Enjoying shopping is a privilege

“Being a gypsy is suspicious. I check it every time I go to the supermarket, to the hospital or to any restaurant and I feel the hatred in the looks and the words”, wrote Silvia Agüero Fernández in Pikara Magazine. Gitanas Feministas por la Diversidad also included last March 8th among its Reivindicaciones del Feminismo Romaní “the right to go shopping without the shop lady or the security being glued to you”.

The Association of Roma Women of the Basque Country (Amuge) has managed to record on video several real scenes of criminalization, in which workers follow Roma women and call security. These images are part of the testing (a research technique) that they have carried out in 15 supermarkets and 5 shopping centres in Bizkaia. In each visit, two groups of volunteers of similar age (one formed by gypsy women and the other by white women) entered at the same time, followed discreetly by independent observers and by the audiovisual technique. In 16 of the 20 establishments, the Romany women received some kind of criminalising treatment: above all, persecution in the corridors, incriminating comments and requests for reinforcements.

With girls and from girls

In a well-known clothing store, the person in charge of supervising the fitting rooms passed the backpack of Tamara Clavería, head of Amuge through the detector, but did not do the same with the backpack of Maite Asensio, editor of the newspaper BERRIA, who participated as an observer. I accompanied them to the shopping centre where the largest deployment of security personnel took place: one agent burst into the clothes shop and two waited at the entrance, identifying the young Roma women by their clothes, as can be heard in the video. One of them dreamt that night that she was taken prisoner.

The 14 Roma women who took part in the experiment experienced discrimination on some of the visits. The younger ones expressed disappointment; the older ones stressed that this is their daily bread. Some of them felt harassed and they expressed it with weariness and anger. In fact, the straw that broke the camel’s back and led Amuge to organize this testing was the persecution by several Prosegur security guards suffered by a group of girls between 12 and 14 years old and three educators of the organization at the exit of the cinema in a shopping center of Zubia.rte. “The harassment they experienced made them feel afraid and ‘understand’ that a shopping mall in their city is not a safe place for them,” wrote Mª Ángeles Fernández then in Pikara Magazine.

The white volunteers, on the other hand, were able to shop peacefully in all the establishments. They didn’t get the same kind of attention as the Roma volunteers when they did the same things, like trying to smell perfume. Their main observations were that the staff ignored them because they were focused on watching the Roma volunteers and that it was hard for them to witness this differential treatment. “Privileged, showing unequal treatment”, said one on the feedback form, in response to the question “How did you feel?

The visits were hard but, nevertheless, the testimonies of Amuge members collected in the previous days (and that will be included in the report to be published soon) point out even more alarming scenes, like the one of a woman who went shopping with her small children and the security guard summoned her to enter the room to check the security cameras, because he had seen “something”. “He looked and said ‘sorry, sorry, it was a mistake’. It was a mistake, majo, then go’ and I spent an embarrassment, because the world was looking at me and I got into the cuartillo without having done anything, with the two other children, scared to death,” he says. In fact, from Amuge point out that criminalization increases when women are accompanied by their children.

Social racism converges with institutionalized anti-Gypsyism. That is to say, prejudices and stereotypes condition the staff’s view, but they also receive instructions that directly stigmatize Roma people. One example that was widely reported in the media was the sign that was hung in a McDonald’s in the Basque Country explicitly stating “No service to Gypsies/Roma”, arguing that “there have already been several attempts at scams”. “But how many cases do they have of white people stealing or swindling? They don’t know, because they don’t control them like they do us and because if they steal from white people, that suspicion doesn’t extend to all of them”, Clavería stresses.

Using our privilege

In 1989, American feminist and anti-racist activist Peggy McIntosh published a landmark article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” in which she argues that “white people’s privilege is not the same as ours, and if they steal from white people, it doesn’t extend to all of us.numbered some of the privileges she enjoyed because she was white. One of the first on the list was: “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty sure that I won’t be followed or harassed”. When Tamara Clavería invited me to participate in this Amuge project, she also pointed out to me that it is a privilege to go quietly and even enjoy shopping, as long as this right is systematically denied to Roma women.

Clavería calls on white allies to empathize with the public humiliation of being publicly incriminated in front of the entire store without having done anything. “We need feminists to understand that the first violence we suffer is not because we are women but because we are gypsies. We need those of you who are fathers, mothers or educators to also defend our children. We need allies who don’t look the other way, who don’t think “she must have done something”. We need you to question your privileges in order to fight against this capitalist, patriarchal and racist system and bring it down”, she wrote in an opinion article published in Afroféminas and Gara.

One of their demands is that article 510 of the penal code (on hate crimes) be reformed to include acts of everyday racism, since the current wording only refers to “fostering, promoting, or directly or indirectly inciting hatred, hostility, discrimination or violence against a group, a part of a group, or against a specific person because of their membership”. In addition, they demand that store and security personnel be trained in anti-racism so that they stop being guided by prejudices, and that acts of reparation be made in the face of complaints such as the Zubiarte case.

As Gessamí Forner, a journalist from El Salto and another of the observers of the testing, said in an interview on the radio, this investigation has to help us white allies to open our eyes when we go shopping. Because if this happens to Roma women on a daily basis, it means that it also happens around us on a daily basis.

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