I grew up in the USA and moved to Europe in 2008. When I tried to explain my experience here as a black person, I could not find the words. Now I am collecting stories from many people to document their experiences and articulate hidden realities.
“If you are silent about your oppression, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Zora Neal Hurston
Black people are rarely seen as the experts of their own lives especially when their lives are directly influenced by white Europeans. One of the mandates of white supremacy supposes that no view is valid unless it is experienced by a white person. Throughout Austria, there are billboards and news stories that reinforce this message as they attempt to relay the experiences of migrants and people of color without ever airing the voices of the numerous migrant and people of color in Austria.
There were two new elements of my life that struck me when I moved to Europe from America in 2008. 1. How the white public felt that it was acceptable for them to stare at me in hostility while I walked the streets. 2. The way that the white public felt that nationality and race were (pseudo-scientifically) connected and often wanted to interrogate the origins of people of color until those questions led to some satisfaction that people of color originated outside of Europe.
These two observations were linked because they served to place the black body outside of the circle of belonging afforded to white Europeans, even those who migrate from one European country to another. This anti-blackness leads to many negative outcomes for black people who live in Austria.
I came upon the idea for this project while attending a Refugee Art Show in Vienna in October 2015. There was not enough time to feature all of the artists but many of them stayed later and spoke with me about their experiences. Experiences that I, as a migrant, felt were painfully familiar. While my documentation status shields me from some of these experiences, my blackness makes me vulnerable to many of them. The next day, I founded a Facebook group called Black People in Vienna which almost immediately grew to include hundreds of members.
Black people in Austria have to employ a variety of strategies to resist the dehumanization that is inevitable while living here. These strategies are informed by education, experience, and backgrounds but they are all geared towards survival. Despite such circumstances, many black people overcome and thrive. Our lives, in essence, become a work of art – a tale of resistance, returning and rebirth. Black Austria offers a home for these stories.