We all have unique experiences when we visit a different city or country, but how often does your black identity have an impact on how you experience a destination? In our Diary of a Black Traveler series, we ask members of the Travel Noire family to share their personal stories of being a black traveler in an unfamiliar space. Karen (@thesmallaxx) tells Travel Noire about an unpleasant trip to a place that’s popular with black travelers: Barcelona, Spain.
Travel Noire: Why did you decide to go to Barcelona?
Karen: It was my partners family reunion. We were beyond excited having never traveled to Europe.
Travel Noire: Did you connect with the destination on a personal level due to your black heritage?
Karen: I felt remnants and reminders of being on the colonizers land especially being in the midst of buildings like the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family. Beautiful wonders such as these felt like ill-gotten gain. Beyond being ignored and scoffed at as a patron, the environment was oppressive. African refugees were openly mistreated and even spat at.
Travel Noire: Did you feel like you were treated differently because you were black and from a different country?
Karen: No. It was assumed that we too were refugees. I was ignored, scoffed and jeered at. But I knew that the experience was temporary. I was fortunate enough to be able to leave. I felt awful for the many African refugees that we met who did not have that choice.
Travel Noire: What challenges did you face during your time in Barcelona and how did you overcome them?
Karen: The biggest challenge we faced was being pepper sprayed by police. The club that we were at had just ended and as crowds began to spill into the streets, the police saw our group (of 18 black folks), cornered us with their bicycle without saying a word and pepper sprayed us like roaches. When my partner began to film they insisted that we had broken a law and made him delete it before being able to leave (but I believe he kept it). The moment we started speaking they realized we were from abroad and let us go.
Travel Noire: What did you learn as a result of that incident?
Karen: Being from Canada, I often forget that many black people are struggling to find safe passage into a safe country. I will never take my privilege for granted. I will work hard and try to make life easier for others when I can.
Travel Noire: What impact has that trip had on your life?
Karen: I may not be welcome somewhere, but that does not mean that I do not have a right to be there.
Travel Noire: Would you encourage other black travelers to visit Barcelona?
Karen: I would still encourage black folks to travel to Spain. Despite the experience that I had, they may have a different one. The beaches were beautiful, the trees were so old and majestic and the architecture was breathtaking. I think it is important for black people to be in the belly of the beast of colonialism. To see first hand what the wealth gathered from the sweat, lives and blood of our ancestors bought them.