In the light of the fact that the next 2010 FIFA World Cup is taking place for the first time on African soil in South Africa, the African continent, its people and its diaspora have temporarily moved into spotlight. The internetplattform Afrikanet.info and AFRA- International Center for Black Women’s Perspectives are seizing this opportunity to shed light on the current situation of black people living in Austria. This report draws upon the experiences made by black communities over the past 10 years and depicts their diversified commitment in the social, economic, cultural, media-based and political sphere. Black communities are a dynamic part of the Austrian society. However, these communities are also strongly affected by racism. The leitmotif recurring throughout the length of this report is very clear: ongoing anti-black racism.
This report can be summarised into the following five central issues:
1. Economy: The textile industry in Austrian federal state of Vorarlberg is strongly dependent on Nigerian investments. Each year Nigerians invest between 50 and 80 Million Euros in the embroidery economy of Vorarlberg. Due to strict immigration rules, it is currently almost impossible for African entrepreneurs to obtain a visa for Austria. The committee for African entrepreneurs in Austria, also referred to as the African Business Board (ABB), is amongst other things responsible for dealing with such hurdles. Austrian entrepreneurs are forced to meet their African counterparts, who are not able to obtain a visa, in a third country. Black entrepreneurs from the hotel and restaurant industry are frequently stopped and searched by police officers or reported to the police. In comparison to white pub, bar and restaurant owners, black owners are reported to the police more often by neighbours and checked more often by the police. The result is that pubs, bars, restaurants etc. managed by black people remain empty and unfrequented. Furthermore, an important role is played by the difficult financial situation black people find themselves in. Black people have greater difficulties when applying for a loan from the bank, even when the amount is rather small e.g. 2.000 Euros. In Vienna alone there are around 600 enterprises, which are managed by people of African origin.
2. Media: Austrian high-quality media coverage of black people living in the country has greatly improved over the past ten years. However the yellow press has not done much about its one-sided and biased press coverage. In order to stop media coverage from being one-sided and stereotyped, various media-based initiatives have been undertaken over the past thirteen years in order to present a different picture of black people. The first initiative was Radio Afrika, which is being transmitted on ORF Radio 1476 over the past thirteen years. In Austria there are numerous radio programmes dealing with Africa, each one conveying its own images and views on the African continent, African people and the diaspora. Regarding the print media, „Tribüne Afrikas Print“, which was issued from 2000 to 2005 in the Austrian daily newspaper „Wiener Zeitung“ was true pioneer work. In the internet, „Afrikanet.info“, founded in 2003, is the biggest information portal on the black diaspora in the German speaking countries. Today it is impossible to imagine an Austrian media landscape without black people. Yet there are still very few black journalists in mainstream media with the exception of Claudia Unterweger – (FM4 an Austrian national radio station, operated by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) and Clara Akinyosoye (writing and coordinating the Project “Migrants write for Die Presse” a high-quality Austrian daily).
3. Anti-black racism: Black people living in Austria are particularly affected by racism, as confirmed by both national and international reports. This particular type of racism against black people is called anti-black racism. In the case of black people, physical features alone, i.e. having a black skin colour, automatically lead to black people being associated with negative behaviour patterns. In turn such negative and distorted associations lead to fear amongst white people. And fear leads to avoidance, stereotypes stigma and in most cases exclusion from participation. In a country like Austria where black people are a part of society, this type of reaction by white people can not be accepted. White people feel they are “forced” to live alongside black people. All of this leads to rejection. As a result black people have to constantly cope with avoidance, rejection and exclusion in many if not all spheres of life. Anti-black racism is witnessed in daily life i.e. on the streets, in shops, bars and restaurants or when using public transport etc. as well as on the work place or when dealing with the police. Anti-black racism ranges from verbal insults to open attacks. Also language reflects the fact that the term „black“ is negatively connoted: „Schwarzfahren“ (he or she who uses public transport without paying), „Schwarzmalen“ (to take a very pessimistic view of things), „Schwarzarbeit“ (illicit work). Anti-black racism is particularly evident in the Austrian police and judicial system. Many black people have become a victim of these systems. According to an illicit Ethnic Profiling System particularly black men are stopped and searched by the police. This situation holds true not only for Austria but also for numerous other European countries.
4. Arts and culture: Austrian cultural institutions promote and spread a folkloristic image of African art and artists, although there are enough African artists dedicated to arts and culture that could take over this role. Only in 2009 did a black singer (Yves Chikuru) take part in the The Grand Prix der Volksmusik (Grand Prix of Folk Music) for the first time. There are countless black artists in Austria, yet many are faced with financial difficulties. In the field of the arts and culture of black people, self-empowerment plays a crucial role. Black people do not always want to be the object represented but rather play an active role and represent their own images. Black communities and associations are extremely active in Austria. There are numerous associations spread throughout the entire country dealing with the cultural, musical, political or medial spheres linked to black people.
5. Political participation: Austria lags far behind other EU countries when it comes to the political participation of black people living in the country. Yet many black people are aware of the importance of political participation. They want to take part in the political processes shaping the country they live in. The two MIMPOL projects (1 and 2), initiated by AFRA aimed at getting migrants acquainted with Austrian politics and politicians and was determined to help them start a possible political career. Nevertheless political parties and their institutions continue to turn their backs on black people. And yet change is slowly taking place. Since 2003 Black People have increasingly shown interest in political participation in different parts of Austria. 2009 saw the election of Marie-Edwige Hartig as first black and female Green party municipal councillor in Linz, the city capital of Upper Austria. At the beginning of 2010 black people decided to join forces for the first time at a cross-community level. Furthermore the „AfrikaVernetzungsPlattform“ (Africa networking platform) (AVP – www.afrikaplattform.at ) was founded in order to promote the interests of black people living in Austria.
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