Black Girl Travel Diaries: Gran Canaria

In a few days, it will be a year since my trip to Gran Canaria. You’re probably wondering why I’m only now writing about something that happened a year ago, but this post has been in my draft posts since I returned from this trip. I’ve been writing this post on and off over the last few months.

It’s so much easier to just put this on the shelf while I post the pictures of my travels, write about my amazing travelling experiences and share my vlogs that show all the fun I have on my travels – all the good parts of travelling. However, the reality is that travelling also has it dark sides – racism being just one of them.

So here goes nothing. Welcome to the second entry in the Black Girl Travel Diaries.

In April last year I went on a girls holiday to Gran Canaria for my friend Tinuke’s birthday (check out her blog). We were a group of six black women and this entry of the Black Girl Travel Diaries will be focusing on how our race influenced our experience in Gran Canaria.

Before travelling to Gran Canaria I never thought that I would have enough to say to warrant writing an entry. I never thought my friends and I would have many issues as black women in Europe. Not to say that I haven’t previously had issues regarding my race in Europe, but this generally consisted of staring. Excessive staring.

Granted that humans are naturally curious beings, it’s unsurprising that when a group of black women visit an area where people of our colour are uncommon, a few stares are to be expected. I don’t have a problem with the occasional look, but people in our hotel were outright staring. Unblinkingly they would watch us walk into the restaurant, get our food, walk to our table and eat and then finally leave the restaurant. This is when I had an issue and unfortunately for us, this was a daily occurrence.

Having encountered this kind of behaviour on numerous occasions, I have had to become used to it, there is however a  breaking point. It’s easy to respond in anger or annoyance, I however found flashing a smile and a wave in their direction was enough to get them to stop with the staring (plus it’s so amusing to see them get embarrassed lol).

On our second night in Gran Canaria, we decided to do a bit of bar hopping. It was a night filled with shisha (AKA hookah), drinks upon drinks (some free champagne from the bartender too lol) and loads of dancing. We had everyone else in the bar up on their feet, so as you can imagine it was a great night. Unfortunately, sometimes when  you’re having an amazing time, there always has to be that one person – or people in our case – that have to spoil it.

So what happened you’re wondering? Well let me tell you about the incidents (yes incidents as in plural!!) that occurred all within the span of less than an hour.

It was getting pretty late and the last bar that we had visited had just closed so we decided it was time to call it a night. On the way to the taxi stand a white man approached us. He was very friendly and seemed like a really nice guy. He was however, very intoxicated and by himself, so one of my friends suggested that he should go and find his friends, which he then left to do.

We arrived at the taxi stand to long queues and very few taxis. Like any average night out, we were all craving something greasy and unhealthy so we decided to visit a nearby McDonald’s walk-thru while we waited for more taxis to arrive.

On the way to the McDonald’s, we were approached by a white woman with long dark brown hair and a haughty look on her face. She pointed at her skin and exclaimed “Eewww! What happened to you?”, laughed and ran off her long hair swinging from side to side as she went.

We all paused for a few seconds in shock. Never before had someone so directly and overtly insinuated that the colour of my skin is disgusting. If that is not racist then I don’t know what is.

The audacity of this woman to approach a group of black girls and act in such a vile and inhumane manner gave me pause, but it wasn’t long before anger followed.

When we approached her to determine what exactly she had meant by this, she was with another woman and a man. The man claimed to be her brother and was repeatedly apologising on her behalf, blaming her behaviour on being “drunk”. Being drunk is never an excuse for racism. In my experience, alcohol tends to give people the confidence to voice opinions that they would normally not be brave enough to share.

The other woman that was with them claimed to be a police officer, but that is all she had to say. She had nothing to say about the vile behaviour that her friend had just exhibited.

Seeing that this was getting us nowhere and that it was only making us more upset, we decided to walk away from the situation and joined the queue at McDonald’s.

While standing in the queue, we were discussing what had just happened, as we were obviously still upset, when we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a group of men. One of the men was the “friendly” guy we had met earlier. It seems that he had found his friends.

“We saw you dancing with our friend in the club. We know you stole his phone! Give him back his phone or we will call the police!” one of them barked at my friend.

To say we were shocked by these claims was an understatement. Several things were running through my mind: 1) we did not see this guy in any club, let alone dance with him, 2) we are not thieves and 3) the fact that they could make such accusations with no proof honestly pissed me off.

Our attempts to refute these allegations simply fell on deaf ears.

One of the men had been on his phone the whole time; he claimed to be on the phone to the police. I don’t understand Spanish, so whether he was really talking to the police or not, I have no idea.

Things quickly escalated and the men were barked at us, “Why did you come to my country?” As well as the classical “Go back to your country!” Bare in mind that the answer to these questions were to A, have a good time and B, in two days time we would be back in “our country” for work on Monday.

It got even worse. One of guys spat at us. At this point we were beyond insulted.

The men were unwilling to listen to reason and seemed to be getting more and more aggressive, so I decided that the best route was to call the police.

While keeping an eye on the situation, I explained to the man on the other end of the line the situation. The man I was speaking to came across as quite aloof and uninterested. As I was talking the line suddenly went dead.

Had the man I was talking to ended the call or was it just bad signal?

I decided not to call the police back, because at the end of the day, it was our word against theirs. I have never been arrested in my own country and I certainly never wanted to get arrested in a foreign country, where I am not aware of my rights.

I was very scared for the safety of my friends and I. Who knew how far these men were willing to go. Having never been in a such a situation , I didn’t know what to think or do, in that moment I just wanted to go back home to London.

We decided that it was best to just walk away from the situation, but with the way the guys were surrounding us, that would be easier said than done.

Thankfully at that moment, one of the guys who was working at the bar we last visited, came down the road. Seeing our situation, he came to our defence and argued with the other men in Spanish for a while. Finally the men left us alone.

I know some people will say that the second incident wasn’t related to race, but I would have to disagree.

I have grown up in a society in which I am continuously judged based on the negative stereotypes placed on black people.

Old women move their bags out of fear that I will rob them. Security guards trail me around shops because they think I will steal. Because of the melanin in my skin, before any crime is committed, I have already been proven guilty.

Although I have never had an experience as bad as the one that occurred in Gran Canaria, it is still very reminiscent of the racial microaggressions that I and many others have encountered countless times.

This was a very hurtful experience. It had one of my friends who is always laughing and very cheerful, distraught and in tears. This a night, I don’t think any of us could ever forget and unfortunately not for any of the right reasons.

However, despite these negative experiences, I could not let the actions of a few determine how I felt about the people of Gran Canaria as a whole. Apart from those few, the locals were very friendly and welcoming.

Sometimes they were too friendly, *cough cough* the chef at our hotel who told my friend to meet him after his shift. 😂

Despite the horrible end to a great night, we still managed to have an amazing time in Gran Canaria. It is a very beautiful island, so make sure to check out my Gran Canaria photo album!

Well, that’s the end of the second entry in the Black Girl Travel Diaries. As always, let me know what you think in the comments.

If you haven’t read the first entry of the Black Girl Travel Diaries – about my experience in Kota Kinablu, Malaysia, then make sure you check it out!

Have you ever experienced any type of discrimination during your travels? I’m looking for people to share their stories on my blog as part of the Black Girl Travel Diaries, so if you have a story that you would like to share, then please do get in contact.

Well until next time guys. Deuces! ✌💛

Follow my travels as I work towards my goal of visiting 25 countries before I turn 25:

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20 thoughts on “Black Girl Travel Diaries: Gran Canaria

  1. I’m so sorry this happened to you and your friends, awful experience! I’m glad it didn’t stop you from your travel goals 🙂
    I’ve never experienced outright racism but have felt the intense stares during travels, so unnecessary.
    I hope to travel more but being from London also, I’m used to the diversity and worry about the lack of it abroad (hence why I’m glad I found your blog!)

    1. Thank you!!

      Thankfully I rarely experience racism when I travel, just a lot of staring like you mentioned. I’m also from London so I can definitely relate. There are times when I get back home from travelling and I just love the feeling of being just another face in the crowd and not being stared at because of the colour of my skin.

      In regards to you travelling, I’d say just go for it! You can’t let the ignorance of some hold you back, yes things like this may happen, but I think it’s worth the risk. We need more black people to travel so we can educate others and dispel the negative stereotypes of black people.

      Feel free to keep in touch if you want to talk more about it and I’d love to hear about your experience if you do decide to start travelling! 💛

  2. Debbie, I am happy you ladies were not hurt physically. Unfortunately the negative stereotypes of blacks cause us to be discriminated against the world over. Yeah racism is real and are really not worth entertaining. Were there no other people in the McDonalds to come to your aid? God bless the bartender who came to your rescue.

    I wish u had no added that part at the end bout not all people being bad there because it goes without saying. In a way this helps to take a bit of focus off those who are horrible and this ought not to be the case since you have at least another post showing the positive aspects. Also the chef wanting to get it on with your friend is not necessarily a nice thing because he could have been playing into another stereotype of black women being overly sexual etc. Thanks for sharing and showing one of the less glamorous aspects of travelling as a black person.

    1. Thank you Kim!!

      I am so thankful to God for that bartender turning up at that point. Who knows what would’ve happened if he hadn’t!

      The points you raised are very valid. I’m a positive person, so I find writing about negative topics – especially such important topics like racism – to be very difficult and I like to end on a more positive note (which is hard considering the topic). Maybe that defeats the purpose of this post and this may be something I need to consider in my next Black Girl Travel Diaries post, so thank you for the feedback! 💛

  3. Oh my god. I really am in shock. How is this still happening. It doesn’t have to be physical abuse to hurt so much.
    I really cannot believe these things have happened, and they do happen, I’m so sorry.
    if you ever need to talk or just want to connect then please do!

  4. Debbie! Sorry to hear you and the girls were subjected to such vile and disgusting behaviour.
    Thanks for your honest account and also happy you do not let such hateful ignorant people get in the way of your travels

  5. Am so so sorry Debbie, that was so heartbreaking to read, its so sad that such people even exist and what’s even worse is being judged not because of your character or anything else but because of your skin color. I’m glad that you spoke out about it…

    1. Thank you Lucky. Yes it is very sad, society still has a long way to go till we are no longer judged based on the colour of our skin.

  6. Hi debbie, I get your point here on racism, that’s not good at all, it has to stop, so sorry about that encounter, i hopre you guys enjoyed your stay in Gran Canaria?

  7. I too was in gran carnia and had a lot of looks mainly from older German people when out and about and as my son is very light they would look at both of us like something they have never seen before my son would ask why they look at us like that mum I would look back hold my head held high and smile I have been going there for Christmas breaks for the past 5 years and seems to get worse

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s really sad to be honest, especially to the point that your son felt so uncomfortable that he had to ask you about it. I’ve only been to Gran Canaria once, but I’m so disappointed that your experiences there seem to only be getting worse.

  8. Wow, I’m stunned by the incidents you experienced in Gran Canaria. I’m an African American male and I’ve spent some time in Gran Canaria and Tenerife. In South Tenerife there are some groups of Black African women who do pick pocket tourists, as well as engage in prostitution. Based on this story I’m assuming the Spanish guy at the McDonald’s lumped you in with that group.

    I am in NO WAY excusing his behavior, but I think this is the ignorant place they were coming from. They simply aren’t used to seeing black vacationers yet. Some people there see a black man and assume he is a drug dealer and see a black woman and assume thief/prostitute. Sad but true. I was approached numerous times by white people looking for drugs, this never happens to me in America either.

    As far as the random woman approaching you and trying to demean your race, that is completely despicable. Did she really say that to you in English too or was it in Spanish? I’m glad that you made it out if that situation without it escalating further. If a brawl broke out the police would let those racists off the hook and charge only your group, thats the way these things work.

    I’m glad that you enjoyed the rest of your time in Tenerife and thanks for sharing.

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