[Thursday Throwback] Brown and Out of Town: a POC Traveler’s Guide to Racism

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

Author’s note: Before anyone jumps all over me, I use “brown” here as a general term for people of African or indigenous American descent, not solely South Asians or Central Americans, though the article discusses issues for all POC travelers, not just the ones with darker skin.

Ah, Madrid.

I had decided that for spring break in 2005, instead of going to Memphis as planned, I’d take a week-long trip to Paris and Madrid instead. After all, in a weird twist of fate, the plane tickets to Europe were only about 100 dollars more than those I had bought to go to the place Elvis and I both called home. I figured as I could speak, read, and understand Spanish and French, I’d be fine. I’d been to Paris before, and loved it, and had heard awesome things about Madrid from my friends, so I thought, “Why not? Just breathe, and take a chance.” So I did, though I wasn’t exactly prepared for the less than warm reception in one of the liveliest cities in the Iberian Peninsula.

Paris was no problem, possibly due in part to the city’s expressed love (read: borderline fetishizing) of black folks (Josephine Baker, anyone?) or the running assumption that I was Moroccan/generally North African and not a black American. Most people just treated me like I was French, before I opened my mouth, of course (despite my perfect French accent, my occasional pause to find vocabulary words from my high school French mental database was a dead give-a-way). No one was rude to me or my friend with whom I went out on occasion (who is half white American, half indigenous Mexican, and clearly “of color”).

Madrid, on the other hand, completely did me in.

On a super basic level, I wasn’t a big fan of the traditional Spanish food, and, instead, flocked to the numerous Middle Eastern restaurants like water in a desert mirage. And though I was only there for three days, these little hole-in-the-wall, family-run eateries ended up being my surrogate safe havens as walking around on the street proved, well, difficult. I would say the city, overall, was far from receptive. While I understood having a pride in being Spanish, or a Mardileño, to be more specific, what I did not understand was why that translated into racism. I faced constant stares, and I mean constant, many of which were steeped in anger or confusion, despite my more than proper attire (I was not one of those fanny pack-wearing, head buried in a map, incapable-of-speaking-the-native-language types of tourists, trust me). I was cat-called, a lot, and though I was conditioned to that from having lived in NYC for four years at that point, what I hadn’t been exposed to was the overtly sexual racist epithets thrown my way (none of which I will repeat here). I tried to search the eyes of other people of color for an explanation. People of Asian descent seemed happy, even moreso there than in Paris. And people clearly from Africa also seemed OK, though I am sure their black skin proved problematic at times (look no further than the Madrid soccer related racism or even the recent Formula One racing incident in Barcelona). It was the somewhat racially ambiguous brown folks who seemed to run into trouble.

El Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, and other phentoypically outcast Latin American immigrants (along with black Africans) held lower-echelon jobs and noticeably received stares and a little street harassment as well. Their spoken Spanish was a reminder of Spain’s colonial past that history had erased, glossed over, or simply euphemized, much like textbooks of Japan, the United States, or any nation, and their appearance even more so—typically indigenous and/or African features blending with those of the Spanish conquistadores and settlers of yore rendering many of the Latin American immigrants who had come to Spain in search of work easy to spot. I noticed that Caribbean Latinos and mulatos caught hell too, receiving the same sets of glaring eyes that I did when on public transportation or simply andando a pié.

To put it nicely, it was an awkward existence I led, at best, ceasing my outdoor activities more or less once the sun set because I had been propositioned more than once in the day time, and didn’t want to risk full on sexual assault at night due to my having been assumed to be a prostitute on account of my skin color. The hostel employees (all of Latin American descent) and the falafel bar owners loved me, but they were about the only ones in Madrid who made me feel somewhat human. On the cab ride to the airport, a place where I would later be racially profiled (read: separated from a line of a ton of other people, searched, forced to weigh my carry-on, a small backpack, and made to pay 60 Euros for it being a few kilos overweight on account of an art book I had bought for a friend from the Museo del Prado!), I vowed never to come back and counted down the minutes until I’d return to Paris for my departure to New York.

But during this cab ride, I learned a few things to which I was not initially privy prior to going to Madrid. The cab driver asked me how I liked Madrid, to which I replied, “I liked it, but I don’t think it liked me too much,” which led to our discussing (no kidding) race relations in Spain. The driver, born and raised in Spain, offered a perspective I had not fully considered. He mentioned the abject poverty and limited knowledge of Spanish that plagued African immigrant communities, and in many Spaniards’ minds, the state, as they were paying taxes to support unwelcome refugees. He also discussed the cause for my frequent run-ins with men who had less than Puritan intentions in their approach: that many women from the Dominican Republic and North Africa became prostitutes in Madrid to make ends meet. His explanation for the differing treatment of Asians vs. people of indigenous or African descent boiled down to the ability to assimilate.

“They come here already speaking Spanish,” he said. “. . . and with money” he added. He didn’t agree with how I was treated, and noted that I “seemed fine,” but was sure to note that “a lot of Madrileños aren’t ready for that kind of change. The young people, maybe, but their parents and people my age, not so much. They think they are pure, and forget about the years the Moors were here. They want things to stay the same. Come back in ten years, and maybe things will be better.”

Though I was back in Paris a few hours later, I thought about what he said for a while after that. While comfortably nestled in the plush leather-upholstered seats of the Swiss Air flight back to New York, I wondered if my little trip to Spain would have been different if I possessed a lower level of melanin, or even if I looked noticeably more African instead of bearing an appearance that confused people. Upon returning to the United States, the same friends who had recommended Madrid felt a tinge of regret for not having mentioned “the racism thing” or at least not having forewarned how it may have affected me. In retrospect, they all noted, as whites, they had never thought about it. They had only heard stories, those they had selectively compartmentalized in a place far away in the back of their brains because they didn’t really have to worry about it in Europe or in the United States in the same way, say, someone visually different from the majority would.

The experience and the discussions I had in the aftermath of my time in Madrid made me reflect on the privileges, or lack thereof, we have while traveling. Though I had a bad experience in Madrid, that is not to say every person of color has a comparable story. In fact, I know a few black women who loved Madrid and who have gone back several times, stating that they experienced a few incidents of racism, but mainly that it was more an issue of mistaken national identity than anything else. I think, too, of what the cab driver expressed in relation to his (and, arguably, the city’s) impression of Asians. Even my white friends had expressed a considerable sense of alienation in Madrid at times, not due to language, but mainly in relation to cultural differences or even physical ones (being super tall or Nordic in appearance, you name it). In looking back on the experience and after hearing those of others, I was able to put things more into perspective.

Even I am “privileged” (in a physical sense) in some locations, notably northern and central Brazil, where my appearance did not garner unreasonable attention, many assuming that I was just “one of them.” I even thought of my experiences in the United States. I didn’t feel as if my physically assigned racial characteristics made me stand out in some Brooklyn neighborhoods, whereas my white or Asian-American friends expressed extreme discomfort on account of stares and even statements geared toward them. I find myself losing sight of how powerful my appearance can be at the right place and at the right time, but never forget how much of a burden it can be in other situations.

In reflecting on my previous travel experiences as I prepare for an upcoming trip to Portugal, I began thinking about how many additional things I have to consider as a woman, and, in particular, a person of color before I travel. It’s amazing how many things travel guides leave out when it comes to the treatment a person of color may receive in a certain country, how to react to incidents of racism, or even whether or not what you are experiencing has nothing to do with race and all to do with cultural miscommunication. Though maybe I should expect it by now as many of the travel guide writers are white. Then again, only white people travel, right? (kidding, though on average, whites DO travel more widely and frequently than blacks, at least.. . though, given, this could be due to a series of factors that would lead me into an entirely new post, so I’ll shelve this for now).

Besides consulting the Minority Travel Forum on Rick Steve’s Graffiti Wall with posts from travelers of color (including people involved in interracial relationships, who have adopted children of a different race/ethnicity from their own, etc), which I highly recommend, it’s worth considering the following:

1. The travel guide will most likely leave out information about the reception, or lack thereof, you may experience as a person of color. This includes common words/sayings with which you may not be familiar, but that are actually not racist (i.e. if someone in the Dominican Republic were to call you “negrito” or “indio,” it would not be meant as a racial slur, rather a term of endearment based on your skin color and/or heritage).

2. Expect the unexpected, and don’t go into the situation assuming your experience will match those of your white peers and/or friends and family of color. Your command of the native language, body language, familiarity with the culture, style of dress, etc can alter how you are perceived and treated.

3. Don’t always assume racism is at play. As a result of the history of the United States, people of color and whites alike have been rendered into sensitivity machines, often analyzing things at a level of sociological sophistication that may not be of issue in some other countries. Also, bear in mind that every nation has its own respective history and deals with race and ethnicity accordingly. Don’t attempt to color their history with your own. Think of these things before you jump the gun.

4. Find out what you can do if you ARE a victim of racism. There are several anti-racist groups (i.e. SOS Racismo in Spain and Portugal) that hold workshops and do outreach based on race-related issues. Sites like this may be worth checking out prior to taking a trip.

5. Reconcile your prior experiences with those of the present. The United States and/or your home country more likely than not has witnessed acts of racism, many of which continue. Don’t assume that it’s only the country you are visiting that has problems. If we think of the Amadou Diallo case or the Jena 6 or Vincent Chin, the U.S. is a scary and ugly place for POC too. It doesn’t make racism here or elsewhere any better, but it definitely makes you realize that every country has its problems, so you can’t let a few instances of racism frighten you away.

6. If traveling by yourself and feel threatened as a result of your race/ethnicity, try to remove yourself from the situation, if possible and find a place where you feel more welcome. You may even want to try to get to know other people like yourself in that country, depending on the duration of your stay, to get tips on places to avoid, how to behave in the case of a threat, etc.

7. Do your homework. Before traveling anywhere, ask around and look up information detailing the experiences of people like yourself. As I mentioned before, their experience may not entirely mirror the one in which you are about to partake, but it may offer some helpful advice.

8. Have a good time, despite any adversity you may encounter. If anything, I learned to laugh at the experience in Madrid in retrospect, and in a weird case of Stockholm syndrome, have considered going back one day, though with a friend this time. If you have spent the money to go somewhere else, you might as well try to get as much out of it as you can!

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Self-Healing From American Racism

By Guest Contributor Marly Pierre-Louis

All images provided by the author.

I love a good adventure. So when my partner asked, “How would you feel about moving to Amsterdam?” I was game. Between the shock of making that decision and being completely overwhelmed with all we had to do, I daydreamed about what it would be like to be Black in the Netherlands. I knew about the historical love affair between Black America and Europe. Black folks, especially artists, had always sought refuge from the terrors of American racism in Europe. Stories of Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright in France painted an eclectic and humane portrait of Black life in Europe. I was thrilled at the prospect of experiencing a truly post racial existence.

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Doug Glanville [Facebook]

Will ESPN Tell Doug Glanville’s Story?

By Arturo R. García

Doug Glanville during his playing days with the Philadelphia Phillies. Image via Section215.com

An ESPN analyst is involved in what could be one of the most interesting stories of the year — depending, in part, on whether the network decides to cover it.

Doug Glanville is among the many former pro baseball players who contributes to the network’s Major League Baseball coverage. But he’s also penned columns for The New York Times and Time, on top of writing his own biography. But it’s his work this week for The Atlantic that has garnered attention.

Instead of covering his life on the baseball field, though, his column this week discussed his experience with a more commonplace aspect of life in America: racial profiling. Outside his own home.
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Open Thread: Scandal 3.17, “Flesh and Blood”

By Arturo R. García

We now pause to honor Eli’s (Joe Morton) BOSS entrance.

Finally, the chickens came home to roost on Scandal‘s penultimate episode of the season.

Unfortunately, they came for the writers.
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Quoted: The Worst Justification Ever For Not Casting People Of Color

From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise. You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, ‘Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.’ Looking at this story through that kind of lens is the same as saying, ‘Would the ark float and is it big enough to get all the species in there?’ That’s irrelevant to the questions because the questions are operating on a different plane than that; they’re operating on the mythical plane.

– Ari Handel, screenwriter for “Noah,” as told to The High Calling

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Voices: RIP Karyn Washington, Founder of For Brown Girls (1992-2014)

By Arturo R. García

For Brown Girls founder Karyn Washington.

The online social justice community suffered a sobering loss with the death of Karyn Washington, who created For Brown Girls and the #DarkSkinRedLip Project, Clutch Magazine reported late last week.

Adding to the shock was that Washington, whose work helped uplift her fans and readers and raise necessary conversations about the unfair beauty standards pushed on communities of color, reportedly took her own life at just 22 years of age, after struggling with depression following her mother’s death last year. Her passing has not only inspired conversation about her work, but about the struggle facing many of our communities and mental health.

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Thursday Throwback: The Dead, River Spirits, & a Magic Hat [Racialigious]

This Article was originally published on July 30, 2009

by Guest Contributor Alex Felipe originally published at AlexFelipe.com

Filipinos don’t celebrate Halloween, they instead have a day dedicated to the dead on 1 November, the Araw ng mga Patay [Day of the Dead]. It’s a holiday that is the perfect metaphor for Philippine spirituality: an imported Catholic holiday that hints at an animist past.

Having grown up in Canada I only just recently learned about this tradition, and I experienced my first Araw ng mga Patay only last year. I went to go visit my grandfathers graves, they had both died during the 90s and been brought back to the Phils.

The holiday is an odd one seen through the lens of a Filipino raised in Canada. Families head out to the cemetery to clean the tombs of relatives, bring food, flowers, light candles, and pray. But more or less it just seems like a day where everyone decides to have a family picnic—a picnic that just so happens to be in an insanely crowded cemetery.

It’s an odd sight to be honest. Drunk men playing cards on grave markers next to a family singing karaoke on a portable machine next to parents praying the rosary for a recently deceased child.

Strangely enough, it’s a generally mirthful holiday. There are fast food tents set up in the cemetery just for that day: McDonalds, Jollibee, Greenwich Pizza, Ando’s Chicken, and more—all in the middle of a cemetery.

To my foreign influenced eyes, this holiday seems light and fun; a nice way to remember the past, but in the Phils—despite how casual the atmosphere is—there is a real fear that to not pay respect at the grave of a family member would have severe repercussions from the spirit world.

It’s moments like these that really help remind me of our people’s animist past, and the very real connection to the spirit world that doesn’t exist here in Canada.

 

Tala-andig pre-sacrifice ritual. Miarayon, Mindanao
This past lives on despite, or perhaps more accurately, within the country’s Christian framework. As one Tala-andig tribal leader told me in during a visit to their community in 2005, “In our political system we have to go through channels–barangay captain up to the President. You can’t just talk to the President, first you have to go to the local barangay captain, then to the mayor, then the congressman, etc. It’s the same way with our beliefs. We start with the spirits and work our way up to [the Christian] God.”

I am particularly fascinated by our living family mythology. As a Filipino, even a Filipino in Canada, all our family histories are ripe with this folklore. I am proud to even have a little of it attached to me.

I’d like to share some of these stories with you, old stories that sometimes seem a world away, and make me nostalgic for a place I can’t remember, for spirits that I cannot recall…

My great-grandfather, my paternal lola’s father, was apparently a Spaniard (don’t hold it against me). My Mommy Es (as we call our grandma) tells me that he was an older man in his 50s when he married my great-grandmother who was 18. His name was Gabriel and he was a soldier with Spain when he was younger.

My grandmother didn’t know him very well, he died before she became a teen and he was stern man who only really interacted with his kids to discipline them. One thing she did remember about him was his magic hat.

This hat was one of the family anting-antings [magic talisman]. They were often amulets worn around the neck (most commonly they gave the wearer invincibility against a specific weapon), but they could be anything—in this case, a hat.

Mommy Es first told me about the magic hat in my teens when I was a massive comic book geek and it caught my imagination enough that I have never forgotten the story, and have never forgotten the sense of loss I felt for not having it—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So he had a magic hat. This hat was said to have an amazing power: he could use it to transport himself anywhere on earth by simply putting on the hat and thinking about the place. It had an unusual caveat: it would only work if the wearer used it in a place where he was out of sight from watching eyes.

I was an atheist as a teen, and I didn’t really believe in its powers, but it intrigued me. Did one have to be completely out of sight or just have no one watching? How far was its range? Did you have to image the place so well that you couldn’t go anywhere that you hadn’t already been? And of course: why didn’t he use it to be a superhero?

The hat was lost during the war with Japan, after my great-grandfather had died. When my Lola’s family was forced to run to flee into the mountains it was left behind. I have no idea how such an important piece of magic could be left behind, I mean you’d think this hat would have been pretty damned useful during a war.

I, of course, also wondered how my Lola could believe in such an outlandish story—and she really believes it was real. She would tell me about how he walk into a room and just disappear or just appear out of no where when she thought she was alone. It’s all just a little creepy if you ask me—knowing that he was a Spaniard in a Philippines just recently free of Spain—to think that he would just appear and disappear randomly through my grandma’s childhood memories.

 

A statue of a child Jesus behind a young man playing a video game. [Manila]
In the mountains my grandmother had a more dangerous run in with another creature of Filipino mythology.

Throughout my life I have always known my Lola to be afraid of rivers and creeks, it originates from the War and the time she was attacked by a river spirit. She tells the story of how she was in her early teens and went out to the river to fetch water. Usually one of the older family members did it but she felt she was old enough. Her family later found her by the river near dead.

They attribute the incident to a run-in with a river spirit that she forgot to ask permission from.

The theme of river spirits continued with me, but in an opposite direction. I’ve always loved small forest rivers and creeks. I can sit by them for hours.

My maternal Lola, we called her ‘Nanay’ [which means “mother”] loves to tell the story of how when I was a toddler I was always running away from home. At first they would get worried (I have no idea how a baby less than two could run away from home, but that’s the story), but they would always find me in the same place. I would run to the creek in the wooded area near our home and play with my friends the duende.

Duende were mischievous spirits that inhabited the land. While the name is Spanish, the spirits are Filipino, stemming from our animist tradition. Duende were mischievous and often played pranks on people. They could also be very dangerous if offended, and they were easily offended (as my Mommy Es’ story shows). But if you were good to them, they were very protective of you.

Nanay would say how she would often find me there and she would see strange things: like how I would apparently be playing with spirits she couldn’t see, she would see me splash water at an invisible friend–and water would splash back.

She marveled at that friendship as duende were usually creatures to be avoided. In stories even those they befriended usually found themselves in serious trouble. I’ve always loved that connection, and when I went back to the Phils to discover that the creek was gone and the area cemented over and covered in homes I felt a real sadness and I truly hoped that my mythological friends were ok.

To this day when I walk through forests, or come to a creek I would bow my head and greet the spirits. And to this day I’ve always felt safe in wild areas—I’ve had quite a few close calls, but I’ve always come out ok.

Now I’m not saying I believe these stories to be literal truth, but there is wonderful metaphorical truth to be found in mythology—it’s the truth that cannot be spoken of in literal terms, the truth that is within all religions, the truth that’s corrupted by those that see only words but can’t grasp their meaning.

One Filipino wrote on an online criticism of the Araw ng mga Patay holiday “I will never understand the Filipino fascination with the dead, much less their superstitious beliefs concerning the dead among us. I prefer to deal with the land of the living. After all, it’s the living people that need our help as we can do nothing for the dead.”

nullI disagree, many of our problems in the Phils and as Filipinos (especially those of us raised outside the homeland) comes from this disconnect between the present and the past, tradition and modernity. In our headlong rush to become equal to the West [whatever that may mean], we are quickly discarding our mythologies instead of allowing them to evolve. This stupidity is an attempt to strip us of our relationship to the land, each other, and the past.

But these stories live in us whether we want them to or not because our parents, our grandparents, and our families have lived with these stories and they have influenced how they act and how they have raised us.

Tradition is not a static creature. It lives and evolves within the people they inhabit. We cannot remove ourselves from it any more than we can try to remove our blood from our bodies. We can definitely try, and I know too many that do, but the sad result helps neither the living nor the dead.


(all images: ©2005-07 alex felipe / All Rights Reserved)

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Derrick Gordon Becomes First Out Gay Male NCAA Basketball Player

By Arturo R. García

University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon announced to the public on Wednesday — after telling his parents and teammates — that he is a gay man, becoming the first gay male NCAA basketball player.

“I know what it’s like to cry yourself to sleep or ‘have a girlfriend’ when that’s not your girlfriend, just to try and impress your friends,” Gordon said in video published by Outsports on the day of his announcement. “Nobody should have to try to live like that.”

Though his opening up to his teammates was by all accounts positive, the road there appears to have been rough for Gordon.
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Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World