Black in Berlin: Fitting The Hooker Mold with Blackness

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.

Barcelona

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?

  • http://twitter.com/brianepeters Brian Peters

    Wow!  This is crazy. Sorry you have to go through this…

  • Sherry

    To your last question–absolutely not.  There is no excuse for it under any circumstances. Thank you for sharing this. So real.

  • Khadijah A Robinson

    I can commiserate! Similar experiences while living in Portugal. And I got the same BS excuses about how many black women in Europe are prostitutes. You would think, if I were a prostitute, maybe I would be trying to drum up work instead of MINDING MY DAMN BUSINESS!

  • Carrieukltd

    I  can only say i feel your pain . as an exotic woman living in Norway , i am often faced with this kind of dilemma , even when pushing my baby in a stroller .
    I must say that in Stavanger there are a lot f prostitutes from Nigeria and this doesn’t help especially as they are on the streets  and exposed to society.

  • JMichelle

    that’s so awful and demeaning and makes me not even want to travel to Berlin! I’ve received the so-called compliment of being called “exotic-looking” and it irritates me- more like an insult.  Wth is exotic? Because I don’t look like what most perceive to be the average-looking African-American woman, I must look exotic? smh no thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/nicolenewblack nicoleisthenewblack

    Well to be fair none of these incidents happened in Berlin. But I should note I have been called a prostitute in Berlin as well. LOL meh You can’t control how people will treat you and I won’t let ignorance hinder me from living my life and seeing the world.  Hiding myself away from the world is not the solution to this problem.

  • http://twitter.com/samanthalaalta samantha marie

    Chuckling in agreement as I read this from Buenos Aires, where 80% of the women of color ARE prostitutes and I’m always confused with them too. My response to stupid men now is “You can’t afford it!” Alas, this does happen in the US too … try waiting for your REAL friends to come downstairs from an uber posh hotel in NYC

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000213695958 Kay Assaults

    I had something similar happen to me in Paris this fall. My friend wanted to go to the club our last night in Paris. I, absolutely exhausted, HATE night clubs and told him so. I eventually agree to go for only one hour. That hour turned into to two and he had met some Algerian woman so I took off down the street. It’s midnight and this random crazy starts following me. Kept saying “15 euro, 15 euro” and did hand motions that I interpreted to mean that he wanted a hand job. I stop at a stand and got a felafel I totally didn’t even want, thinking that the presence of other people would freak him out. Nope, the guy just stood there waiting for me to get my food. I start half walking/half jogging down the street. I tell him to leave me alone, I don’t speak French–everything. I took a chance power walking down a dark alley to a street full of people that lead me no where near to where I was staying. I finally screamed at him with my loudest voice then he backed off. Five minutes later he’s somehow back at me, and telling me “30 euro, 30 euro” and I scream, “FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF”. I then take more alternative routes to my place, looking back the entire time.

    & WOW. I am so sorry for your experiences, especially the one about the guy just grabbing you on the street like you were a purse he was trying to snatch. I’m used to airport security being assholes–we’re black, we’re not supposed to be able to afford anything. DUH!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WO5CQZ4KT6EOKQKEFAFIEZCN2Q GoingVintage

    OMG! I read your article and thought you were writing my story! I have lived in London for almost ten years (I’m married to an Englishman) and have had very similar experiences. Luckily in Britain, I don’t really get that sort of treatment – they
    are mostly charmed by my American manners, my soft accent and general affability. But whenever we travel to other parts of Europe, I have found myself in these types of situations.

    The latest was in Cordoba, Spain the past summer. I was standing outside a shop in a heavily toruisted area of the city waiting for my husband, our 3-month-old daughter, my parents and his parents when a policeman started to harass me. As it was thirty thousand degrees outside, I was wearing shorts and a tank top (not unusual – as there were definitely a lot of Spanish women wearing far less). This led him to believe that naturally,  I must be a North African prostitute looking for a John. He asked me for my papers and threatened to arrest me if I didn’t show him my passport. He grabbed my arm and tried to drag me away and obviously, I got real Brooklyn on him. Hearing my shouts,  my husband, our parents and the shop proprietor  came out of the store to see what all the fuss was about. The shop proprietor and policeman had a very heated  exchange. The policeman stilled himself and noticed the baby in my husband’s arms as well as the rings on my fingers. Then he looked at our parents and back at me and my husband and daughter and finally realized his blunder. He actually apologized, but the damage was done. I told him where he could stuff it, snatched my baby up and walked off.

    I find it terribly sad that this is the perception of continental Europeans of women of color.I think that instead of people in these countries harassing these women, they should be looking at ways to help them leave their current situations and prevent human trafficking altogether.

  • Shelley – Ann Huggins

    This is our lot as Black women in Europe! 

    I live in Norway and I have had to deal with this crap all the time. I’ve had random people solicit me in the oddest of situations: when I’m talking on my iPhone dressed from head to toe in full business wear and my company ID in plain view. When I’m walking my best friend’s daughter in her stroller. 

    One time when I worked as a bartender (I was in  Grad school at the time) I was walking to catch my bus home. The place where I worked (it was actually a very respectable establishment frequented by very affluent Norwegians) was unfortunately located in an area that had become very popular with prostitutes from Nigeria and the Eastern block. I knew the area had a rough reputation for this type of activity, but I had no choice but to be there because of my job. I NEVER loiter around looking as though I’m waiting to get picked up. On this particular night I was on my way home. I was listening to my ipod, walking briskly and minding my own business, yet a patrol car pulled up and two cops got out to question me about why I’m in the area. Are you a prostitute? Are you Nigerian?  No, I’m pretty sure its quite clear that my very strong Brooklyn/Caribbean accent will attest to the fact that no, I’m not damn Nigerian! And not a prostitute either since my aim is to get away as fast as I can! They went on to interrogate me about my job as though they didn’t actually believe that I could have a legitimate job, let alone in this area. Being the person I did give them a piece of my mind, and I got the same lamea$$ excuse that it was an “honest mistake”. Honest mistake to stereotype and label random individuals just because of the colour of their skin??? 

    Another  time in a quiet residential area in Oslo’s posh west side, I jay walked across the street (there were NO cars in sight while I was actually on the pedestrian crossing — it took me all of 3 secs to get on the other side). Out of nowhere this guy pulls up in his vehicle, GETS out and starts screaming crazy sh*t at me. What did he start is tirade with? You f**king whore! of course.  And he proceeded to repeat that throughout the entire time he was cussing me. It seemed to have been the only thing he had on his chest: you black whore, what the #%”!/& are you doing in my neighbourhood!

    I had to back out my inner homegirl on his a$$ because seriously I couldn’t imagine WHAT on earth was up with this guy. It wasn’t like I jay walked and his car almost hit me. While I was on the pedestrian crossing his car had barely made the corner leading onto the street that I was on, making it at least several hundred metres separating us. By the time he pulled up next to me and got out of his car to cuss me out I was already on the OTHER SIDE of the street! Moreover, this was a late summer’s evening in a residential area where I’d lived for several years. It was about 6pm, but still bright as midday due to long daylight hours. I knew at that time of the day there were hardly any cars around and so it was perfectly safe for me to jay walk. Moreover, the street was not that wide. I literally got on the other side in like 3 seconds. And jay walking isn’t a crime in this country. This clown just didn’t want to see the likes of me in his neighbourhood.

  • Mariah

    I’ve been living similar situations. I live in Norway for a year and I don’t know how to deal with that. People here don’t care how you dress, where you come from, if you have a good education… If you are black woman, you are a prostitute, no doubt!!! They don’t even give you a chance. This crap is destroying me and destroying my marriage. I avoid to go out, because I fear people behaviour. I would like to know how you girls deal with that.  These things are driving me crazy and I don’t have anyone to talk about.

  • http://twitter.com/nicolenewblack nicoleisthenewblack

    Hey mariah. We are here. And there are many black women in Europe going through the same thing. Where in Norway are you? I have a few friends up there that I can put you in contact with. Also try and join some organizations, the great thing about the internet is that it brings people who are similar yet seperated by distance “together” You can find me on my blog where we also discuss issues like these. just google nicole is the new black. my email is also on my site, and i am also on twitter @nicolenewblack. I can support in anyway I can, the key thing is community and support from women going through the same thing. Hugs and be blessed

  • Mildred Agik

    These are sad stories. I cant imagine what will happen to me since im engaged to a white man from Berlin and im planning to go there for six months. Im not ready to lock myself in the room but i can now picture what is ahead of me when i arrive there. These guys need to know how we africans welcome them in our countries. Africa will always remain the best in the world. We are truly blessed and im happy to be an africa woman.

  • http://twitter.com/nicolenewblack nicoleisthenewblack

     Mildred, you may not experience any of this if you visit. There are some women of color who never have issues like ones described in my article and in the comments. i dont mean to scare you and it is NOT ALL bad. i think all of us live here because the good outway the bad!

  • Wanderlust

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

    Oh, how I love Europe but whether traveling by myself or with another black woman , I was oft mistaken for a prostitute and it pisses me off!

    What irritates me the most is that the perception is based wholly on my race. While the prostitutes were loitering and attempting to drum up business we were just minding our business and taking in the scenery. In Barcelona we were oggled and harassed. It didn’t matter that our attire was casual touristy and we were only interested in culture and food. In Paris, where I was travelling alone I had a few incidents but was far more comfortable. While I always try to dress modestly, a European woman could have had on her bra, panties , and thigh highs and not experienced the degradation metted out to me so freely.

  • Lala

    Based around a poem by Simon Armitage, this short film gives a chilling insight into the horrors of child trafficking.

    Child trafficking

    Every year, worldwide, an estimated 1.2 million children are “trafficked” into prostitution, domestic slavery or other exploitative labour.

    The victims come from developing and industrialised countries. They are transported internally and across borders. But all are destined for ruthless exploitation. 

    The children most vulnerable to trafficking are poor and uneducated. Girls are particularly at risk. Some are abducted or kidnapped, others sold by their parents. 
    Once separated from their family they can become malnourished and neglected, and are subjected to violence and sexual abuse. They are also at risk of HIV infection. 

    Trafficked children are driven by fear. Their traffickers control them with threats, rape, violence and drugs. They are told that if they escape, their family will be killed; if they seek help, they will be deported. Children who do return home suffer low self-esteem and discrimination. 

    Not only does trafficking violate every child’s right to be protected and grow up in a family, it also deprives them of education and opportunity. 

    UNICEF is working to combat trafficking worldwide. Our projects range from providing safe houses and skills training centres for victims, to campaigns for legal reform. But this complex crime — involving a chain of people, from professional recruiters to truck drivers and corrupt officials — can only be ended with a co-ordinated global response. 

    Please watch this video — UNICEF needs your support.