Spanish.
Frank T – along with his co-hosts, comedians Asaari Bibang and Lamine Thior – want to bring the issues facing black Spaniards to the fore.
“For the first time, we have the space to talk about what we want, what we’re going through and what concerns us as black people,” Bibang, who is also a writer, told NPR during a group interview.
One of the ways they do this is simply by talking about their lived experience of growing up as a black person in Spain.
“There was a time when [the police] stopped me four times in the day, and it was always for different things,” Thior said.[The police would say] ‘There’s been a car theft somewhere around here, and you fit the profile.’ The black profile.”
Thior, who also posts humorous videos on Instagram, and Frank T swap stories about who has been profiled the most.
“There comes a point where it’s so absurd it makes you laugh. When they arrested me for the 29th time, I just said to them ‘what do you need me? You want me feel?'”, added Thior. “In the end, it’s the only way [to deal].”
For Bibang, the discrimination takes a different form, through people assuming she’s either a maid or a sex worker. She says it’s a common occurrence in Spain.
“Most of the time when you watch TV or movies, black women are usually vulnerable and at the mercy of someone acting like a white savior, or they’re prostitutes. I’ve done five movies in my career as an actress. And in four of them, I was a prostitute.
The hosts said the comedy is cathartic and helps them deal with the challenges they face in a society where they oscillate between invisibility and discrimination.
Frank T adds that it also helped convey their message: “The humor allows us to address these issues with the audience and show them how absurd it is.”
The trio said they hoped No hay negros in el Tíbet will bring a more nuanced conversation about race in Spain. They want to add to the conversation in a deeper way and create a space where black concerns are front and center and treated with respect.
So far, the reception has been quite positive.
Bibang said the podcast opened up conversations about race in her own life — and she now engages with listeners via social media about the topics they discuss on the podcast. And these interactions help create change.
“I think No hay negros in el Tíbet add to conversations [about race]. It’s true that things are changing,” she said. “We now have colleagues doing roles that have nothing to do with the color of their skin.”
And – noted Bibang – there could be downsides to his personal career.
“It is true that talking about racial issues does not mean [always] Opens doors for us, it closes them,” she says. “But for me it’s worth it.”
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