Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Traveling While Black... in Europe

A couple of days ago, my younger brother announced that he was thinking about traveling to Barcelona this summer. It's been a dream of his for awhile. But my sister-in-law, with a whispered warning over the phone, told him he might want to reconsider.

"It might not be safe for you in Spain this summer," she said.
"Why not?" my brother asked.
"Because of la crisis, the economy."
"What does that have to do with anything?" my brother demanded.
My sister-in-law sighed and answered, "Because there have been some 'incidents' against the immigrants and you might be mistaken for one of them."

Translation. Because of the worsening economy in Spain, violence against immigrants, Africans, South Americans, and/or anyone not visually Spanish, is at risk for feeling the frustration of the out of work Spaniards. This according to my sister-in-law in Spain.

When I heard this, I felt sick and all of my paranoid fears about being Black and unwanted in Spain returned. Fears that I thought I'd exorcised by writing my memoir, Kinky Gazpacho, came hurtling back. And they came with new fears this time. Fears of taking my children to Spain this summer and having them (them who look like Moroccans) be on the receiving end of ignorance and violence. Before my eyes, visions of keeping my sons safely ensconced in the house of my in-laws, never letting them out of the prisoners in paradise, flashed before me. Am I being ridiculous?

"What do you say we go back to Miami this summer instead?" I suggested to El Esposo?

Dear Meltingpot readers, especially those of you who live in Europe, have you seen an increase in violence or xenophobic behavior since the economy tanked? Is it widespread or isolated? Do you think Black Americans get a free pass from this violence because generally people can smell our "American-ness" a mile away? Should a new warning be issued by the Obama administration. Level Brown, perhaps? Do not travel if your skin color may be mistaken for that of an immigrant?

What do race relations look like in Europe when the economy goes bad? Is it safe to travel while Black these days? Please be candid and honest. This may turn into a bigger story.

Check out this story and this story for some more background on the current immigration situation in Spain.

Peace and Happy Tax Day!


Rose-Anne Clermont said...

I've been doing some reporting re: xenophobia in Italy and it is off the charts. The Lega Nord has come up with some nasty anti-immigrant legislation that is passing b/c everyone is worried about the economy.

And here in Germany, there are still places in the east where I won't go b/c I'm black.

But, I also think we shouldn't limit our lives b/c of ignorance. Easier said than done, of course.

As a black person, I wouldn't venture off into any rural areas right about now. But I'm sure he'll be fine if he stays within larger cities.

LT said...

Thanks for the info. shuddering with disbelief.


Carleen Brice said...

A yr ago I heard a story on NPR about black ex-pats in France. One of the women said that even tho she speaks French like a native, she's taken to speaking English in stores because American blacks are treated so much better than African blacks. Sad, isn't it?

Dee said...

However bad the situation over in Europe, I can't live my life in fear...I refuse to, but I must be careful. The world is full of crazy people and I always have to watch my back.

Spain is one of my top three go-to places for study abroad. Italy is too--should I reconsider?

parentingBYdummies said...

I am totally uniformed about the current race relations in Europe. I have not traveled to that neck of the world at all in the last 9 years (welcome to my life as a mom of 3), but I wanted to let you know that I just discovered your blog and plan to make frequent visits. Thanks for sharing.

Teresa said...

I was just in Spain in late November (in Sevilla) and didn't have any problems at all. We were visiting family and didn't get out for much nightlife. We did get out one night however and nothing then either. I must say Spain is lot more open then it was when I first began traveling there in 2000. BTW - my son could pass for Moroccan too.

LT said...


I think I heard that story too.

Dee, I think you have the right attitude about the whole thing. See the world!

PBD, thanks for stopping by. I checked out your blog. You're very funny and your kids are adorable.

Teresa, Thanks for the update. It's always good to hear from people who've been traveling. And of course I know that the country hasn't descended into madness, but again it's always good to hear what the climate is like.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I'm reading with much interest as I'll be in France this summer. I'm not worried about the 5 weeks with the seminar, but priot to its beginning, my daughter and I want to do some wondering around the continent. Suggestions for us in light of this discussion?

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I live in Rome and don't have any problems but Rose-Ann is right about the Lega Nord. They are the Hannitys and Limbaughs of Italy but are actually in gov't. and not on just on TV/Radio.

They are anti all immigrants but really have it out for Romanians and Albanians.

That said, I was followed in stores repeatedly in the States. Hasn't happened here. I think Italians are less PC but as far as racism goes I feel less of it here than back in the states. Granted I am in the country legally. I'm sure as an illegal immigrant my life would be different but it would be different in the States as well.

As a black American the number question I get these days is about President Obama. It's much better than having to tell people I didn't vote for Bush and please don't blame me for the mess he created.

I say travel but be smart. I can't imagine that all of Spain has to be off limits. It's like saying don't visit America because Philly and L.A. have very high crime rates.

LT said...


Thanks for the insider's advice and perspective.

Campbele, Have a great trip this summer.

ieishah said...

i'm coming on a year and half in spain as a working immigrant. except no one sees me as an immigrant because i'm american. and that's just the truth. even so, as long as your bro doesn't intend to set up a blanket on which to sell pirated dvd's on paseo de gracia, he should be just fine. i don't have any problems in cities or in rural areas or anywhere else. just wandered my two very much black parents all over bcn for 10 days. even ventured out to a small village near girona to partake of the onion tradition, and besides a few stares (my parents were staring right back, like, why are these people so tiny!?!), a great time was had by all. yes, it would make a huge difference if i were a guatemalan grocer as opposed to a yankee with a master's. immigrants (or those fitting a certain definition of it) are generally treated crappily in the states, too. especially in difficult times. europe's no worse, no better.

LT said...


You crack me up. Thank you for the much needed perspective.

Anonymous said...

just found your blog today and am liking what i see.

having lived in germany for 30+ years (now near the dutch border), i can only agree with ieishah. i travel freely without too much thought to problems (though i am normally a cautious person, and plan to continue being so). i even live in a small village now (since 2006) - something i would NOT have felt comfortable doing 15 years ago. i have been met with nothing worse than disinterest all the time i've been here.

in the last year i have also been back to switzerland and to spain (for the 1st time) and the netherlands (we're 20 minutes from the border) and had no problems.

but - like rose-clermont said - there are some regions in east germany i would not voluntarily go. just because.

the funny thing about east germany is that there are around 2% 'foreigners' in many places, but people are highly under-/unemployed and subjectively feel as though they are being over-run by 'aliens' (2 %? REALLY?) stealing their jobs and sucking the social services teat dry.

go figure!

LT said...


Welcome to the Meltingpot! I'm glad you found us. Thanks for your insight. It's always great to hear people's perspective who actually live in Europe. It's very easy for us over here to think the worst when we only get the headlines and not know day-to-day living.