As a black woman living in Europe I have been mistaken for a prostitute more times than I can remember. I apparently fit the mold, and after I complain about the phenomenon, white Europeans have told me that it is an “honest mistake.” Thousands of women of color are trafficked into Western Europe and end up in the sex trade, so many people have assumed that I am one of them.
Enroute to Morocco, I decided to stop over for a few days in Barcelona. One of my friends from the States was on a round the world tour and we happened to be in the city for a few days. Looking for any excuse for a party, he also convinced another mutual friend to meet us. So there I was in the beautiful Barcelona with two white dudes from California. While strolling down a busy promenade all three of us playfully had our arms linked. I was in the middle, naturally: enjoying the warm night air and the company of two friends while laughing my head off. We were interrupted by a stout man holding four cans of beer. He didn’t say anything just extended the beer to my friend on my right and then grabbed my arm, trying to unhook me from my companions. My friend on my left put his hand on the guy’s chest as if to say, ‘Back the hell up.’ Expletives were exchanged and then came the shoving, eventually my wrist was freed. I stepped back and took a minute to observe my surroundings. As I looked around my eyes met the faces of other black women, and when I looked beyond those faces I saw other black women in the distance, on the benches, up against buildings, all having exchanges with men. My beer-deflecting friend must have had the same realization in that very moment because he said, ‘Holy Shit Nicole, this dude thinks you’re a hooker.’
London Heathrow Airport
While trying to check in for a flight to Copenhagen, a young Danish counter agent took a vested interest into my traveling habits. I would visit Copenhagen every four weeks for regular relationship maintenance, accumulating a ton of passport stamps. On examination of my passport the counter agent asked me what kind of job did I have that I could afford so many flights to Copenhagen. I was about to say something smart when she said, ‘No wait, let me guess you have a boyfriend,’ placing air quotes around the word ‘boyfriend.’ I weighed my options in that moment, imagining myself yoking up homegirl and slamming her head into the flight desk but apparently stuff like that is frowned upon in airports. I took a deep breath and asked to speak to her supervisor. The counter agent next to us went to fetch them and I said I wanted to file a formal complaint. I was basically told that I fit the profile for sex workers because I was “exotic looking”and took frequent trips. I never received an apology.
Copenhagen – Red Light District
During my first trip to Copenhagen I stayed in a hotel downtown near the main train station. Looking to enjoy the nightlife I asked my trendy hotel staff where the cool kids hung out. I was instructed to a club that he marked on my map and I set out on the town. He forgot to mention that to reach my destination I had to walk through the red light district. As I began to notice all the women soliciting I convinced myself that I had taken a wrong turn. I pulled my gargantuan map out and positioned myself under the street light so I could actually see. I was lost, I must have been examining my map for three minutes before some dude rolled up to me in his car. It took me a while to notice him because my map must have been the size of his car. I peered over it, into the vehicle and I see this clown massaging his crotch. He must have mistaken my disgust for genuine interest because in broken English he said “My penis … I wish … for you … to suck it.” I was furious. Granted I was in the red light district but I had a damn map! Prostitutes usually don’t have maps. In my rage I took my heel and kicked his door in. The working girls around all started to cheer and clap as he spend off with his junk in his hand.
Just because my ethnicity means some people think I fit the prostitute mold, doesn’t mean that I have to accept it, right?