Over the last few weeks, the death of George Floyd has forced the ugly truth of systemic discrimination back into limelight. And once again, thousands are standing up against police brutality, with 50,000 marching in Vienna alone and hundreds of thousands more expressing their frustration and outrage in the US as #blacklivesmatter spills from social media onto the streets.
However, the struggle is hardly new. For over a century after the official end to slavery, the African-American experience has been marred by a broken body politic that consistently fails to ensure equality. But racism isn’t just a problem across the pond, as some like to believe – it’s felt here too.
Growing up Black in Vienna, I knew the city is no stranger to the spectre of xenophobia, and police brutality here has its share of victims: Ahmed F., Marcus Omofuma, Richard Ibekwe, Johnson Okpara, Cheibani Wague, Edwin Ngupu, Yankuba Ceesay, Essa Touray, Bakary J and Mike Brennan.
But institutionalized bigotry need not resort to violence to sink its hooks in you; as a child, simply seeing a world without leaders who looked like me was enough to internalize a sense of futility, a bitter reminder that people like us belonged on the outside – tolerated at best, never accepted.
However, the winds are shifting – still few and far between, socially conscious, powerful Black voices have fought relentlessly to make themselves heard in Austria – and finally, people are willing to listen.
Inside their battle for a more equitable society, these thought leaders have built careers around amplifying Black voices and talent while bringing historical awareness to the masses.
The only cure for ignorance is education; here are the bold luminaries that have committed themselves to dismantling racial prejudice.
Cosima Arabella-Asereba Kiesbauer (*1969)
TV presenter, writer, actress
Breaking down barriers with her talk show Arabella and hosting Vienna’s Opera Ball, the Life Ball, the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest and the popular Austrian children’s singing competition Kiddy Contest, the German-Ghanaian TV presenter, writer and actress
Kiesbauer started out at the Austrian public television broadcaster ORF in 1989. One of the first black female voices on Austrian TV, she had a lasting impact by challenging perceptions on multiculturalism, winning multiple awards since then and authoring three books, Mein Afrikanisches Herz (2007) among them.
Stefan Lenglinger (*1993)
TV moderator & presenter, ORF
Adding to the growing circle of black TV presenters, the Austrian-Ghanaian journalist joined joined the ORF’s popular Sommergespräche (an annual series of interviews with major politicians during parliament’s summer recess) in 2016. Two years later, he hosted Heimat Fremde Heimat, a weekly show on minorities and inclusivity in Austria, moving on to Magazin 1 in 2019 before finally becoming an anchor on the network’s flagship news show, ZIB 20, this year.
Acknowledging his meteoric rise, he received the first Black Austrian Award in the media category in 2018.
David Olatukunbo Alaba (*1992)
Professional football player; Bayern Munich & Austrian national team.
The country’s premier football export and a household name in the German Bundesliga, David Alaba has been making waves ever since his debut in 2009 at just 17 years old, playing for Bayern Munich and the Austrian National team. Born in Vienna to Nigerian and Filipino parents, the 27-year-old has already garnered numerous accolades, including winning the 2013 UEFA Champions league and receiving Austria’s footballer of the year award six times. In 2018, he even captained the national team against Moldova in the 2018 World Cup qualification game.
Alongside his athletic achievements, Alaba is also making waves in the local music scene as a rapper and DJ.
Vanessa Spanbauer (*1992)
Journalist, Chief Editor of Fresh Magazine
As the Editor in Chief of Fresh, the first Black lifestyle magazine in Austria, Spanbauer is dedicated to highlighting African culture in German-speaking countries, from its origins till today.
Hosting its first virtual global Black YouthSummit this year, “The State of Black Youth around the Globe in 2020,” Spanbauer will focus on elevating talented Black youth and raising awareness of the diaspora by filling in knowledge blanks and challenging prejudices.
Mireille Ngosso (*1980)
Doctor & Politician, Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ)
Undeterred by pushback and blatant racism, Ngosso, a doctor and member of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), is spearheading the battle for inclusion and diversity within Austrian politics. The first politician of African origin elected to office in Austria, she entered politics in 2010, holding positions in the federal press service, the SPÖ’s youth division, the 1st district’s council, and winning the Black Austrian Award for political engagement in 2018.
Currently a deputy district head for Vienna’s first district, her signature issues are equal opportunity and affordable healthcare for all; following the historical Viennese protest against racism in June 2020, Ngosso announced her next step in her career: being the first Black politician to run for the Vienna Municipal Council.
Mugtaba Hamoudah (*2001)
Student, Political activist
Only 19-years-old, Hamoudah co-organized the Viennese Black Lives Matter protest, channelling his personal experience with prejudice and hoping to reconfigure the painful image of black victimhood propagated by history and the media.
Beyond international solidarity, Hamoudah also seeks to bring attention to institutional racism and police brutality in Austria, marked by the deaths of Marcus Omofuma and Richard Ibekwe in the years before Hamoudah was born.
Campaigning for police reform through anti-racism education and more minority officers within the Austrian police force, the fledgling activist is only getting started.
Journalist; teacher; radio co-producer, Freshvibes radio
The CEO of M-Media Diversity MediaWatch Austria and publisher of Fresh, among others, Inou is a media veteran who started out by co-founding and editing the Cameroonian youth newspaper Le Messager des Jeunes and editing Radio Afrika International and Information portal Afrikanet backin the 1990s.By the 2000s, he had moved on to project director of “Black Austria,” spearheading campaigns to highlight the plight of Black people in Vienna, which he followed up with the “Mein Julius” and “NoMohr” campaigns, which called out the popular Austrian coffee roaster and former supermarket chain’s for its Mohrenkopf (“moor’s head”) logo.
In addition, Inou has spent years documenting injustice, authoring the report Unsere Hautfarbe ist unser Davidstern (Our skin color is our Star of David), among others. A Vienna native for 25 years, he remains committed to fixing an unjust system through police reform, a fight that affects us all.