As those of you who regularly read this blog will know, I tend to blog mostly about African politics and current affairs, and less often about related issues such as inmigration, racism and discourses and perspectives about Africa – although I have done sometimes. And I will do today. The topic furthermore, is not in the news, but I just stopped to to think about it recently, and I think it is worth sharing it. I am talking about Conguitos. To those not familiar with Spain, and more specifically Spanish sweets, this will sound totally foreign. But all those of you who come from, or have visited Spain will know what I am talking about.
Conguitos are the Spanish version of M&Ms – that is chocolate-covered peanut snack. What is there to blog about you may ask? What is there to blog about furthermore, on a blog that deals with African politics? Well, as you have probably seen, the name Conguito bears an important resemblance to the name Congo – hinting at where the inspiration for the sweets came from. But the most revealing fact is the picture drawn at the front of each packet – the trademark of Conguitos – and one that every Spanish kid will immediately recognise it. Although the picture has evolved through the years, the character originally depicted was, undoubtedly, that of a black person, and judging by the name, probably a Congolese. These are some of the logos Conguitos has had over time:
Note how the spear is gone!
White chocolate (albino?) version
These pictures clearly portray and image of Africa and Africans, which is not suitable for the present day. This is why a few years back, María Frías, a university professor at the University of A Coruña, who is a specialist in Afroamerican literature, called for the logo to be changed given the “racist message it conveys, insulting the thousands of African migrants living in Spain (…) and which serves only to promote and perpetuate the negative estereoptypes associated with African people”. At the time of these criticisms, in 2003, the creator of the image said that if he was to draw it nowadays, it would obviously be different, and at the time Conguitos were first produced – in the early 1960s, the Congo had just become independent and was therefore fashionable, so they went for a more “exotic” look. I wasn’t aware of this controversy – I was not in Spain at the time – and I don’t know if these criticisms voiced by Professor Frías may have made the manufacturer change the logo – given that the current one does not have some of the features which made it so clearly stereotypical and racist (e.g. the thick red lips), and make it a more abstract (weird?) figure.
Current conguito logo
In any case I just thought it would be interesting to share these thoughts for I think reveal something about Spanish attitude to Africa and Africans. What I found most interesting about all this, is that most people in Spain do not even stop for a second to think about the message Conguitos gives. It is just there, it has always been, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is only when someone tries to tell to people from other places (generally from countries more concerned with political correction, and where issues of racism have been there for longer) that one realises how awkward, out of date, and even plain racist these image are (this is what happen to my girlfriend when she tried to tell her British friends that these sweets were still on sale, not some Golliwog-like curiosity). Or, even more poignantly – as a friend told me, he experienced with two black friends came to visit him – when two black people enter a shop and ask for a packet of Conguitos. It is then,and only then, that the shop-keeper becomes aware of how inadequate the image on the packet is!
And, for your “entertainment”/ for its documentary value. I will leave you with a commercial for Conguitos – not a current one, but aired on the 70s, 80s? – which leaves no doubt regarding where Conguitos got their inspiration from.