7

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).

  • 1
    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. – user0721090601 Apr 20 at 11:35
  • 1
    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. – user0721090601 Apr 20 at 12:48
  • 3
    Es claro su uso despectivo en España. En Colombia no tiene ninguna implicación de desprecio a alguna persona. – alvalongo Apr 22 at 21:00
  • 2
    @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 – user0721090601 Apr 25 at 9:22
  • 1
    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
7

1. Perspective of Spanish Muslims

The following paper on identity in immigrant Muslim students in Spain conducted two sets of interviews of secondary school students (763 and 1,953 students total) and reported universal use of the term as a slur against Muslim students interviewed:

Resulta llamativo que todos los chicos entrevistados afirmasen que habían sufrido episodios de discriminación en la escuela (de mayor o menor intensidad) y que todos coincidiesen en comentar el uso del apelativo “moro” como insulto hacia ellos en esos procesos de discriminación.

The following book interviewed a number of Spanish Muslims and further remarked that the purportedly neutral referential fashion moro is commonly used by non-Muslim Spaniards is seen by the interviewees 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

The following references to the term by Spanish anthropologists and sociologists qualify its use and/or perception as generally pejorative:

"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. Grammaticalization of term

The following text remarks upon a grammatical distinction sometimes seen between its use in a non-pejorative referential or descriptive manner (as an adjective or determined noun), and its charged use (as an undetermined noun / pronoun) in literature. It draws parallels to the use of negro:

Observamos en estos casos un uso de los sustantivos “negro” y “moro(s)” siempre precedido de un determinante. La presencia de este elemento gramatical parece darle un valor “neutral” al uso de estos términos, limitar este uso al solo acto discursivo de denominar. En esta misma situación discursiva, los términos “negro” y “moro” son empleados también algunas veces de modo adjetival, un modo en el que el uso de estos términos sigue pareciendo neutral, limitándose al acto de designar...

Observamos en estos últimos ejemplos la ausencia de determinante delante de los sustantivos "negro" y "moro"... El concurso de todos estos elementos arma los sustantivos "negro" y "moro" de una carga de racismo y desprecio y remite a una formación ideológica racista.

4. 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 does not):

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, in 2014 formed an (again unsuccessful) 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».

5. Use by general public

As noted in the second quote in section 1, the term moro is commonly used in Spain in a general referential fashion, without the interpretation of racist connotations seen in the Muslim immigrant and academic circles (sections 1, 2).

While not referring to language in particular, the following report by the European Commission Against Racism & Intolerance notes that in contrast to the relatively progressive understanding and recognition of gender issues in Spain, "that awareness of issues of racism and racial discrimination within Spanish society at large was very limited", possibly explaining the divide in opinion:

  • 2
    @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
  • 1
    "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
  • 1
    … 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
  • 1
    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
  • 1
    … 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
2

Plain and simple... 100% yes.

Older generations probably use the term without the derogatory aspect, since in the past they learnt to address Arab people as moros. But nowadays it is a derogatory term and should be avoided as much as you can.

Anyway, these kind of historic examples still persist in Spanish society. For instance, one relatively common surname in Spain, at least not unusual, is "Matamoros" which means "Arab-killer" and is completely accepted, although it may sound weird to a foreigner.

  • 1
    This looks like your personal opinion. Current answers are based on objective data or publications about the topic, one way or the other. Can you provide any kind of source for your claim? – walen Sep 27 at 9:21
  • 2
    Sir, I'm a Spaniard, I've been born and raised in Spain, and I've been in the Country half of my life. If someone I've known or met in my life have said the word "moro", believe me, I know in which context he/she/they're talking about. Not everything is in the books. Moro is a derogatory term, there's no need to say "moro de mie..." to be something bad. – user23805 Sep 27 at 9:27
  • 2
    Why the condescending tone? I am a Spaniard too, and I've lived here my whole life. There are several comments below the question, from other Spaniards who also live here, stating that they don't think the word itself is racist. Not everything is in the books, that's right; hence why I provided comments from actual Moroccans to support my answer, instead of books. Not everything is in the books, but not everybody in Spain must use or understand words in the specific way you do. – walen Sep 27 at 11:38
  • 2
    Which condescending tone? if you take my comment as an offense to you in any possible way it's your problem, not mine. I got -2 points for this comment/answer and it's ok, I understand some people may/may not like my commment (probably it was you (; anyway. No politician, no university lecturer, no scientist, no a sociologist, no a book author, no man of culture in modern Spain would ever refer to a Moroccan guy and/or an Arab guy as a "moro" end of. And now keep pushing this matter and tell me I'm wrong. – user23805 Sep 27 at 19:50
0

I just came across a Moroccan web portal which features a forum for Spanish-speaking Moroccans.
There's hardly a better source for what Moroccans actually think about the term, than Moroccans who live or have lived in Spain discussing the word moro.

Here are the first messages from a thread named PAISA... ¿HAY MOROS EN LA COSTA?, quoted verbatim:

en España me llamaban el moro los del trabajo porque tenia mucha confienza con ellos y yo les llamaba los payos en plan de Broma jajaja..
No me molesta para nada ademas estoy orgulloso de ser un moro morito moreno jajaja


A mi nunca me han dicho mora, por lo menos, delante mia, la verdad es que no me gusta esta palabra, porque no todos lo dicen en plan "simpatico", pero mas bien, en plan peyorativo, porque muchas veces me he encontrado en conversaciones con españoles que no sabian que soy de origen marroqui, y cuando hablaban de moros, no era para hablar de forma positiva.


soy nacido en Maroc, mas precisamente en Casa, al principio de establecerme en España los amigos del instituto asi como luego en el trabajo me han llamado Moro, y te puedo asegurar que nunca me ha molestado, hasta incluso para mi es un orgullo. Si que hay gente que utiliza este termino de Moro de una forma despectiva pero evidentemente no todos. Pienso que el Marroquie (termino que utilizo por deferencia) por lo general cuando se utiliza el nombre de Moro cree que es insultante, yo particularmente no veo la razon (con todos mis respetos con el que no lo vea asi).


yo tambien soy moro y orgulloso de serlo..
estoy deacuerdo contigo,,,yo trabajo directamente, y diariamente,al publico,,,y mucha gente me llaman paisa y tambien moro,,,
y aveces hay gente que hablando conmigo de los marroquies , me dicen:"gente como tu" o "tus amigos"...(que nada tienen que ver conmigo ni amigos ni nada), pero solo lo dicen para refererce a nosotros los maroquies,,, y yo como me da exactamente igual ,salto y les digo : ah los moros ...
y ellos me contestan que no quieren dicerlo para no ofendirme....
Pues si soy moro y de pura raza.....


pos yo no me siento ni ofendida ni na x k soy mora y lo sere siempre ,asi kien me llama en plan racista o algo x el estilo se como responder y si no pues me siento super orgullosa


Pues yo en realidad nunca me ha hecho gracia k me llamen Moro,yaa que la mayoria de la veces que he escuchado esta palabra la he escuchado acompañada com de mierda o sea Moro de mierda asi que la tengo muchisima alergia,nada mas oirla me salen los cuernos,ademas una vez hablando con unos amigos de esa palabra hemos mirado el deccionario para avereguar el sinficado exacto de la palabra,y el resultado era ese;Moro toda persona intolerante,agresiva. es verdad que no toda la gente lo usa de forma simpatica como ha dicho NURIA32,asi que yo prefiero que la gente que conozco piense mas que una vez antes de soltar esa palabra,que luego sale la mala leche Mora y ahi se puede liar la de .............salu2

That's 4 people saying they don't find the word offensive, and 2 saying they do.
However, 4 out of 6 mentioned that some people may use the term in a racist way.

Let's have a look at this other thread, la palabra : MORO y su segnificado...(wikipedia) /y como reaccionamos cuando...

a mi desde luego nunca me ha gustao que me llamen asi,entiendo que hay muchos k le digan asi sin mas pero eso no es tampoco razonable


Pou supuesto que no nos gusto el temino moro. Pero bueno, el español que se atreve a llamarme moro en plan pojorativo lo tomo con calma. Le doy una leccion de historia, tipo mor es una designacion como iberico. Yo soy Berbere, y la palabra moro refleja mas mis origenes que la palabra arabe. porque arabe no soy.
Los maurus eran ya conocidos en la cultura romana, antes de la conquista arabe. Entonces, para mi so es un insulto pero bueno.


la verdad el hecho d q alguien te llame Moro no tiene porq ofender a nadie simplemente porq es un termino historico y lo somos y no hay q tomarlo como un insulto, igual si te llaman Cabron,.. en plan broma, lo q pasa q hay muchos ignorantes sueltos por ahi y no saben lo q sinifica realmente este termino y ententan herir el sentimiento y el orgullo de muchos y no hay q caer en esa trampa.


la verdad nadie todavia me ha llamado mora y el dia que alguien me va a llamar eso, mi respuesta sera : pues esa mora dirige con 5 profesionales una empresa muy grande en españa y esa mora tambien es responsable y jefa de lo menos 25 personas y por cierto tod@s son españoles y ... y en fin que soy muy orgollosa de mi morismo ( mi padre berbere y mi madre tetuani andaluza y soy arabe arabe maroqui muy orgullosa soy) en fin no quiero ni tampoco me gusta entrar en polimicas asi que nunca he tenido alergia del morismo (lo he nombrado yo... vaya)


Pues la verdad que la palabra moro, la gente la toma como algo malo pero lo malo es el ignorante que lo dijo por lo tanto cuando a mi pasa, que me ha pasado en 8 años me paso solo 3 veces de malas formas entre una de ellas un policia (que lo denuncie y luego fue el quien vino pidiendo perdon cada dia unas dos semanas hasta que retire la denuncia), y las otras veces fue de broma y usando la palabra morito, mi ex jefe 🙂


A mi la palabra moro, la verdad que no me gusta , pero he de acostumbrarme, no se la veo como una palabra despectiva.
a mi nunca me la han llamado, bueno si, un colega un dia, pero me estuvo pidiendo perdon una semanita, jejeje. pero lo perdone.
He visto a gente marroqui que se llaman moros entre si, uno le dice al otro, eyy moro , que pasa tio....
y el otro le contesta, que pasa morito.......
Bueno si la generalizamos entre nosotros, no creo que nos joda tanto....... pero a mi sigue sin gustame, me gusta mas que me llamen marroqui o maghrebi o arabe, bueno arabe no soy, soy bereber, pero no pasa nada......
tambien existe un frase que mola----> Si te dicen moro, contestales---> moro,si, pero con los huevos de oro. aunque para mi queda muy gitano la frase, pero bueno........

That's 3 people that do not find it offensive, and 3 people that do.
Also, 5 out of 6 say some people try to use it in a derogatory way (despite them being offended or not).
Worth noting the mention about Moroccans calling each other moro as a greeting.

To recap, out of 12 Morocann people (male and female) who lived in Spain:

[##### ] 42% said moro is offensive to them.
[####### ] 58% said moro is not offensive to them.

Also:

[######### ] 75% said that some Spaniards may use moro in a racist way.

These numbers, coupled with the comments that some Spaniards made in this thread, show that the word moro by itself cannot be said to be or not be "racist", just like chino, judío, negro, rumano, catalán, murciano, vasco, andaluz, gallego, gitano, payo, inmigrante... None of those words are racist per se; it is the people saying/hearing them who give it a good, neutral or bad connotation depending on their own prejudices.

  • 2
    Thanks for responding with first-hand accounts, Walen, it's a valuable perspective - I would be wary of claiming a definitive breakdown of % of opinions however given the small sample size and that the responses labelled "not-offensive" seem to mostly be a mix of 1) reappropriation of the term and 2) defending its use as historically/technically accurate given the commenters are actually Moroccan, where I was asking about its general use which is much more indiscriminate. – ukemi Sep 26 at 10:52
  • (similar to how "paki" is used in the UK as a slur for anyone who appears to be of South Asian descent, irrespective of whether they're actually from Pakistan). – ukemi Sep 26 at 10:53
  • @ukemi "where I was asking about its general use" Uhh... Your question is, literally: Is this term seen as racist or derogatory in Spain (specifically, by those it's used to refer to)? How come "the commenters are actually Moroccan" is a problem? I mean, AFAIK in Spain "moro" is used only for people from territories corresponding to historical Maghreb. Half your own sources confirm it is used mostly for Moroccans. Sorry I could not find some Algerian or Libyan forum but I honestly doubt people from those countries would think any different. – walen Sep 26 at 11:10
  • Sorry if I wasn't clear - I meant "people the term is used to describe in general speech", where it is used as a more vague ethno-religious term, not specifically for people the speaker knows are from Morocco itself (r.e. the first sentence in my question). I didn't say that was a problem (as I said I thought it was a valuable perspective to include), but just that some of the "non-offensive" defenses were specifically based on the fact that the commenter was Moroccan, and hence this is unlikely to be an opinion shared by non-Moroccans that get called "moro". – ukemi Sep 26 at 11:38
  • 2
    I didn't say it was less valuable...? To clarify again, the forum posts are exactly the type of content I was asking for, I just think that the topic is more subtle than your analysis of the comments might suggest. – ukemi Sep 26 at 11:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.