The “Yes, We Can! People of Color’s Struggles Against Racism, Discrimination and Oppression in the United States, Europe and Austria” panel at the Landesmuseum Joanneum was, like many panels, draining and too long. The topic of race and discrimination is so broad that it leaves the discussion wide open for people to go off on tangents, which is exactly what happened. The direction I was given was pretty clear:
“What role can music and specifically hip-hop play when it comes to the communication/articulation of oppressed people, their empowerment and struggle for self determination.”
Aside from stating that people all over the globe are using hip-hop as a tool for self expression because the culture (as opposed to just rap music) engages young men and women in marginalized communities to represent themselves, there just wasn’t enough time to really set that discussion off. I wanted to ask my co-panelists how locals were incorporating hip-hop culture into movement building but I found myself trying to make peace between someone in the audience who professed to be the only African-American woman “living in Graz for the last 30 years” and a Cameroonian immigrant/activist from going fisticuffs. They seemed to have real palpable hatred for one another. She sat in the front row, listening intently. When the floor was opened, she spoke for approximately 20 minutes about her background and, finally, about the long and winding road that led her to Austria. Of course, I was totally intrigued by her and, more so, about what could have informed her points of view. She pointed to my co-panelist and snapped, “my people were slaves, theirs weren’t, so they think they’re better.” This was an obvious diss to the African panelist who snapped back at her, and they started arguing. I didn’t understand all of what they were saying but I tried to squash it, as did the moderator and another audience member. While her comments were batty, I was, quite frankly, really intrigued by the detailed account of what could have have possibly brought her to a city like Graz (she never went divulged the details.). That’s why I took—she said she was Dorothy Dandridge‘s goddaughter!!!—her business card and rushed back to my hotel room to learn more about her. I was really shocked and turned off to find out that she works for an organization whose conservative philosophies make our old administration look like liberal and progressive leftists. This older African-American woman, who remembered drinking out of “Colored Only” water fountains is affiliated with a political party known to be the successor of “a staunchly conservative movement founded in 1893” by a raging anti-Semite named Karl Lueger—a highly controversial right-wing populist who is said to have inspired Hitler. Right-wing parties, I was told by several people here, are gaining traction here because they are have very enthusiastic and engaging leaders—think Republican McCain-Palin Campaign style in their pimping of the all-too-willing average ho Joe the Plumber, and then think of the flatliner John Kerry throwing words like Orwellian into a debate—that wins many average Joe’s and young people over on this neck of the woods. Yikes.
One of the things I’ve learned on this trip: do not judge a book by its cover. Ever.
That’s what I tried to keep in mind when I walked up Sporgasse to buy some ice cream and bumped into a crew of Dominican women hanging out at a pub. They were prostitutes. I pretended like it wasn’t crazy obvious and asked them what they were doing there and they answered, “turning these Austrians out.” I still played the stupida. Two of the women were there with their daughters in tow. They were also “working.” I’ve met prostitutes all over the world. I will never become desensitized—I hope—to their situation. And I will never forget that it could have very easily been me and my daughter in that position had I been born under slightly different circumstances. One of the women told me that her other daughter looked to young to “come out to the bar” but that the time would fly and that would all change. I have a twelve year-old daughter and I tried to picture myself talking about sex with her like I imagined these mother had too: “Ok, now, this bald fat-ass pink man may want anal. Just relax your ass muscles mi hija and it will all work out fine.” Crass. Yea, but let’s keep it real: it’s probably a lot worse than that. We small-talked for a while and they invited me to sit with them but I had to make it back to the museum on time so I bid them farewell and good luck.
Because I can really empathize, it surprises me when I meet people who work at NGOs or watch the scores celebrity activists rattling off statistics and other United Nation’s Millenium Development Goal figures in a detached manner. Or even worse, when there aren’t people from the community working with it to solve its own problems. I wonder what Arundhati Roy would say (I’m being sarcastic, of course). I said goodbye to these women after talking to them about my last trip to D.R. in November and they, in turn, said they missed home. I doubt they’ll every return.
Dorian and Timo co-founded Four Elements
Later that evening after my film screening and discussion, Sacha and I headed to Postagarage for the closing night party. There, I checked out some serious B-Boying, deejaying, and emceeing. Naturally, we partied and bullshitted with my new friends in Graz. We talked about maybe going dumpster diving (didn’t happen), hip-hop and movement building (time will tell), and celebrated what brought us together in the first place: hip-hop transcends race. Even here.
Seppi and Mai @ Postagarage
SHR and me
Now, on to Vienna. But before we jet, a quick interview with Timo and Dorian. Check out my forthcoming post.