Thursday, September 1, 2011

Searching for a place called different


Being here is simply amazing. Aside from the food and the culture, Madrid offers a plethora of experiences. But something I find myself thinking about more than anything is how people regard race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic levels. Coming from the United States where the "minor" ethnicities exist in the shadow of their more fare skinned cohabitants predisposed me to feeling lower than those around me. But in a place where the lines of major and minor are blurred, one is given the opportunity to experience an existence of equality— one in which being bound by long standing and en-rooted stereotypes is unheard of, at least on the basis of skin color.
Today I decided to go Sol the central part of Madrid. After breakfast I left my flat and made my way to the Lacoma Metro Station. As I walked up the street I inattentively scan the area, my subconscious taking notice of all the faces crossing my path. Routinely, sometimes without knowing, I read peoples body language and facial expressions to decide exactly how they would respond to me, being black. When you’re a minority patterns like this are quite common. In certain environments minorities sometimes feel the pressure to ensure they are read the right way. I, for example, resent when my intelligence isn't recognized or when my "viewer" looks only at my skin color to make a judgement or conclusion. A person of a less common skin color like myself may at times feel the eyes of those around them attempting to denude their bodies—stripping their epidermis of the “impurity” found within their
melanin levels. A person like myself may even feel as if their increased pigmentation gives rise to stereotypes attached to their physical appearance. Whether this is simply a perspective created out of paranoia or a perspective acknowledging the truth, the fact is it still happens.
I enter the metro station scan my ticket and proceed to the lower level. Reaching the end of the stairwell I quickly scan the area for the closest bench for me to sit on. Choosing a bench immediately to my right I center myself on it and sit. One subway comes and goes on the other side of the tracks. The tailwind, saturated with the smell of industry gently kisses my cheeks while the faint smell of perfume tickles the hairs in my nose. My mind is left lackadaisically fishing for a fleeting thought.

Mind: blank. Spirit: at peace. I continue to sit uninterrupted by the sounds of my surroundings. A Spanish woman with fare skin strolls down the stairs and looks to her right. She sees me and the bench I'm sitting on.

Without time to think… 
Auto-pilot. I, startled, jump slightly then freeze staring at the woman assuming that my skin color would either scare her away or cause her to, under the influence of preconceived notions, move to the next bench. As she approaches, I, unsure of what to do, look down at the floor and then back at the woman nervously. Without thinking she sits about 6 inches from me and carelessly drapes her purse over her lap.
Wait! Why did this happen? Why didn’t she nervously run to the next empty bench, squeezing her purse under her arm? How come she didn't look down on me and then rudely tell me to scoot over? In America all of those things would have happened. And I, a product of my environment wouldn’t even notice, because this reaction is more common than you think. After years, decades, or even centuries of this seemingly harmless and unconscious decision to unknowingly reinforce a stereotype and distance between two ethnicities, everyone just        mindlessly         acts.
In a world where your status as the "minority" is extinguished, your opinions of how you should perform are challenged.
The United States is a country dominated my fare skinned people, not necessarily in number but in power and influence. And I don't fault them for that fact. I also don't fault them for seeming to have an standoffish air about them. An air that propels them through their environment guarded and almost afraid of anyone who directly contradicts what is considered normal for them. I notice that nether side of the line is perfectly right. Perhaps both sides share in the constant degradation of the pride in being who you are. But regardless, being in a place where for once I’m not considered less than the person next to me simply on the basis of my skin color is refreshing.