“How are you doing today?” the paramedic asks with a smile, as the ambulance hurtles towards the hospital. “I’m not talking to a Neger (negro),” the patient spews back.
“Pardon me?“ he says. “You heard me!” she retorts. The paramedic starts to laugh. Then she spews: “Unbuckle me you Neger and I’ll show you what’s what.” He laughs louder.
Rami Ali, the paramedic, is just one of hundreds of people who recently shared their experiences with blatant racism in Austria on Twitter, under the hashtag #reichenhetze.
It’s mind-boggling and painful to read: A darker skin color, a slight accent or just a foreign-sounding name bring on some ugly remarks. The outpouring followed the appearance of the new Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on a German TV show, in which he denounced Hetze (agitation)“against the rich,” likening it to that against minorities. That inspired Twitter user vannyferrari to call on people to share stories of discrimination, showing why criticism of privilege is something entirely different from the racism many encounter on a daily basis.
The stories are vicious. There’s Sabine’s friend Amir, half-Iranian, who changed his name to Daniel to avoid constant heckling. There’s Alev Korun, former Green Party MP, asked on the playground if she spoke French with her daughter. “No, Turkish,“ she replied and was met with sudden shock and silence.
Or @VicMato’s memory from high school, when his teacher fumed: “You should be ashamed of yourselves. That girl is the only one with an A.” That girl, born in Austria, happened to have Serbian parents. Racism can be even more brutal. Vanessa Spanbauer, editor-in-chief of Fresh, a magazine on black Austrian lifestyle, recounted some ugly experiences growing up here:
At 1: Guy looks into my baby carriage, asks my mother how she dared give birth to such a child (#impure).
At 4: I’m already so aware of racism that my half-Morroccan friend and I decide to talk like Mundl (a typical Viennese character of the 1980s), just to provoke.
At 10: A kid whacks me over the head with a metal rod to test if my ugly hair can cushion the blow. #afro
At 12: A teacher tells me I need to go to “German for Foreigners.” But I was born in Vienna, I say, German is my mother tongue; I’m not a foreigner. “Yes you are,” he retorts.
At 20: While partying at U4 (club), a guy approaches me and tells his friends: “Look, the N*** bitch!”
At 22: My professor at university can’t believe that I handed in a flawless paper that will be graded with an A.
Her entire life, Vanessa concludes, people have been confused by her speaking flawless German, not being stupid, not stealing or taking drugs and not being a prostitute. This discrimination – that many dispute – has nothing to do with political discourse. It’s racism, plain and simple. And against Austrians. Skin color, accent or family name shouldn’t define our place in society. The ideology that sowed concepts of blood and soil was crushed in 1945, but overcoming its lingering remains in people’s minds and fighting its roots remains a constant effort.
People born and raised here, as well as those who came later in life, are all citizens. They are Austrians. If not by birth, then by choice.