See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Black, Female, Spanish, and a Police Officer

C.A.E.O. en su uniforme. Foto usada con permiso.

CAEO in her uniform. Picture used with permission.

The following is an adaptation of an interview conducted by Lucía Mbomío and published originally on Afroféminas. It is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

While CAEO (who prefers to go by her initials for this interview) was studying law enforcement on her path to become a police officer in Spain, she almost believed that her dream wouldn’t be achievable. The lack of similar role models in the profession is noticeable, and not all those around her were confident that she’d be capable of success in the field.

Nonetheless, she persisted. Now, after nearly a decade, she has completed not just her studies, but her childhood dream of becoming a member of the police force in Spain, showing once and for all to those who doubted, that yes, it can be done.

The following is an interview that touches on weighty issues including male chauvinism and racism, but also dives into one woman’s unfaltering passion for her profession.

Lucía Mbomío (LC): How is it to be a black woman and a police officer in Spain?

C.A.E.O.: No le veo distinción alguna respecto a una policía de raza blanca, pero cierto es que es un gran orgullo que, a pesar de los prejuicios que hay en esta sociedad, yo sea una mujer policía y sobre todo, siendo negra.

CAEO: I don’t necessarily see a difference between how I’m treated in the police force compared to a white police officer. That said, it’s a great honor that, despite the many prejudices in this society, I’m not only a female police officer, but also a black police officer.

LC: What do you like best about your job?

C.A.E.O.: La labor que desempeñamos en muchos ámbitos, tanto de investigación como en ayuda al ciudadano.

CAEO: I like how my work touches many different fields, from conducting investigations to helping out the everyday citizen.

LC: What would you describe as the hardest part?

C.A.E.O.: Saber actuar en todo tipo de situaciones que se nos presenta y saber tratar con todo tipo de personas.

CAEO: I’d say the hardest part is knowing how to act in any given situation, and figuring out how to deal with any kind of person.

LC: Do you remember the greatest day of your career in the National Police? Tell us about it.

C.A.E.O.: Aunque no tenga nada que ver con la labor policial, para mí el día más bonito fue cuando me presenté en un despacho de la Comisaría de Algeciras para realizar las prácticas en uno de sus grupos y me atendió un compañero, el cual, sin dejarme apenas hablar, dijo que si venía a arreglar papeles para extranjería era en la primera planta.

En la actualidad, es mi marido.

CAEO: Although it doesn’t have anything to do with police work, the best day for me was when I presented myself to the Algeciras Precinct to do an internship in one of their groups. A man attended me and, without hardly letting me speak, he told me that if I was filling paperwork for the foreigners office, I’d better head to the first floor.

Nowadays, he is my husband.

LC: Do you think the economic crisis has transformed law enforcement? If yes, then how so?

C.A.E.O.: Trasformado no, la policía sigue haciendo sus mismas funciones, pero sí es cierto que el número de opositores ha aumentado con la crisis dada la poca salida laboral.

CAEO: I wouldn’t say transformed. The police continue doing the same work as ever. It is true, though, that the number of people applying to the police has grown considerably given the lack of job opportunities.

LC: Switching to the topic to gender, how many women work in the same police station as you?

C.A.E.O.: Aquí me pierdo un poco porque no sabría decirte un número exacto ni aproximado, pero somos bastantes.

CAEO: I’m not exactly sure. I really couldn’t tell you an exact, or even an approximate number, but there’s a lot of us.

LC: Would you describe your work environment as a bit male chauvinistic?

C.A.E.O.: Partiendo de que vivimos en una sociedad machista sí, hay y habrá machismo como en todos los sitios. En mi profesión se percibe un poco, especialmente en compañeros más veteranos, aunque cada vez son menos.

CAEO: Considering that we live in a male chauvinistic society, then yes. There is, and will continue to be, male chauvinism in all different areas. In my profession, you feel it every once in a while, especially with older, more veteran colleagues, but it’s gradually lessening.

LC: Were there many people of color within the police force academy?

C.A.E.O.: No, en mi año había una chica mestiza y yo, aunque había también gente árabe y alguna persona originaria de Latinoamérica. Considerando que éramos unas 2,500 personas en la escuela de formación, no, no éramos muchos.

CAEO: No, in my class there was just one girl from a mixed-racial background and myself, although there were several students of Arab background, as well as one person originally from Latin America. However, considering there were about 2,500 students then no, I can’t say we were many.

LC: Do you know others that are police officers of color?

C.A.E.O.: Personalmente conozco a cinco, dos chicas mestizas y un chico en la Policia Nacional y otros dos guardias civiles, todos de raza negra. Pero me consta que existen algunos más.

CAEO: Personally, I know five — two women and one guy with mixed-race heritage in the National Police Force, and two civil guards who are black. But I’m sure there are others.

C.A.E.O. con uniforme de policía y vestida de civil. Foto usada con permiso.

CAEO dressed in her police uniform and in civilian clothing. Photo used with permission.

LC: Among other things, the police force hears a lot of criticism for perpetuating racism by using racial profiling. As a member of the police force, what do you make of this critique?

C.A.E.O.: Creo que esa es una defensa del ciudadano extranjero muchas veces fácil de utilizar e innecesaria. Dentro de la policía hay diferentes brigadas y cada una de ellas tiene su cometido, depende lo que se busque se identifica a unas personas u otras.

Yo he realizado servicios uniformada, así que he tenido que identificar o, incluso, detener a algún extranjero que me ha llegado a decir que soy racista y que lo detengo o lo identifico por ser negro.

Para mí es un arma de doble de filo. Mi marido dice que a él le ha parado la policía más veces en estos 8 años de relación, que en los 40 años que tiene y creo que eso tiene solo un motivo: yo. Con esto quiero decir, que si se detiene a una persona de raza negra no es por racismo sino por un hecho concreto.

Hay otras veces que sí buscas a personas con situación irregular en España. Si estoy yo con mi marido paseando, hay más probabilidad de que la irregular sea yo que él.

Ahora bien, reconozco que el hecho de que siempre te paren para pedirte la documentación es algo incómodo y más cuando, en muchas de las ocasiones, no es porque te vean en una zona conflictiva ni porque hayas efectuado un movimiento extraño o sospechoso.

CAEO: I think that claim is sometimes used unnecessarily or as a cheap shot. Within the police force, there are multiple different brigades and each one of them has their own tasks. Depending on what they are looking for, they take a closer look at some people versus others.

As a police officer, I’ve also had to identify, or even detain, foreigners who have sometimes accused me of racism and profiling based on the color of their skin.

For me, it’s a double-edged sword. My husband claims that he’s been stopped by the police more times in the last eight years since we’ve been in a relationship, than ever before in his 40 years. I credit this to one reason only: me. Despite this, I’d like to make it clear — if the police detain a person of color, it’s not due to racism, but because of a concrete reason.

There are some situations when officers keep a closer eye on situations that are considered “irregular,” or out of the norm in Spain. If I’m taking a walk with my husband, I suppose that I’m the one that sticks out in a crowd instead of him.

On the other hand, I realize that the fact that people of color are continually stopped and asked for their official documents is uncomfortable. Much of the time, I admit the officers don’t ask for paperwork because the “offender” is in a conflict zone or because they’ve done anything suspicious.

LC: How do you think we can change this negative view of the police force? Maybe with internal police organizations, presence in the media, more people of color in the police force?

C.A.E.O.: […] El racismo está en toda partes, nunca he entendido ni entenderé las generalizaciones. El racismo no se quita con una formación, las cosas las percibes y las sientes de diferentes maneras, con la experiencia personal que vives día a día y con la educación recibida en el transcurso de tu vida. Eso es mucho más que una formación que te puedan dar en un momento dado.

¿Más personas negras dentro del cuerpo? Soy nacida en España, mis padres llegaron aquí cuando tenían 6 años, siempre me he codeado con gente de mi raza y la verdad es que nunca en mi círculo he escuchado a amigos o familiares decir que se han presentado alguna vez a las oposiciones de la Policía Nacional.

Con esto quiero decir que, quizás, si no hay mucha gente de diferentes razas dentro del Cuerpo Nacional de Policía, es porque ellos mismo piensan que es imposible, es más, eso mismo pensaba yo. Mientras estaba opositando, mi propio círculo de amigos cercanos me decía que no iba a aprobar por ser negra. Cuando realice el examen, había una parte de mí que decía que sería un esfuerzo en vano, porque de tanto escucharlo me lo llegué a creer. De hecho, muchas veces cuando conocía a gente y me preguntaban y ¿tu qué estás haciendo? yo decía “estudiando unas oposiciones de administrativo”, por vergüenza a que se rieran de mí.

CAEO: Racism is found all around, unfortunately, and I’ve never been one to condone generalizations. Racism doesn’t end thanks to groups or committees. It’s the personal experience one lives through, the things we perceive and what we feel, day-to-day, as well as the education we receive throughout our lives — this is what can put an end to racism. That is a lot more than the momentary relief a course or a group may give you from what surrounds us in our environment.

You ask about more people of color within the police force? I was born in Spain, my parents arrived here when they were six years old, and I’ve always been associated with, and nudged towards, people of my race. The truth is, I’ve never even heard any of these friends or acquaintances trying to apply to National Police.

What I’m trying to say is that maybe, there aren’t many people of color within the National Police force simply because they believe, as I used to, that it’s impossible to find a way in. While I was studying in the police academy, even my own circle of friends told me I’d never be able to succeed here, simply because I’m black. When I took the first exam, there was a part of me thinking that this would be an effort in vain — I’d heard so many times that I would fail, that I began to believe it myself. In fact, when people used to ask me what I did for a living, I would say I was studying administration, out of a fear that they would laugh at me.

LC: Considering that there aren’t many non-white officers in the police, how do people react when they see you out in the field? How do other police officers react?

C.A.E.O.: Para la gente de fuera, hasta para los mismos compañeros es un caso inusual. Muchas veces me han preguntado si soy española. Puedes llegar a entender que esa pregunta te la haga la gente de fuera porque desconocen los requisitos que se piden a la hora de opositar, pero cuando me lo preguntan personas que pertenecen a mi profesión, me choca más.

CAEO: For those outside the field, they typically think it’s pretty unusual to see a black police officer. I’ve been asked many times if I’m originally from Spain. I can understand this question from people outside the force because they just don’t know the many requirements it takes to become a police officer; however, when I get this question from people within my profession, it hits me harder.

LC: Do you have any particular anecdotes, either positive or negative, that illustrate this point?

C.A.E.O.: Tendría para escribir un libro. No sabría definir cuál es positiva o negativa, porque soy muy pasota a la hora de llevarme ciertos comentarios al ámbito personal.

He estado realizando servicio uniformada en las elecciones generales y ha venido un ciudadano a decirme: “Perdone, es usted es policía?”. Acto seguido, me ha entrado la risa y le he respondido que no, que es un disfraz que me compré en la tienda de la calle de atrás.

He estado prestando servicio uniformada en un Centro de Internamiento para Extranjeros (CIE) y al entrar algún compañero perteneciente a otra plantilla diferente a la mía, creyó que era una interna que se había disfrazado de policía para hacer la gracia.

He tenido que identificarme junto con mi marido ante la policía. A él apenas le miran su carnet profesional y la placa emblema. Sin embargo, a mí me la quitan de la mano, la cogen, la miran de una manera y de otra, como si de un extraterrestre se tratase.

Estando en Barcelona, en una misa el día de Nuestro Patrón, tuve que leer un discurso. Al salir de la iglesia, se acercó una mujer para decirme que había leído en español muy, muy bien.

Historias así tengo para aburrir. Todas estas anécdotas demuestran que a la gente, ya sea de fuera como de dentro del Cuerpo Nacional de Policiá le cuesta ver e imaginar que existan uniformadas negras.

CAEO: I’d have enough to write a book! I wouldn't know whether I’d define any as positive or negative, probably because I don't easily these comments as personal.

There was one time during the general elections, when I was in my official police uniform, when a man came up to me and said, “Pardon, ma’am, but are you a police officer?” I burst out laughing and told him that no, actually, this was a costume I bought just down the street.

There was another time that I was introduced, in my official uniform, to the Internment Center for Immigrants (CIE) and, as soon as I entered, one colleague who works on a different floor from me, immediately thought that I was actually a newly arrived immigrant dressed as a police officer as a joke.

In the past, I’ve had to identify myself, along with my husband, before the police. With him, they just take a quick glance at his badge and ID and they’re done. When they get to me, however, they snatch my badge from my hand, examine it carefully this way and that, peering at it as if it were an alien.

There was another time in Barcelona, I attended a mass for the feast of our patron saint where I had to read a short piece. As soon as I left the church, one woman hurried up to pay me the compliment that I read Spanish very, very well.

I could go on forever. The point here is that most people, whether or not they’re part of the police force, struggle to imagine that there are black women in police uniform.

LC: What advice would you give other people (women, men, of any race) who want to become police officers?

C.A.E.O.: Que con esfuerzo y constancia se consigue todo, que ellos y ellas mismos(as) no se pongan prejuicios, al menos, sin antes intentarlo.

CAEO: With perseverance and effort, you can succeed. Don’t let the prejudices get to you, at least not before giving the job a fair shot.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site