Unveiled: My Black Skin as Crime
Growing up Black in Italy had prepared me for a world of racism. But it wasn’t until I became a pro basketball player in Israel that I’d be detained for it.
It was my second season playing professional basketball in Israel. I was playing for Rannana. We were the underdog and made it to the championship final where we lost to the forever champs from Ramla. It was probably my best season as a pro at that point, loved my teammates and had a great coach. Life was pretty much great.
I absolutely loved playing and living in Israel. Most people I interacted with were really nice, warm and welcoming. I even took the time to attend Hebrew classes, learn the culture and explore the country and their neighbor.
But as life would have it, everything couldn’t just be great at all times, especially when you have my skin tone—one of deep chocolate hue.
While in Israel, I loved blending in, taking the bus and the train, spending time at the market, if locals did it I was doing it too. This one particular day I decided to go meet up with a friend at her place in Tel Aviv to hang and chill on our day off.
I couldn’t have looked like more of a tourist that day if I tried: headphones, GPS, and with a backpack strolling down the street. While looking at my phone I hear honking, which initially didn’t really bother me much because that was part of the normal Israeli driving experience but this time it got too close for comfort. So I took a look.
A man out of an unmarked van was waving at me to come over. Now, I’d seen enough horror movies to know better so I looked at them said no and kept it moving. The same little man, probably 5’5”-ish, got out the van and made his way to me. I was already mentally prepared for the BS that was about to come my way.
Growing up in Italy as a Black girl meant had prepared me for having to deal with racist ignorance all over the world. My past experiences had taught me to be on guard. Being mistaken for a prostitute and solicited when you’re just a 14-year-old girl walking around in sweats will do that to you.
The man identified himself to me as a police officer. “OK, so what is the problem? Was I walking too fast?” I replied, all while purposely looking down at him (I had at least 4" on him). He semi-ignored me and asked for my passport and papers. I lose things so I didn’t walk around with my passport but I did have a copy on my laptop. I pulled it out and showed him my Italian passport and asked, “So is this because I am Black?”
He actually said yes. LOL. I couldn’t even be mad at the honesty. At least I knew where I stood with him. But let’s be clear, at that point I was pissed and annoyed. He then proceeded to let me know he needed an original passport, the copy was not good enough and told me he had to detain me and take me to the police station to make sure I was legal. I told him I was there on a work visa and played basketball. And that he could easily find all that information with the most basic Google search.
But of course he chose not to.
At no point in that interaction was I in fear. I knew I had none nothing wrong. My only “crime” was that my skin color. I was neither handcuffed nor manhandled but I definitely felt utter rage and annoyance for my day being completely derailed. On the way to the van I noticed a bunch of African men were already sitting inside who all looked scared and discouraged, which made me even more mad. They were likely immigrants, possibly without papers.
The officer asked me for my phone. I “politely” declined, climbed into the van and proceeded to text my manager so she could bring my passport to the station. Once we get there all the other Black “guests” were not allowed to use their phones and were spoken down to and looked really scared. I had done nothing wrong and refused to be intimidated for nothing other than being Black while walking in Israel.
Maybe a little less than an hour went by and my manager arrived with my passport and of course they took her word for it even if it was exactly the same thing I’d told them on the street. To add insult to injury, these men completely changed their attitude and became overly friendly, asked to play 1-on-1, when our next game was and how to get tickets. Upon learning that I was a pro athlete my Blackness became acceptable to them.I was in no mood to play their game. But I did tell them that they had wasted enough of my time for the day and demanded to be dropped off back where I was picked up.
Look, I know, in the end this encounter did not go as bad as it could have and luckily I was in a country were fearing for my life was not an automatic reflex, none the less, the inability to just be, anywhere, is a reality far too many of us face on a daily basis and its tiring. It’s depressing and discouraging. It was the first time something like that had happened to me in Israel so I wasn’t mentally or emotionally prepared for it.
Afterwards, I finally met up with my friend at her house, told her what happened, both agreed that it was BS and went about the rest of our day. What else could I do? I wasn’t going to let them ruin my day off.
I hope one day to not have to worry where I am, in fear that my dark skin could bring me unwanted attention, wherever I may be in the world. But until that day I hope we all have the power to make our voices heard and maybe have the right support system around us.