KATIE WOLFE- During my pre-departure meeting with Susan, she had told me that the racial discourse was different here in Spain, essentially that it doesn’t really have one. She had told me to be aware of the fact that I would be seen differently here. Guys would potentially catcall me because I appeared exotic or whatever their minds had reduced me to. Although I knew it would be different in Spain I told her I was already used to it and that’d I’d be able to handle it like I always have.
So it’s one of the first Saturday nights here in Madrid and I’m getting ready to go out with my friends. I leave the house feeling excited, confident, beautiful and ready to take on whatever the night brings. I began to walk down the street and about 3 minutes into the walk I hear “ ¡Hola guapa! ¿Qué tal?” so I keep walking… 5 minutes in, “ ¡Rubia! ¡Rubia!” keep walking…10 minutes, “¡Morena! ¡Guapa!”…. keep walking, 15 minutes, “¡Negra! ¡Negra!” keep walking and finally 20 minutes have passed and I’ve arrived. I let out a breath of relief that I didn’t even know I was holding in. My feelings of excitement, confidence, and beauty had transformed into concern, self-consciousness and general disgust. Then I think to myself, “ Wait… did he just call me ‘black girl’ to get my attention?”
There are so many things wrong with what had just occurred. First of all, catcalling in general is not ok. For some reason the men that do it assume they are giving you a compliment, that you should be grateful you captured their attention. In reality I never asked for their attention in the first place. Being catcalled makes me feel like a sexual object. The name of the act itself suggests that the woman is a pretty little kitty that you can call over whenever you please. Newsflash… I’m a human, not a cat and I sure as hell was not put on this Earth for you’re entertainment. Unfortunately this is something that all women experience.
Now there’s a second level to the catcalls or attention that I receive as a woman of color. The simple fact that they distinguish me as “morena” or “negra” as opposed to just plain “guapa” demonstrates that I’m being looked at through a different lens. My skin, my hair my body have all been fetishized. I’m no longer just a pretty girl but some type of rare exotic object, something to be possessed to elevate the status of whoever finds themselves into a “black girl”. Even compliments seemingly harmless like “ I love your skin color” and “ Wow you’re so exotic, I love you’re hair” make me feel like less of a human and more like a one-dimensional item, like a walking museum exhibit.
The attention I get as a woman of color is not exclusively from men either. One night when I was at a discoteca named Rococo there were three different instances where I felt someone touching or playing with my hair. Each time I turned around to find some girl pulling at one of my curls with a look on her face that said “what is this?” Now hey… I get it… my hair is pretty crazy but what upsets me is the general lack of respect for my personal space and body. I was born with extremely curly hair and I also have died it blond so it stands out, but just because I’m something you’ve never seen before, it doesn’t give you the right to touch me without permission. Somehow this general respect for personal space is lost on women of color.
The saddest part about all of this stuff is that it’s not unique to Spain. I’ve had very similar experiences in the US and at Skidmore. I’ve been called Nicki Minaj multiple times on Carolina Street, approached by random guys asking if they could touch my hair and have even been told by a guy that I was the “perfect amount of black.” At times it is even hard to explain to my white friends why this kind of attention is so frustrating. Some have responded with “Oh! Well yout hair looks so cool its like you’re asking for it to be touched!” or “ They’re just complimenting you because you have beautiful skin!” but what they forget to acknowledge is that my physical appearance is not something I chose. I’m not asking for anything when I walk down the street with my hair out and I don’t deserve to be objectified or pet like a llama at a petting zoo. I have a name; I have interests and complex thoughts. So yes, I have dope ass hair and skin the color of caramel, but don’t forget, I have feelings too.