During a recent trip to Spain, David Malebranche and 11 of his friends embarked on what they anticipated would be a memorable celebration of a friend's 50th Birthday. They soon found out that traveling while black can be just as unpleasant abroad as it is in the states. In a note shared to Facebook recounts an incident far to common for people of color when they travel. He writes:
Twelve Black American same gender-loving men, ages ranging from 32 to early 50’s, converging in Barcelona, Spain to celebrate one of our own’s 50th anniversary of life on this earth. Complexions ranging from high yella to deep chocolate. Educator. Lawyer. Teacher. Physicians. Massage Therapist. Businessmen. Academic. Writer. Contractor. Therapist. Real Estate Agent. Financial Planner. A virtual cornucopia of talent.
Picture us floating seamlessly through this metropolitan European city - enjoying its picturesque architecture, bountiful restaurants, and endless history. The air boasts a crisp 75 degrees as we enjoy this warm Autumn day. Eating. Drinking. Shopping. Loving on each other in the way that only Black same gender-loving men in our family can. Buoyant. Fierce. Shady. Glowing. Unapologetic.
The final stop of our day is a restaurant connected to the W Hotel Barcelona. We emerge from our taxis to embrace a tangerine-kissed sunset over the ocean. The building is magnificent, towering over us as it invites us in like a warm hug from a grandmother. We partake in a glorious meal with amazing service. Laughing. Loving. Crying tears of joy in recognition and celebration of our dear friend. We leave the restaurant to head upstairs to the bar/lounge portion of the hotel to continue our joyful night. We choose not to mention the stares that follow this unicorn group of Black men navigating these hotel hallways – but we are cognizant of each and every one.
The lounge is loud, with purple-red hued lights and ornate feathered fixtures cradling us in their warmth. An intoxicating mix of soulful house music blares from the speakers overhead as we nestle ourselves into a circular eggshell-white couch in the lounge’s corner. We order drinks and receive them in a timely manner. We toast our friend and start playing The Alphabet Game to see if our improvisational skills are intact. We barely notice the security guard who passes by our group twice just to glare and observe.
We are having so much fun we almost forget who we are – Black bodies in a white space.
A thick Indian security guard approaches our area, sporting a skin hue darker than some of ours, and motions both his hands in a downward fashion.
“Quiet down,” he quips, then walks away.
The music and white noise from the other non-Black patrons carry on uninterrupted. We continue to joke but lower our voices - partially startled by his words and gesture, and partially being mindful of our presence in a foreign country and the real reason why we are all there. Not long after he leaves a few of us start verbalizing what we were all thinking.
“Did he really just come up and say that?”
“We’re no louder than the music playing or these other people.”
“I know that didn’t just happen.”
As if on cue, the same security guard returns, this time with a thin-framed blond white man. His intentions were to repeat his assertion for us to “quiet down,” despite the fact that we already had. Before he could speak, one of us asks the question.
“Why exactly did you ask us to 'quiet down’?”
He pauses to carefully survey all of us.
“We received a complaint from a patron staying at the hotel about the noise. They couldn't sleep.”
The house music blares overhead in a relentless fashion as other non-Black patrons pass behind him - laughing, being loud and human with no intrusion. We continue with our inquisition.
“How could someone in a hotel room hear noise from down here?”
“Do you hear those other people being just as loud as us?”
“Exactly how did someone in a guest room hearing 'noise’ pinpoint that it was specifically us?”
The security guard looks like a pathetic deer in headlights, not having considered any resistance regarding his flimsy justification for accosting us. Our Brooklyn Real Estate Agent gets impatient.
“Can you get your manager? We’d like to speak to them.”
The security guard returns with a frumpy middle-aged white man who obviously isn’t thrilled with the prospect of having to explain this lie to us face-to-face.
“We received complaints about noise from a hotel guest that they couldn't sleep.”
Apparently repeating the same vague illogical statement works for many anti-Black missionaries carrying out their duties. The redundant explanation doesn’t fly with us, so we offer a couple of solutions for his “noise” problem.
“Why don't you have the DJ turn the music down?”
“Why don’t you ask the entire lounge area to 'quiet down' as well?”
We engage these men in a civil and non-confrontational manner. They have no substantive answers for our questions and suggestions, yet appear exceedingly surprised that this group of Black men are pushing back to contest their fabricated assertions. Even our server, Victor, comes over, asking what is wrong. I tell him, to which he replies “That's crazy. You're not being loud.” Another member of our group, the therapist, chimes in and doesn’t mince words.
“We feel like we are being unfairly targeted because we are Black.”
“No sir, we do not do that,” says the security guard.
“That's not what is going on here, I'm sorry you feel that way,” adds the manager. His nonchalant manner suggests this is not his first time at the racial rodeo.
They exit. No apologies. No customer service. Nothing. The loud music continues. The lounge noise carries on. We can’t, however, trying desperately to talk through the situation among ourselves to make sure we weren’t crazy or over-reacting.
We weren’t. This was happening. While not being directly asked to leave, they were successful at making us feel uncomfortable and not wanting to further patronize their establishment.
We ask Victor to close out our tab. He returns with complimentary shots for all of us, desperately trying to defuse the situation and make amends for his co-workers’ craziness. A few of us in the group don’t want to placate his gesture, but we all quickly agree that he’s not the problem - so we accept his gift.
“I’m so sorry,” he repeats multiple times while handing out the drinks. We would not see the manager again.
We pay Victor and calmly exit the building, noticing that the level immediately above the lounge comprises conference rooms, not guest rooms. Curious how “noise” travels. Outside the revolving doors, the Indian security guard stands chatting it up with another guard. He watches us methodically pass by him single file. None of us say a word or even acknowledge his presence. The silence is deafening.
Global systems regard Black people as lesser and Black lives as expendable. The hotel manager who lies to justify his discomfort with Black bodies in white spaces is no different from police officers who fabricate threatening narratives to justify murdering Black lives in any spaces. They just comprise different points along a white supremacist trauma continuum. It’s bad enough we have to deal with this while traveling internationally, but deplorable to understand fully that returning home will pose an even greater threat.
Picture this. A group of twelve talented Black same gender-loving men enter a cramped dive bar in the gay section of Barcelona at one-thirty in the morning. We are emotionally exhausted from just being profiled. The staff greets us with robust “Holas” as our feet walk over beer-sticky floors to settle in rickety chairs and flimsy tables. We order more drinks. We talk. We laugh. We sing. We affirm our #blackboymagic
and comfort each other as only we can. We plan to forget about this W Barcelona Hotel experience while simultaneously planning to make sure they won’t ever forget us.