Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A Question Of Identity

The American Embassy in Spain has now withdrawn some travel advice from its web page warning of possible problems with the Spanish police for black Americans. The issue got wide coverage here, just as the Obama family visit was about to begin, and has provoked a predictable reaction amongst many Spaniards. However, it's not at all hard to see why many American visitors might find themselves stopped by the police here. I've noticed in the last few months in Madrid a significant increase in the number of random identity checks being carried out by police. Although the word 'random' doesn't really describe the nature of these checks, those chosen by the police are almost always those whose appearance suggests they might be immigrants.

A favourite spot seems to be the Avenida America bus and Metro station, but there are also plentiful reports of police waiting outside the exit of Metro stations in areas with a high immigrant population. Despite official denials, it's very clear that the pressure on police to seek out immigrants without papers has been stepped up. To the extent that even the police unions have complained of being given quotas which they have to meet. I've also seen on the web several complaints from Spaniards who are outraged at such an evidently discriminatory policy. Now none of this sits very comfortably with the complacent official denials yesterday that race could ever play a part in police treatment of citizens. Obviously the police don't want to be stopping legitimate tourists all the time, but with such a policy it's not hard to see how it can happen.

Despite this reality, and the coverage that has been given to it, the reaction of so many to yesterday's news is the comfortable and common one of decreeing that any manifestation of racism in Spain is just an invention of the hypocritical anglo-saxons. The objective has been to ensure that the advice gets withdrawn rather than to ask whether there might be any legitimate reason for its existence. I was in Valencia railway station on Monday morning seeing off a couple of members of my family who had been here for a brief visit. Beside the queue to get onto their train there stood a couple of national police officers. A train pulled in and hundreds of people came streaming out from the platform onto the station concourse. The black guy was stopped by the police and taken to their little office.

No comments: