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Shopping While Black in Spain

Yesterday I returned from one of the most amazing Italian vacations with my girlfriends and all I could think about as I stepped off the plane in Madrid was the “incident” that occurred the day before my trip.

Before I start, I realize that what I’m about to describe is something that many of my friends and family have also experienced at some point in their lives(many have experienced more times than they can count). In fact, the chances of me experiencing this without even knowing is probably pretty high. However, because this is the first time it has happened to me that I can actually remember, I feel the need to share. I created my blog to share my amazing & happy life experiences here in Spain, but I would be inauthentic if I didn’t share everything, including the not-so-pleasant experiences. I want to be able to share this experience, move on with my life and continue to focus on the positive, so here it goes:

Last week, I walked into a clothing store and I was 100% being followed by security. Now unless my father went straight up “taken” on me and hired a bodyguard to look after me, I’m pretty sure I was being racially profiled.

I would consider myself a pretty observant person(particularly now that I live in a foreign country) and I tend to want to give people the benefit of the doubt. But after further thought, speaking to a friend about it, and being very much in tune with my intuition, I am confident in saying that this incident is what I perceived it to be.

Up until last week, I’ve pretty much felt accepted and at the very least tolerated wherever I went in Madrid. I read about the racism toward African immigrants and heard personal stories from other black ex-pats but until now, never really felt like I’ve had a racist experience. I get stares sometimes but I always feel that I should never think too much about it because you never know what people could be thinking in their head about you(it could be all be positive for all I know) and frankly I could care less what they think. My mentality has always been:

“Yeah, I’m different, and what?”

This all changed last week when I noticed a security guard in a clothing store I was shopping in trailing behind me or always in my vantage point. When the majority of customers and potential “shoplifters” were all on the first floor, he decided to follow me to the second floor(both times). Every time I looked around, he was there. He never allowed his back to be turned towards me. Even when I walked towards him to look at something, he would slowly position himself to where he could clearly see me. He followed me up until I checked out at the register, and by that time I knew what was up. As I stood waiting for a cashier to ring me up, he passed by looking at me to which I gave him a look of disgust and shook my head.

So you might be thinking, “Why didn’t you just walk out and not spend your money at a store that made you feel like a criminal?” Well, there are a few reasons: The store employees weren’t the ones following me(even though the owner probably hired him), I really needed and wanted what I came in the store looking for AND part of me wanted to prove to this jerk security guard that I was a paying customer.

As I walked out the store I stared him down and vowed to never step foot in that store again. I was angry that I couldn’t find the words in Spanish to say something to him.

I felt so uncomfortable, violated and demeaned. What part of me looked like I would steal something? Oh, that’s right, my skin. The skin that God gave me along with the curly/kinky hair God also gave me. As much as I hate to admit it, after that moment, I see Madrid just a little differently. The majority of my experiences living here have been amazing. However, I couldn’t help but think about this one incident when I arrived back to Madrid. My vacation took my mind off of it but as soon as I returned I knew that I had to deal with my feelings. I remembered that many of the clothing and grocery stores here have security guards. How will this affect me going forward? Would I be paranoid? Would I come across as paranoid therefore causing me to get noticed even more? Do I need to make sure my hair looks certain way or that I’m dressed a certain way? The fact that I am a foreigner who does not fluently speak the language makes this even more of an issue for me. I’ve never, not once, had to think about this here until now.

This morning, I decided to wear my hair completely wrapped in a hair scarf. I actually second guessed my decision as I made my way out the door this morning. For sure, I knew I would definitely stand out with my hair like this, but I figured this would make for an interesting experience. As I walked into my local grocery store this morning, I noticed the security guard, and immediately felt my paranoia kick in. If I’m not mistaken, I do believe he had his eye on me too.

I still love you Spain.

Now back to my regular scheduled blogging.

XO

 

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Diane J Holmes
    March 29, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Sorry in this day n age Spain is still like that. My very first in your face racism for me , in fact happened in Spain, back in the 1980’s, when I traveled also. Beautiful bright sunny summer day while taking a walk, a man walking in the opposite direction from myself .Very slyly , non obtrustively, n so quickly , I could barely realized he said it, called me the “n” word. And no it wasn’t in the native language , which can be referred to as beautiful. I was so taken aback, I just stood there in total mis believe . So sad to know about your experience.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      March 29, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Wow! Unbelievable! I will say that 99% of my experience here has been pleasant. It’s just unfortunate that stuff like this still happens. Thanks for sharing you story! XO

  • Reply
    Danielle
    March 30, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience Christina. I had a tough time studying abroad in Madrid for 5 months and couldn’t wait to get back to America. I’m a full figured Black woman with natural curly hair. I’m happy that most of your experiences have been positive. Although these things occur, I think its important that we address them when we can even though the Spanish culture is different and as foreigners in the country we’re usually more hesitant to address issues that may have been discrimination or racism. Bringing awareness to it is the first step.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      March 31, 2016 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks for sharing Danielle! I know that you and I have spoken about your experience before and I appreciate your candidness. I felt that I needed to share if only just to take it off my chest so that I can move on from it.Like I said, I still adore Spain, but I’m just more aware of how situations like this can potentially happen.

  • Reply
    Martha
    April 4, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Ohh, I’m so sorry to hear this! It saddens me that such nonsense is still happening. Fortunately, I have not knowingly experienced such racial profiling in Barcelona (aside from being mistaken for a prostitute but that’s a different story), but I have experienced such behaviour in my life. It’s often difficult, once you have experienced racial profiling, to let it slide and quiet the paranoia, but you’ll get back to your “I’m different, so What?” self in no time! I feel that bringing awareness is an important step. I also wholeheartedly believe that the more visible the “unstereotypical” black person is in countries like Spain, the less these things will happen. I can’t say I’m incredibly surprised but I am completely disgusted by the tumerity and ignorance of the security guard.

    Martha xo

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 19, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      Thank you for reading and thanks so much for your words! It is difficult but I’m not going to let it get me down. And I agree I think my presence in certain situations may have already opened some people’s minds regarding black people and that makes me happy. There’s still so much left that needs to be done though. Are you living in Barcelona now?

  • Reply
    SC
    May 7, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    It’s such a complex issue and causes even more complex feelings when experienced. I used to think that maybe it was culture shock or ignorance on behalf of Spaniards but as I hear/see more accounts of it, I think it’s just blatant racism. Such a shame that it changes your perspective on entire people but it’s understandable how it can. I hope you have many more positive encounters than negative.

  • Reply
    Alesha
    September 1, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    I’ve had those kinds of experiences in America and racist experiences abroad too. One of the things that bothers me most about it is the way it makes people of color question themselves in ways whites do not. You thought about how your hair may be perceived, if other security guards were watching you, I think about the type of bag I take to the store, if it’s too large, if my clothes make me look like I can afford to be there, etc. Whites have the luxury of walking up, wearing what they want with their natural hair and feeling peace. I’m happy that majority of your experiences there have been positive. I remember at FSU they would show black students a video on racism before the Valencia trip so they could pick a different destination. Even my white friends have told me about racism in Spain and it was bad for them to have noticed. Unfortunately, there is racism everywhere and we blacks have to deal with it. God put you in one of the best cities in Spain though and I’m so emocionada para ti!

  • Reply
    Jayde Powell
    December 7, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story. It was actually comforting to know I am not alone in this. I am a black british girl studying here in Madrid for the last 2 years. I have found it to be a hard adjustment. I get a lot of stares and 9/10 the security guards follow me- especially in Zara which happens to be one of my favorite stores lol. I have actually taken strength from the situation to encourage me to learn Spanish as best that I can so that when the time comes for me to respond in a situation like you’ve described, it will be a flawless response. Call me crazy but everyone gets inspiration from different sources! Continue to enjoy Madrid 🙂

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