Paper for a symposium on Human Rights in Textbooks, organized by the History Foundation, Istanbul – April 2004




Racism, Discourse and Textbooks

The coverage of immigration in Spanish textbooks


Teun A. van Dijk

Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona


Second draft, April 9, 2004





In this paper I examine some properties of the discursive reproduction of racism in textbooks in Spain. Racism is a system of social domination and inequality that is reproduced in many ways, for instance by discriminatory practices. One of these practices is discourse. Discourse is specifically relevant in the reproduction of racism because it is also the principal means for the reproduction of racist prejudices and ideologies. And since these racist beliefs in turn are the basis of discriminatory practices (including discourse), it is obvious that discourse plays a prominent role in the reproduction of racism (Van Dijk, 1984, 1987a, 1987b, 1991, 1993; Wodak & Van Dijk, 2000).

Not all discourse types are equally relevant though in these processes of social reproduction. Obviously, news reports in the press are more important than the weather report in this sense. Thus, because of their impact on the formation of beliefs of many people, public discourses have a more significant primary influence than personal, private text and talk. There is little doubt that the discourses of the mass media in contemporary society play a leading role in the reproduction of socially shared beliefs.

The same is true for educational discourse. Among the few discourse types that are ‘obligatory’ for some of the participants, namely the students, forms of educational discourse such as lessons and textbooks, play a prominent role in the reproduction of society. Besides their overt contents aiming at the acquisition of standard knowledge in society and culture, textbooks and their hidden curricula also play an important role in the reproduction of dominant ideologies, such as those of race, gender and class. It is therefore important to examine in some detail how textbooks do this (Apple, 1979, 1982, 1993; Apple & Christian-Smith, 1991).

Also because of increasing migration, most contemporary societies are more or less multicultural or multiethnic. Also North America and Western Europe in the last decades have thus become increasingly diverse. Such diversity is expressed in many ways, such as in social practices, ideologies and discourses, for instance in politics, the media and education. Adequate textbooks of multicultural societies may thus be expected to reflect and promote the values of such multicultural societies. Unfortunately, much research in the last decades has shown that this is seldom the case. Most textbooks in the past -- and many still today -- rather reflect the prejudices and stereotypes of the dominant white, European, group about the indigenous populations in the USA or Australia, and about the immigrants from the South and East in virtually all countries of Western Europe and North America  (Blondin, 1990; Gill, 1992; Giustinelli, 1991; Klein, 1986; Mangan, 1993; Preiswerk, 1980; Troyna, 1993).

Against the background of these general dimensions of discourse and the reproduction of racism, and the more specific ones of the role of textbooks in the discursive reproduction of racism, this paper shall examine some properties of the coverage of immigration and minorities in contemporary textbooks in Spain.

The case of Spain is interesting because unlike other western European countries, migration to Spain is much more recent – also because until quite recently Spain was itself too poor a European country to attract immigrants. Rather, it was for a long time itself the motherland of many migrants, first of all to its own former colonies, and later to the USA and North-Western Europe. Yet, at the same time, Spain had its own minorities, such as the Jews and especially the ‘Gitanos’ (‘gypsies’), who had been persecuted, expelled and discriminated against for centuries. Until North-Africans, especially from Morocco -- often still called ‘Moros’ -- arrived in large numbers during the last decade, the Gitanos were the main target of racist prejudice and discrimination (Calvo Buezas, 1997; Colectivo IOE, 2001; Manzanos Bilbao, 1999; Martín Rojo et al. 1994; SOS Racismo, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003; Van Dijk, 2003).

There are several other reasons to examine the representation of immigration and minorities in Spanish textbooks. First of all, several studies suggest that increasing immigration has been accompanied by increasing racism, and that in that respect Spain has become more and more like the other countries in Western Europe. Secondly, however, in some respects Spain may be different than other western European countries, for instance because of its own experiences of emigration and the period of fascism under Franco. These experiences might have created more pronounced ideologies of solidarity as a possible protection against racism. Arguments for such a position might be the absence of racist parties -- ubiquitous elsewhere in most Western Europe – and of racist media and tabloids, as we know them from the UK and Germany.

In the present paper, thus, it is interesting to investigate whether such a special situation of Spain – if it is true – would also be true to textbooks. In this case we may compare to results of textbook research in other countries which were at the same stage of immigration as Spain has been in the last decade.




Racist discourse


It has been assumed above that racism as a system of social inequality daily reproduces itself through social practices, such as various forms of discrimination, exclusion, problematization, or marginalization (Back & Solomos, 2000; Bulmer & Solomos, 1999; Essed, 1991; Essed & Goldberg, 2002; Feagin, Vera & Batur, 2001)

A crucial social practice in this case is discourse, language use or communication. Both as directed at minorities or immigrants, for instance in everyday conversation, as well as about Others in everyday talk as well as public elite discourse in politics, media, education and research, discourse plays a fundamental role in the perpetuation of racism. The same is true, incidentally, for the reproduction of antiracism as a system of resistance and opposition.

Despite the vast differences between countries, ethnic groups and discourse genres involved, racist discourse has a number of characteristic general properties. First of all, as is the case for most ideologically based text and talk, racist discourse tends to be polarized in the sense that it features a negative representation of Them, combined with a positive representation of Us. Century-old prejudices and stereotypes fed by an ideology of racial (white) superiority have thus left their traces in contemporary collective beliefs about non European peoples. Such polarized representations can manifest themselves at all levels of discourse, such as the choice of topics, the way discourse participants are represented, in the syntactic means to emphasize or de-emphasize agency and responsibility for good and bad actions, in metaphors and in general in the way our good things and their bad things are being enhanced or mitigated. We find such biased representations in most political discourse, in the mass media as well as in textbooks (Reisigl & Wodak, 2000, 2001; Van Dijk, 1984, 1987a, 1991, 1993; Wodak & van Dijk, 2000).


Racism in textbooks


Textbooks are known to be shaped by the dominant ideologies of society. They are intended not only as means to realize the explicit curriculum of socially accepted knowledge, but also as the conduit for prevailing norms, values and attitudes. It is therefore not surprising that they also have been one of the main sites for the formulation of racist or Eurocentric ideas, first about the peoples of the Third world, and then about those from the South immigration to Europe and Northern America. Whereas such racism in the early 20th century and until the Second World War was quite explicit, and formulated in terms of white superiority, contemporary forms of racism in textbooks have become more subtle and implicit. Research on racism in textbooks of the last decades has found the following typical characteristics:


·        Exclusion: immigrants and minorities do not or barely appear as groups represented in textbooks. Even when significant groups of immigrants are present, many textbooks still represent society as homogeneous, monocultural and ‘white’. Diversity is not celebrated as a positive value.

·        Difference: if represented at all, immigrants, minorities and in general non European peoples tend to be described as essentially different from us; differences are emphasized and similarities are de-emphasized.

·        Exotism: The ‘positive’ side of the emphasis on difference is the enhancement of the exotic, strange or otherwise distant nature of the Others. This is especially the case for peoples living far away, or for the first small groups of immigrants from such peoples.

·        Stereotyping:  Representations of the Others tend to be stereotypical, schematic and fixed. Textbooks often repeat each other in the reproduction of such stereotypes about poverty, lacking modernity, backwardness, and so on.

·        Positive self-presentation of Us: Our own group (Europeans, nationals, etc.) are attributed many positive characteristics: Technologically advanced, democratic, well-organized, knowledgeable, and so on. Typically, We are being represented as actively helping or assisting (passive) Them.

·        Negative representation of Them: Besides the usual stereotypes, Others may also be attributed many negative characteristics, such as being violent, criminal, illegal, using drugs, authoritarian, undemocratic, backward, passive, lazy or lacking intelligence.

·        The denial of racism: The positive representation of Us also implies the absence, denial or mitigation of the negative representation of Us. Thus, our history of colonialism, aggression or racism tends to be ignored or reduced. Racism is typically represented as of the past (slavery, segregation in the USA) or elsewhere (e.g. in the USA or South-Africa), and seldom as being here, now, among us, and in our institution.

·        Lacking voice: The Others are not only represented stereotypically and negatively, but also passively and as lacking voice. We talk and write about Them, but they are seldom heard or represented as speaking and giving their own opinion, and even less when saying critical things about Us.

·        Text and Images: Many of the characteristics mentioned above not only are exhibited in text, but also in images, which typically exhibit the exotic, negative or problematic dimensions of Others or other countries. Thus, we will typically see a picture of ‘huts’ in Africa or igloos in Canada, rather than of a traffic jam among skyscrapers of many cities in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

·        Assignments: The didactic dimensions of textbooks often presuppose the exclusive presence of ‘white’ students in class, addressing them specifically and inviting them to reflect about the Others as if these were not also present in class.


Many of these characteristics are not explicitly racist, but contribute to an overall stereotypical image of a homogeneous monocultural society, and of Them as being distant, different, absent or more or less subtly inferior to Us Europeans. Once immigrants and minorities are being represented, such representations may remain more or less stereotypical or negative – as Them, rather than as part of Us. Problems of multicultural societies tend to be emphasized, whereas the many positive aspects of diversity are ignored or played down. Immigrants tend to be portrayed as creating problems for us, rather than as contributing to our economic prosperity or cultural diversity.

These general characteristics of textbooks are more pronounced in countries where immigrants or minority groups are recent. Thus, in the USA and the UK, where debates about racism and textbooks have been going on for a longer time than in (other) countries of Europe, textbooks have followed the tendencies of a more general debate about multicultural education.

In Spain, this debate is more recent, and barely integrated in the curriculum. The international debate in other countries is of course known to education specialists in Spain, so that they did not need to begin from scratch (for discussion, see Aparicio Gervás, 2002; Calvo Buezas, 2003; Colectivo Amani, 2002; García Martínez & Sáez Carreras, 1998; Jordán Sierra, 2001; Martín Rojo, 2003; Ruíz Román, 2003; Sabariego Puig, 2002; Sierra Illán, 2001).

Under the influence of international debates on immigration, this also means that Spanish textbooks are already markedly better than for instance Dutch textbooks 20 years ago (for Dutch textbooks, see Van Dijk, 1987b). Let us illustrate this general observation in more detail.


Spanish Textbooks


In the remainder of this paper we examine some Spanish textbooks of social science of obligatory secondary education (ESO), which in principle is for adolescents between 12 and 16. Social science in general is taught together with history and geography, and textbooks tend to be integrated. Some of the autonomous regions use their own textbooks, in their own language. Thus textbooks in Catalonia are in Catalan, and in order to be able to compare with those in Castilian Spanish, we shall also examine one of these Catalan textbooks (for details about Spanish textbooks and how they cover immigration, see Castiello Costales, 2002).


Catalan textbook


The Catalan textbook we have examined is called Marca (Vicens Vives, 1rst edition, Barcelona 2003), used in the second year of secondary education. It combines social sciences, geography and history and is written by a team of 5 authors (A. Albet Mas, B. Benejam Arguimbau, M. García Sebastián, C. Gatell Arimont, and J. Roig Obiol, of which the first is professor of geography and the others secondary school teachers). The first volume of this book, written for the first year of ESO features a part on physical geography, and history from prehistoric times to the Greek and Roman empires, and sections on Catalunya in the times of the Greeks and the Romans. The volume we shall examine, Volume 2, continues the history part of this book, focusing on the Middle Ages, with a special section on the Iberic peninsula.

Relevant for our analysis of immigration are the passages on the Arabic period of Spain (Al Andalus). This section is written in rather ‘objective’ terms, on the one hand in terms of conquest by the “Muslim army” and various periods of Arabic administration between 711 and 1492, and on the other hand focusing on the major cultural contributions, mainly those of architecture, such as the Mosque in Cordoba, and the Alhambra in Granada, as well as literary and agricultural renewal. In other words, neither the content nor the style of this section imply a negative attitude towards Muslims or Arabs other than in the usual way in which historical battles and conquest is being described. On the contrary, the unique cultural contributions of the Arab conquerors are emphasized.

The rest of the textbook is about the geography of the modern world: demography, migration, social and political organization, rural and industrial societies, Europe, Spain and Catalunya. Let us examine some sections of this part of the book in somewhat more detail (words between double quotes are translations of Catalan words used in the text – whereas single quotes have the usual functions of special uses of words, and so on).

A first categorization and polarization between the “developed” and the “underdeveloped” world is made according to different “demographic models”, with high and low birth rates, respectively (pp. 166 ff.). The demographic “explosion” in the underdeveloped countries (nearly all in the South, and appropriately colored orange on the world map, p. 167), which is also described as a consequence of medical and sanitary advances (“coming from the developed world”) is thus compared to the sometimes negative population growth in the developed countries in the North (colored green on the map).  Low birth rates in the developed countries is explained in terms of increasing numbers of women entering the work force and different attitudes about having children now these are no longer needed for economic reasons. Rather strangely, no mention is made of the increasing use of anticonception. For the “underdeveloped” world, high birth rates are explained in terms of the economic necessity of having many children, the social marginalization of women, and religious beliefs. No such references are made for the religious beliefs in developed nations such as the USA or Spain, and it is implied that women in the South do not work, and hence more easily can have babies. These few passages already suggest a rather generalized, if not stereotypical, polarization between “developed” and “underdeveloped” nations, if only as far as their demography is concerned. A picture of a well dressed, middle class, well to do ‘white’ family, seated at a table with much food, and with one child, two parents, two grandparents (and a cat), all smiling (except the cat), and in bright colors, is shown next to a picture of a very poor mestizo family in the countryside, with many children, barefoot and dressed very poorly, standing in front of a very simple house made of wooden sticks, and overall colored in brown like the soil they are standing on. That is, the picture illustrates and emphasizes the polarization provided in the text. No mention is made of rich nations, classes or people in the South or of poor people in the North.

A separate chapter is dedicated to migration and population structure (pp. 172 ff). Migration is explained in terms of economic inequality in the world. Several pictures on the first page of the chapter illustrate the multicultural population in the UK, a Muslim woman in Berlin, and a poor family “from” Ecuador (without indication of where they are, but implicitly suggested that they reside in Spain). As conditions that favor immigration are mentioned that necessities of people are not satisfied in the country where they live (whereas they can be satisfied in the country where they are going), the media that transmit information about the new country so that people can compare with their own circumstances, and means of transport to reach the other countries. No mention is made of the necessities of the receiving countries, such as the need for cheap, immigrant labor (as also the term ‘Gastarbeiter’ suggests), as well as because of increasingly low birth rates. Besides economic reasons and natural causes (catastrophes), also social (religious, political, etc) reasons of migration are mentioned. That the causes of immigration are in the South and not in the North is explicitly formulated as follows:


It is clear that migration flows are rather generated by the adverse conditions in the countries of origin and not so much by the attraction factors in the places of destination. Thus it is the desperation of the inhabitants of many countries in the South which presently give rise to the migration flows toward the countries of the North (p. 176).


A drawing linking “attraction territories” and “expelling territories” (territoris de repulsió) shows a worried picture of a man in the first, and a happy picture of a man in the latter, transmitted by TV to the first. Again, we see that the main explanation of migration is the negative motivation of people in poor countries, rather than the needs of rich countries. Also, this drawing seems to imply that people in poor countries are unhappy and that immigrants in rich countries are happy, thus contributing to unfounded generalizations and stereotypes, and to ignorance about the actual living and working conditions of immigrants in rich countries.

The authors of the textbook are of the opinion that measures need to be taken against the “explosion” of migration. Thus, there will be less migration from poor countries if the following actions are taken (p. 176):


·        Growing investments in technology, education, health care and infrastructure in the poor countries.

·        Import barriers in underdeveloped countries need to be lowered so that imported goods can generate wealth.

·        Social and political changes (more democracy) will favor progress.


First of all, this passage implies that migration is a problem (“explosion”) that need to be solved. Secondly, the solution is sought in the poor countries and not in the rich countries. Thirdly, lowering import barriers in poor countries first of all benefits the rich exporting countries. No mention is made of the necessity to lower import barriers in the rich countries so that poor countries can export their products. And finally, the poor countries are stereotypically associated with social inequality and lacking democracy. That many of the undemocratic regimes in the South have been created and supported by the ‘democratic’ regimes of the North is another fact that is not fit to be read about by school kids. Thus, the textbook gradually construes a polarized picture of the rich, democratic North and the poor undemocratic South, and immigrants are associated with the latter.

After a brief description of the consequences of migration for the sending and the receiving countries (in rich countries immigrants do work others do not want to do), the focus of the next section is on migration control, described as one of the major worries of the receiving countries. In other words, after briefly suggesting that migrants may contribute positively to the demography and economy of the rich countries, immigration is more emphatically defined as a problem, as is also the case in politics and the media. These problems are described as follows:


The countries that receive immigrants consider that the number of foreign workers they can take in is related to the number of vacancies they need to fill. If these limits are exceeded, illegal flows may result of persons involved in clandestine jobs and the hidden economy.

The fact that immigrants do not find work may cause social problems (…)

All this favors the arrival (…) of a large number of clandestine immigrants through itineraries controlled by mafias who make money with smuggling people and who even endanger the lives of the immigrants (p. 178).


The problem with such passages is not that they are totally wrong or misguided, but rather that the selection of negative aspects of immigration and immigrants creates a social representation that is predominantly negative. If only a handful of things are being said about immigrants, and these are the same kind of things the children hear from parents or friends or see on TV, then this can only confirm established stereotypes. It would in that case be much more important to take advantage of the textbooks to emphasize those aspects of immigration than are less known, or that tend to be denied or forgotten. Thus, in the cited passage, immigrants are associated with such negative concepts as ‘illegal’, ‘clandestine’ as ‘creating social problems’, ‘smuggling’ and ‘mafias’, even when they are victims of the latter. That immigrants often contribute positively to the demography, the economy, the diversity, renewal and cultural richness of their new homeland, would have been an alternative and less stereotypical way of formulating the consequences of immigration. And among the social problems one should not only mention or vaguely suggest those caused by them, but also those caused by the receiving population, as is the case for prejudice, discrimination and racism.

The latter issues are briefly dealt with in a special section on “Immigrants and social problems at the place of destination”, where we find a brief typology of different relations between immigrants and people in the receiving country, such as integration, multiculturalism and marginalization (p. 179). When immigrants are integrated this give us their norms, values and habits; this does not cause any problems except a “loss of personality”. Multiculturalism is defined as the acceptation of different norms, values and conduct by the receiving society, and such should not lead to any problems. The third situations is defined as follows:


Marginalization or conflict arise when the receiving society and the newcomers do not accept each other and do not respect the values, norms and behavior of the others. Problems of racism and xenophobia may thus be unleashed.

Migration policies are essential to avoid conflicts and to favor integration and multiculturalism. (p. 179).


Again, in this passage, immigration and immigrants are presupposed to be related to problems – which are said not to occur when the immigrants integrate and do not need to occur when the receiving society recognizes and accepts the immigrants. The latter passage mentions racism and xenophobia as some kind of natural phenomenon, or as a problem that spontaneously arises, and mutually between groups, and not as something engaged in by people of the receiving society, that is of Us in the Northern countries. No more is said about racism and its consequences than this one vague sentence. Moreover, the way integration is defined it rather stands for assimilation, because there is no mention of possibly changing norms, values and habits of the receiving society. Finally, the textbook unambiguously seems to support “migration policies”, thus implicitly favoring a limitation of immigration, and defining the problems and conflicts in terms of the immigrants and not in those of the receiving society.


One year later…


A year later, the students of the third ESO grade get more information about immigration in the next book of the series, Marca 3 (written by A. Albet Mas, P. Benejam Arguimbau, M. Casas Vilalta, P. Comas Solé and M. Ollér Freixa). Thus, in Chapter 3 about the population of the world, there is a section on migrations today of two pages, with two pictures and a world map with arrows indicating migration ‘flows’.

The first picture is of one of the ‘pateras’, that is, the little boats used by undocumented immigrants crossing the Straits of Gibraltar. The second shows a group of these immigrants sitting ashore with a police van behind them, obviously having been captured by the Guardia Civil. Although the vast majority of immigrants arrive by airplane, and through the airport of Madrid, Barajas, or overstay after legal immigration, the prominent coverage of undocumented entry by ‘patera’, and the often dramatic deaths of many immigrants by drowning, suggest that most immigrants enter the country this way. The two pictures in the textbook confirms this stereotype, and thus give a biased representation of how the immigrants enter the country, at the same time emphasizing their ‘illegality’.

As in the previous volume, the text summarizes the main reasons for immigration, and emphasizes that immigration is largely caused by globalization and the difference in income between the rich North and the poor South, and between Eastern and Western Europe. In this case it is also mentioned that the rich countries needed cheap workers for their economy, but that they now apply severe entry restrictions. So far so good: very succinct, but correct information. When however the textbook provides a rather heterogeneous typology of immigrants, it distinguishes between immigrants who are qualified, those without education, women, undocumented immigrants and refugees.

In the section with assignments there are three pages more about immigration First a map and some text gives some further information about migration in the past, which includes the emigration of many Spanish people to the Americas – after the “discovery” of that continent. A second map, this time with arrows indicating migration flows in and to Europe, and an interview with well-known French deputy Sami Naïr, provide more information and opinion about immigration to Europe. The questions asked after this interview fragment largely focus on “illegal” immigrants and the problems of immigration, but that is only one aspect mentioned in the interview. Naïr also talks about xenophobia, racism and exclusion, and on some positive measures that may contribute to the development of the countries of origin. No questions or assignments are related to these aspects of immigration. In sum, despite the fact that the textbook cites a prominent expert on immigration, its reading and focus of this fragment is again biased and focused on problems and illegality.

The next section, on immigration to Australia, mentions that this country has received immigrants from 150 different countries, and that although some sectors of the population are proud of being a land of immigrants and that immigration has economically, socially and culturally enriched the country, among other sectors of the population “anti-immigration sentiments have emerged”. A following question about this speaks of “opinions against immigration”. In both cases we recognize the familiar euphemisms for racism, and in both cases we observe the well-known impersonal expressions “has emerged” and “there are”, instead of identifying the actual subjects of these ‘sentiments’: the white (European) population of Australia.

The chapter on the cities of the world has a section that deals with their multicultural nature and with immigration (p. 116 ff). It is first emphasized that although in the developed countries there is a feeling of massive immigrants, most immigration in the world takes place between countries in Asia or Africa. A separate section provides concrete statistics. A next page focuses on the consequences of immigration to the cities in the rich countries. A first two points emphasize again the negative dimensions:


Concentration of ethnic minorities in run-down spaces. In these places with cheaper rents poverty and the deterioration of housing are more prominent.

The people who live in these neighborhoods have difficulty to find work and, when they do not find it, very often they have to work in unstable and ill paid jobs. Poverty promotes the development of insecurity and the marginalization of these urban areas.

Big families. The immigrant populations of other cultures usually have more sons and daughters than families of our own cultural environment and therefore the percentage of citizens of other culture will continue to increase, even when no new immigrants would come. (p. 117).

These passages are quite typical of textbooks on immigration. What is being said is not totally wrong, but seriously incomplete and biased. The bias consists first in the fact that only negative aspects of immigration to the big cities of the North are mentioned. Secondly, by omitting crucial information a wrong impression about immigrants and immigration is bound to be learned by the students. Thus, although it is true that families of people immigrating to Europe and especially Spain tend to be bigger, it is also true that within one or two generation immigrant birth rates soon adapt to those in the host country, and that therefore there is no reason to speak of the continuous growth of the immigrant population due to their high birthrates. Similarly, the first passage focuses on the “insecurity” of immigrant neighborhoods, and thus implicitly establishes the stereotypical, if not racist, link between poverty, illegality and delinquency. No positive consequences of migration for the cities of the North are mentioned, such as the contributions to the vital economy of the cities (construction, services, etc) and to the diversity of their population and cultures. Indeed, except from one minor remark about economic contributions, these textbooks say virtually nothing about the fact that construction, hotels, restaurants, and so on, in the cities of the North would cease to function without the presence of (low paid) immigrant workers. That is, as much as the immigrants need the jobs of the North, the North needs the cheap labor of the South. Neither this vital interdependence nor the positive aspects of immigration are highlighted in the textbook, not even at the level of the third ESO grade – for kids of 15 years old. Rather they are confronted with stereotypes about illegal immigration in ‘pateras’, run-down neighborhoods, delinquency, and high birth rates. Barely one page of biased information about immigrants in ‘our’ cities in a book of more than 300 pages is rather scant for the students to learn about a social environment that many (and soon most) of the students will experience in the multicultural cities of the North. Indeed, the urban adolescents who use these books need to read more about the details of Catalan agriculture.



A Castilian Textbook


The second book I shall examine more closely is written in Castilian and used in Madrid: Geografía e Historia. Ciencias Sociales, written by M. Burgos, J. Calvo, V. Fernández, M. Jaramillo, and F. Velázquez (Madrid, Anaya, 2002). This means that whereas the Catalan textbook has special sections about Catalonia, this textbook has special sections on the autonomous region of Madrid.

Probably due to the general curriculum, the contents of the Catalan and Castilian textbooks are very similar. Thus, of the 4 volumes, the first deals with physical geography, and with prehistory and the “first civilizations” : Egypt, Greece and Rome, including Roman Hispania.

The second volume, which will concern us here, has six sections, the first on population and economic activity, the second on social and political organization, the third on the cultural diversity of human groups, and the fourth, the fifth and the sixth on medieval history. The first blocks feature several lessons on the topics that interest us: immigration, ethnic minorities, African and South America.

Migration is dealt with as part of the lesson on population. As is the case in the Catalan textbook also this textbook makes a distinction between “underdeveloped” and “developed” countries. The first have high birth rates, vaguely explained by the “lack of control over births”, and the latter have low birthrates, explained, as in the Catalan textbook, by the “incorporation of women in the world of work”, and –strangely – also by the “general aging of the population” (p. 15). Religious beliefs and traditional customs contrary to methods of birth control are also mentioned as influencing birthrate, as well as economic circumstances, for instance when families need their children to help them with work on the land. Interestingly religious beliefs are thus mentioned as being associated with high birth rates in “underdeveloped” countries, whereas until the 1970s and under Franco, the same was true in Spain, whose birthrate became one of the lowest in the world in the 1990s.

Migration is explained in terms of hunger, looking for work, the wish to improve life, wars, and political and religion persecution, as is also the case in the Catalan textbook. Again, no economic causes of the receiving countries are mentioned, so that the benefits of immigration only appear to be for those who immigrate. This is also the reason why this book uses the word “to face”, that is, something that is a problem:


At the moment the developed countries have to face an important migration flow from the underdeveloped countries (p. 17).


It is however added that


in general immigration favors the developed countries, which thus get cheap labor and a young population. But when the number of immigrants is high, racism and xenophobia may take place, o feelings of rejection towards those who arrive from abroad (p. 17).


Again, we find the same problems as in the Catalan textbook: racism and xenophobia are mentioned only in one sentence, are formulated as something that simply “occurs”, as a natural phenomenon, and is not explicitly attributed to (Spanish) people. Moreover in Spanish the metaphor “brotes” is used, which literally means “shoots” of a plant, and which is normally used to refer to something that is incipient, and still small or reduced. This confirms the association of racism with nature, and also mitigates its magnitude. The use of the euphemism “feelings of rejection” (sentimientos de rechazo) further confirms this well-known strategy of de-emphasizing our bad things. In a special ‘report’ of one page about immigration to Europe the same euphemism is used as one of the factors that make integration difficult for most immigrants, together with problems of language, customs, lacking residence and work permits. Though very succinctly, this book thus mentions that immigrants also have difficulties in Europe. Unlike the Catalan textbook it does not associate immigrants as explicitly with problems and illegality.

One of the next sections in the book deals with different types of societies and cultures, such as traditional (now virtually extinct) hunter-gatherer and agrarian societies and (post) industrial societies, the first associated with the Third World, and the latter with Europe. Also the pictures suggest this polarization of the representation of societies and peoples: hunter-gatherers and a village of adobe huts, and a black woman working the land with a child on her back, on the one hand, and a picture of (white) people working on a computer, on the other hand. The general distinction made between “underdeveloped” and “developed” (p. 60) further emphasizes this overgeneralization.

Again, as such there is no problem associating for instance poor or agrarian societies with the “Third World” or with Asia, Africa and Latin America, and (post) industrial society with the North. The problem is the unnecessary overgeneralization: Contrary to existing stereotypes the textbook might have emphasized that also in Europe and the USA there is still agriculture – one of the reasons why poor countries have difficulty exporting to the North – and that the Third World has many modern, big cities and industry. Both in the text and in the pictures, this would have been an opportunity to combat stereotypes the students meet everywhere else in public discourse.

In section on social stratification there is also a ‘report’ of one page on “ethnic minorities”. Brief mention is made of the Gitanos as one of the major minority groups in Spain, but at the moment eclipsed by the high numbers of new immigrants from e.g. Africa and Latin America. Not a single word more about Gitanos. Only a generalization about multiethnic societies:


In our times many countries in the world are becoming multiethnic societies. This fact on occasion leads to the emergence of certain attitudes such as prejudice, discrimination and racism. Prejudices are the consequence of judging all people belonging to a social group on the basis of preconceived ideas, and not on the correct knowledge of these people. Discrimination is a behavior, an attitude which implies that certain rights or opportunities are withheld from minority groups. Finally, racism consist in considering others as superior or inferior as a function of physical, racial or ethnic differences.

Facing this behavior each day there are more people conscious of the necessity to promote cultural pluralism, considering minority cultures as a form of social and cultural enrichment (p. 64).


We see, again, that prejudice, discrimination and racism miraculously erupt as a consequence of the multiethnic society, as a phenomenon, not as something specific people engage in. The succinct further explanation of these terms again remain very general and very vague, and in no way seem to implicate Us, white Europeans. If not as ‘natural’ phenomena of societies, prejudice, discrimination and racism are described of any multiethnic society in the world. In other words, white students in Madrid need not feel addressed at all with this very succinct, general and superficial explanation of these terms. Indeed, racism is not dealt with specifically as a problem of Spanish society, and as something that the dominant, Spanish majority has nothing to do with. In sum, we again witness the familiar pattern of succinct, vague, generalized treatment of racism and a very marked case of minimizing ‘our’ (white, European, Spanish) bad things.

Unlike the Catalan textbook, this Castilian textbook also deals with the cultural diversity of the various regions of the world (Western Europe, North America, Latin America, North Africa, etc.), although most of this information deals with the usual geographical facts about states: population, political organization, resources, industry, and so on. We read much on highly developed commerce, industry, and so on, but not a word on immigration, minorities, and the contribution of immigrants to the wealth of Europe. Nor a word on the colonial history of Europe as another explanation of its riches (although the next sections on other parts of the world brief mention colonialism, without a further description of its forms and consequences).

On North America a few lines mention the white protestant population and the ethnic minorities. No information about the history of slavery, segregation, and contemporary racism. Of Iberoamerica we only read this about the population:


The population of Iberoamerica is largely catholic and of mestizo and Indian race. The population of the white race only forms the majority in Chile, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. In the rest of the countries, on the other hand, the indigenous population is predominant, and represents between 50% and 70% of the total population, as in Peru, Bolivia, Mexico and Colombia. (p. 113).


Remarkable here is first the use of the word ‘race’ to refer to mestizos and Indians, a notion that is not even problematized in a textbook on geography and the social sciences. Secondly, apart from the factual errors and omissions (no mention is made of Ecuador, Venezuela and the Central American states, and not even of Brazil), there is also no mention of colonial history nor about current white racism against the indigenous population and against the people of African descent, which are not mentioned at all.

A special ‘report’ of one page is dedicated to the indigenous people of the Americas (p. 114). Here it is briefly said that the colonizers “seized” (apoderaron) the lands and resources of the indigenous population, but their diminishing numbers are largely attributed to themselves (alcohol, illnesses), and not to the massacres of the colonizers. For Latin America this description of the diminishing numbers of indigenous people is even more innocuous:


The Hispanic and Portuguese colonization also gave rise in Iberoamerica to an alarming decrease of the number of native Indians. (p. 114).


Thus, somehow the decrease of the indigenous population is vaguely related to colonization, but it is not explicitly spelled out how. Again, no word on colonial history, no word on massacres of indigenous people, no word of the way they were discriminated, oppressed and marginalized by Spaniard, Portuguese (as well as Dutch and English) colonizers. As elsewhere, not only ‘our’ racism in Europe is ignored or mitigated, also ‘our’ colonialism and racism in the Americas is conveniently ‘forgotten’. In another section, on the economy of Latin America, poverty is attributed wholly to the unequal distribution of the land, insufficient mechanization, and scarce technical preparation of the farmers, that is, to their own ‘backwardness’ – with no role of the North, for instance in the local economies, nor in the limitation for exports due to protection. Poverty and indigence are just said to “have spread” in the 1990s, but we do not find information about how such poverty came about.

Similar remarks are relevant for the treatment of Africa. The population is described as largely being of the “black race” (p. 122). Colonization is mentioned in passing, mostly as a cause of the boundaries between states. Of apartheid in South Africa we read the following:


(…) managed to overcome the apartheid regime and the confrontation between the black majority and the while minority (p. 121).


This description presupposes that apartheid was merely ‘overcome’ – as a joint process – and not because of black struggle and resistance (on another page, as part of an assignment a few more lines say some more about apartheid and on Mandela). Also, apartheid is not defined in terms of domination by the white population, but as a kind of conflict between two groups. This is one of the many ways in which white (European) racism is mitigated. On the other hand, Europeans are said to have introduced “modern” agriculture, whereas other agriculture is “rudimentary” (p. 124). Again, there are virtually no comments on the role of the North, Europe or Spain in Africa, and not a single critical remark. The treatment of Asia and Oceania, is similar.

The final sections of the book are historical and deal with the Middle Ages. As is the case for the Catalan textbook, we also here find rather extensive information about Islam and the “Muslim” occupation of Spain. Generally, these pages emphasize the many economic, agricultural and cultural contributions of the “Muslim” occupation of Spain, including details about new crops and new techniques of irrigation, as well as other inventions. The section is strictly historical. We do not find any information about contemporary Islam, or Muslim immigrants in Spain.


Volume 3


The third volume of this textbook largely deals with a repetition and further elaboration of geographical notions, such as the physical properties of the earth and of Spain, weather, population, agrarian and industrial spaces, and so on.

As in the previous volume there is some information about migration, but this is very general and does not apply specifically to Spain and Europe. In an attempt at a typology, one of the categories proposed is to categorize migration by its (il)legality (p. 63). Also in this volume the information about racism is limited to one single sentence: “(…) the last years has seen the emergence of xenophobia and racism”. (p. 76). No further information about where, by whom, against whom, and so on. Only brief information is given about where people come from and where they are going. In the chapter on the Spanish population there is some more information about immigration: Spain used to be a land of emigration but now has become a land of immigration, a fact illustrated with some statistics about where most immigrants come from, where they settle in Spain and in which jobs they find work. A picture shows, quite stereotypically, two immigrants collecting garbage. No mention is made of the thousands of students, especially from Latin America, who come to Spain to do their PhD, and without whom many PhD programs in Spain would cease to exist because of lacking students. The only other social information that is given about the immigrants is that they “frequently have difficulties to integrate themselves” and that many of them do not have papers and hence staying in the country “illegally”.

No further explanation is given about the lack of integration, and why the description is given a reflexive form (“integrate themselves”) as if integration is only a one-way process. We do not even find one single remark on this special page on racism, prejudice and discrimination. Also it is always remarkable that the illegal residence of immigrants appears to be such an important information among the few things that are being said about immigrants, and that we never find any remark about the many business people who employ these same people illegally. In other words, the emphasis on their bad things, and mitigating or ignoring our bad things seems to be regular feature about all passages about immigrants in these textbooks. When the textbook finally deals with the population of Europe it briefly mentions the “importance of migrations” in a subtitle, but the text itself does not explain why immigration was and is to important for Europe.

In a passage on “minorities in the world” we find a few lines about minorities in Europe:


Also the north-African immigrants who come to Europe and the Latin Americans who arrive in the United States have integration problems, because in both cases they encounter great difficulties being accepted by the countries to which they emigrate. In all cases the main problem is integration and the acceptance of differences in the framework of respect between groups. (p. 96).


Apart from the rather simplistic and redundant formulation, also this passage shows that the authors have really very little to say about immigrants, other than repeating stereotypes about lacking integration, and a very mitigated version – in passive voice – of what might be interpreted as discrimination: “they encounter difficulties being accepted”.  The students have to learn more about the crops, natural resources, animals or types of landscapes in various parts of the world, then about one of the major phenomena of our time, immigration, or about one of the major problems of Europe: racism. Since all textbooks are virtually the same, it should be concluded that the main problem resides in the curriculum and the limited conception of geography.




Concluding out analysis of a Catalan and a Castilian textbook we may conclude that there are of course no explicitly racist passages. However, we do find a confirmation of many of the usual problems of representing other people, other countries, and in particular of dealing with migration, its causes and consequences. These problems may be summarized as follows:


·        The textbooks show the stereotypical polarization between Us and Them, between Us in the North, in Europe or in Spain, on the one hand, and Them in the South or in the Third World, on the other hand. Very little variation or diversity is observed among Us or Them. For instance, in the South there are no rich people, and in the North there are no poor people.

·        Immigration is represented as motivated and caused only by the needs of immigrants, not by the needs or benefits of the receiving countries.

·        The information about the immigrants is scarce, and largely limited to some simple statistics about how many there are, where they come from, and where they settle.

·        Their work is stereotypically described as what Spanish people do not want to do. There is no diversity of information about motivation of immigration or type of work the immigrants do.

·        Even if little information is given about immigrants, one of the standard items is virtually always that many of them are illegal. No information is given about “illegal” employers who give work to immigrants without papers.

·        Also, it is emphasized that immigrants have problems to “integrate themselves”. Little information is given about the causes of lacking integration, and such causes hardly have to do with the receiving population.

·        Racism, prejudice and discrimination are sometimes mentioned, but in general, abstract terms, and not as a major problem of Us in Spain or Europe, and of which we are the active agents. It is never described what the consequences are in the everyday lives of immigrants. No details are given about the kinds of daily discrimination.

·        More generally, negative aspects of Us in the North are ignored, toned down or described in very vague and general terms. This is also true for the (lacking) account about colonization and its consequences, as well as contemporary globalization.


These are not incidental problems, but structural problems that characterize virtually all passages, and since the textbooks are so standardized, we may venture the conclusion that what we have found in our analysis may be generalized for all textbooks currently used in Spain. This may also mean that the general curriculum does not insist on including the kind of information that is now obviously lacking.

The consequence for the learning process of adolescents in Spain is serious: They are not prepared for active and adequate participation in an increasingly multicultural society. They lack knowledge and insight into one of the most important social issues of our time, immigration and racism, and have not been prepared for daily interaction with fellow citizens from other countries and cultures. Ignorant about what racism means they will not be able to recognize it when they see it, nor be able to take into account the serious difficulties immigrants may experience who are victims of everyday racism. In sum, on the basis of our analysis we must conclude that current textbooks and curricula in Spain need serious revision if they want to contribute to the necessary knowledge and abilities of the citizens in a multicultural society.






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