EU-ROPE-ING while Black: one story

Who goes on holiday to enter a new phase of understanding? 

My sister and I have been back from Mallorca for enough days for me to realise that it was an experience worth relaying. Unsure of whether it should revolve around how I felt about it, or whether it should just read as a story that neglects the internals. How important is it to travel? It is for those of us who live inside a reasonable amount of comfort, with identities that different environments react to differently each time. 

I think it needs to happen. I think you need to know, to live out and feel unmeasured the kinds of people and landscapes we know of but hardly stand directly in front of ourselves. Stories aren’t enough if it isn’t you standing in the middle of them.

Mallorca is a bit like the wild west. It isn’t like Nevada. It would be if I had maybe hovered over it like a drone, not walking on the ground meeting things; if I was just looking at it- the red stone, the bald cliffs and the darkish mountains and all of the eternal dryness. But I don’t know about the people of Nevada and even if I did, the stories wouldn’t hold me like the direct experiences of Mallorca have. The wild west is the Mallorca environment with all the showy cacti and the hardened plants that look as if they are dying from the moment they sprout. And it’s the dead wild west that are the minds of the people we found there, dry, set, impenetrable minds. Old and unwilling. 

I hate staring, and I hate being bothered, so I wonder how someone like me can also be black, and also be a woman. In London, when you catch people staring at you, it’s with some mindless expression, and they look away. And in London, it’s less likely they’re thinking:

“The audacity of you? Remarkable.”

You barely care what they might be thinking, because they have the necessary dosage of shame to look away in the end. They will explore those thoughts of you by themselves without forcing you in on it. In London we are one of those minorities that hardly have to confront the grinding effect of the idea. For me, there are black people in every place they need to be, even if it’s merely two of us absorbing all of the pitfalls of being unique.

In London, if someone is white with those brash knotted braids that look as if they’re about to force their brains from their newly red, pulled skulls, they will have the good sense to look away from you. They’ll pretend you’re not there. They are people who have made a decision about themselves, and would rather wear their fandom on their sleeves. It is Mallorca, and other bits of Europe, where a freshly browned white woman with Bo Derek braids will look at you with your kinks and natural colouring like she might take joy in your death. And she won’t look away when you catch her staring. We found out the braider was a round African woman in headdress positioned by the beach; her right to be there all on a pavement sign made exclusively of white women and little girls with her finger work knitted into their scalps. Getting her bag. 

I felt like there were cameras in the eyes of the Mallorca people, getting clips for a film they might be showing in the dining room of the hotel we were never willing to sit in. We were definitely specimens- my sister and I, at this 4 star hotel in the Mallorca countryside (yes I know) wading through the wealthy locals and British people who seemed to know what Mallorca was all about, and revelled. Like something imported for entertainment purposes. We took the stares in our stride, aside from tired mornings. The black people that eventually joined us came with white people, and they’d be stretched out by the communal poolside unflinching, and we’d be some comfortable meters away necking our drinks so that we could be free for the day. 

I felt fine when I was looking down on all of their heads from our room when no one knew where I was to look at; and when I was looking out at the ocean view forgetting there was more to the world than lonely boats, the moon and the sun and the one who made those pleasant things. And when we saw a shooting star while dining away. And when I brought my devotion notes to the communal area a couple mornings, and people became little Satan’s with their frustrated gawking.

The point is, the people were angry- in the shades of stark white, peach and olive. I think the hotel was simply too good for us, with its lipstick stained cups and funny meats, and it’s broken lifts and cigarette perfume. And I think we looked too wealthy for our station. Too unashamed with our big hair. They just watched us get darker and darker, welcoming in the deeper glow, disgusted. But what could they do? Drug one of those incredibly weak cocktails and ship us off some place where black people aren’t free? It was the pure audacity of us, walking the night streets of Magaluf while they were hot with football chants, naked white chests and the accents of the North. And it was us too crossing their dance floors to all of the potently European songs, laughing at their electric sliding to the same two Afrobeats, night after night, being the only two that could have the moon’s light dance with our skin. And then It was us writing set lists for the Djs, doing what black people do- providing the coding for all things fun and worthwhile. 

It was us, learning where we stand in the places we are not, in the minds of the people we don’t give a second thought to here in London. And when I got back to London, my eye bags had still shrivelled away, my hair- maybe bigger who knows, and my skin- even more shameless and deep with health from a sun it can stand. And emboldened was my right to go anywhere I please.

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