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I sometimes hear even quite educated people in Spain refer to anyone they seem to perceive to be a muslim/north-African/black immigrant as a moro. This isn't always used in an explicitly derogatory sense, but the use of the term brings up uncomfortable parallels in my mind to how e.g. chinky is used in English.

However, although English-language publications frequently describe moro as a pejorative term, the RAE's DLE doesn't list any of the uses of moro as pejorative (though definition 10 is tellingly negative).

Is this term seen as racist or derogatory in Spain1 (specifically, by those it's used to refer to)?


1. Note: I'm asking specifically about how the term is perceived in Spain, not in other regional contexts e.g. how the term has been reappropriated by the Bangsamoro people in the Philippines (similar to filipino itself).

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    Para mí nunca ha designado exclusivamente a los marroquíes, y como magrebí no es de uso muy extendido, ¿querrán que usemos sarraceno? Yo creo que moro es una palabra que como muchos puede ser usado como peyorativo o no según el deseo del hablante. – guifa Apr 20 at 11:35
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    Tal vez sea que el prejuicio (ja) que tengo de la palabra viene de ser medievalista, pero para mí es alguien generalmente musulmán (hay muchos textos que hablan de moros cristianos por ejemplo) de la zona magrebí, principalmente Marruecos y Argelia. Aunque se ha usado para referir a los pueblos subsaharianos en el pasado, hoy día para mí la palabra ya no los engloba tanto. – guifa Apr 20 at 12:48
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    Es claro su uso despectivo en España. En Colombia no tiene ninguna implicación de desprecio a alguna persona. – alvalongo Apr 22 at 21:00
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    @alvalongo ¿Por qué dices que es claro? Los tres que hemos comentado ya —walen Charlie y yo— hablamos el dialecto peninsular y no nos queda tan claro – guifa Apr 25 at 9:22
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    Deleting the last set of comments since this was brought to chat. Feel free to flag as obsolete the rest of comments if there is need to, thanks! – fedorqui Apr 29 at 9:06
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1. Perspective of Spanish Muslims

Reading further, one of the books I looked at interviewed a number of Spanish Muslims and remarked that the purportedly neutral referential fashion moro is commonly used by non-Muslim Spaniards is seen not just as offensive, but equally offensive to explicit pejorative use of the term:

Moroccans are often referred to casually as moros. Technically, this is the Spanish term for the historical Moors, but Spaniards use moro to refer to Moroccans, and occasionally to all migrants or all Muslims. (African Muslims are also sometimes referred to as Africanos or Negros). Moro is used pejoratively to purposely insult, as in the fight described earlier, in which an angry Spaniard yelled “Moro! Faggot!” at his Moroccan opponents. Non-Muslims also use the term more casually, in purportedly neutral, referential fashion to speak about Muslims or Moroccans, though my Muslim research participants find this referential usage equally offensive. Because of its negative connotations, occasionally people use moro to insult non-migrant non-Muslims. For instance, Andalusian Women sometimes refer to chauvinist men or abusive husbands with the adjective moro, highlighting local ideologies about Islam as a religion marked by abnormal gender relations. The slippery referential content of moro aids in the conflations of historical Moors With present-day Muslims and of Muslims with migrants. It also contributes to the social construction of Muslims as an amorphous, undifferentiated mass.

2. Perspective of Spanish academia

Additionally, I encountered multiple corroborating descriptions of the term's use/perception by Spanish anthropologists and sociologists:

"Moro" is Spanish for Moor and is normally used as a derogatory term for people of Arabic origin.

It is also a reality that the Spanish identity, like the European one but with many more historical points of reference, has been built in opposition to the picture of the Muslim in general and the Moroccan in particular, considered in pejorative terms as 'the Moor' ('el moro').

De esta forma, al musulmán, al africano, al morisco, al marroquí, se le adjudicaron una serie de rasgos negativos que van desde lo físico hasta lo moral e intelectual, y cuya máxima representación actual es la pervivencia y el uso peyorativo del término «moro».

Note also the following paper, which studies hate-speech in far-right facebook groups, and makes a distinction between terms it considers inherently offensive (e.g. moros) and terms describing other targets of discrimination in insults which are not considered inherently offensive (e.g. catalanes):

... the use of slurs increased over time... Among the most co-occurring words were the terms moros—an offensive word referring to Moroccans—and offensive terms against other ethnicities such as sudacas (South Americans).

On the DN Facebook page, the word catalanes (Catalans) was frequently mentioned next to an insult. On the PP’s page, the most frequent terms next to an insult were catalanes in 2011 and nacionalistas in 2012, and the term moritos, an offensive word used to designate Moroccans, also occurred. These slurs appeared in the comments space.

3. Controversy of the DRAE entry

A number of people have challenged the RAE's entry for moro. The following author notes that in his opinion, contrary to the RAE's description, the term carries a strong pejorative sentiment (but claims the cognate Basque word mairu carries a different sentiment):

Una cuestión previa: ¿Moros o Magrebíes?

Una breve consulta al Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua Española (200 ed.,1984) no revela, a priori, que la palabra moro/a tenga nin-gún significado peyorativo:

(Del latín maurus) adj. Natural de la parte de Africa septentrional; frontera a España, donde estaba la antigua provincia de Mauritania. 3.Por ext., que profesa la religión de Mahoma

(cito únicamente dos de las diez afecciones señaladas). Una consulta al Diccionario Retana de Autoridades del Euskera (lo ed.,1981) del equivalente en euskara mairu, además de señalar su equivalencia con el castellano moro, recoge dos acepciones de dicha palabra en el mundo tradicional vasco (documentadas por J.M. Barandiarán) que, asimismo, están lejos de suponer un valor peyorativo a priori:

II. Genio a quien se atribuye la construcción de los cromlechs. III Con este nombre son designados generalmente tipos de hombres de otros tiempos, no cristianos, es decir, paganos. Hoy todavía mairu es uno que no está bautizado, no es cristiano.

Es decir, en ambos casos se está lejos de dar a la palabra un significado despectivo (incluso se puede decir que en euskara es francamente admirativo), pero se subraya el carácter ajeno a la sociedad de los moros, debido a su condición de no cristianos. Es importante retener este dato: los moros siempre son vistos como ajenos a esta sociedad.

Personalmente, considero que en la actualidad (y probablemente durante largos siglos para la sociedad española, aunque no para la vasca, que los dotó de un carácter mítico) la palabra moro tiene una fuerte carga despectiva-peyorativa, por lo que propongo que sea sustituida por el término magrebí, que de hecho es el que se usa corrientemente en los medios de comunicación. A ello me atendré en el curso de este artículo.

The following text criticises a number of what it considers racist and sexist phrasings in the DRAE. Note that this refers to dictionary lemmas, and is not calling for the censorship or removal of word entries themselves:

2.6. Aconsejamos también la substitución de la palabra ‘moro’, porque en la actualidad se ha convertido en una designación peyorativa de ‘árabe’. ‘Moro/s’ es muy difícil de eliminar, porque se trata de un término de larga tradición hispana, pero que arrastra desde siempre connotaciones racistas, que en nuestros días se han visto incrementadas con el fenómeno de la inmigración. Se podría tratar de sustituir por ‘árabes’ o ‘musulmanes’, pero el problema (además del sexismo del segundo término) reside en que cuando en el DRAE se habla de ‘moros’, no siempre podemos tener la seguridad de que se trate de pueblos árabes o musulmanes; sino que normalmente es sinónimo de gente del Magreb y del Atlas para quien no existe fácilmente un sustituto. El DRAE habla de ‘moros’ en el sentido histórico y de ‘moros’ contemporáneos, por lo cual propusimos soluciones diferentes.

...

[El Libro de Estilo de El Mundo] asegura que ‘‘gitano’ no es una raza, sino una etnia’ (p. 224) y que ‘moro’ no significa ‘musulmán’ y que por ser una palabra “cargada de racismo en su uso actual, debe evitarse” en un texto informativo (p. 251).

In addition to the above (unsuccessful) suggestions, a lawyer, Hilal Tarkou, has made a petition that the RAE note the pejorative sentiment of the word moro:

... el abogado reusense considera que «las definiciones de la palabra moro no coincide en absoluto con el contenido de la misma en la actualidad» y señala que hoy día. «constituye un insulto para muchos ciudadanos de origen del norte de África».

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    @exaneta The fetishization of other racial groups isn't necessarily mutually exclusive to/imply there doesn't simultaneously exist other deprecating stereotypes within society, or even within the same individual's mind. See for a very relevant example the following paper: Gender and ethnocentrism in borderlands: how southern Spanish girls and boys represent the moroccan "other" – ukemi Apr 25 at 20:00
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    "In contrast, the girls' ambiguous stance of simultaneous fascination and repulsion has a clear historically grounded sexuality subtext ("lo moro"), even when referring to Moroccan women. As González Alcantud put it in a recent historical–hermeneutical work entitled Lo Moro (2002), the label "moro" and the social representation associated with it is far from being simply negative and derogatory. By tracing the origins of the term 'moro' back to medieval Spanish caste–structure, highlighting the playful theme of masquerade inherent in the label and stressing the social functions of stereotypes… – ukemi Apr 25 at 20:35
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    … the author shows that what is Moorish, lo moro, is not only the ultimate antagonist and enemy of all that is Spanish and Christian, but also exerts a distinct attraction (2002: 233–237). Lo moro is also exotic and mysterious, sensual and erotic, wild and irrational, pure and untamed. – ukemi Apr 25 at 20:36
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    The first (pejorative) meaning is well captured in the girls' hatred for kurdos or poor Moroccan immigrants who are "not convenient". They are a human sub–category that according to the girls should stay separate from all that is Spanish. On the other hand, a more positive, intriguing representation co–exists, portraying Moroccan males (especially "moritos") as handsome, rich and desirable. Similarly, the 'Moro witch' causes outrage among the girls. ... – ukemi Apr 25 at 20:37
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    … The girls despise these women who supposedly steal their Spanish fathers and husbands – yet at the same time, there is an air of admiration in their voices: These women look harmless but they trick everybody. In the end, they get what they want – be it money, citizenship for their children or a man they desire. The language of witchcraft used when discussing the "Moras" testifies to a kind of mysterious attraction and fascination on behalf of the girls." – ukemi Apr 25 at 20:37

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