After more than a week of protests in the United States, following the death of the 46 year old, unarmed African American George Floyd while in custody, white police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder and three other officers may also be charged. In a video of the event, it becomes clear that even though Floyd was unarmed, offered no resistance and was begging for his life, Chauvin pushed his head to the ground and pressed his knee on the other man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, causing him to lose consciousness and suffocate.
Numerous countries have already joined the protests in solidarity, including a demonstration in Vienna today, Thursday June 4, on the Platz der Menschenrechte, starting at 5 pm.
Online, the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter, #GeorgeFloyd and #ICantBreathe are being used to post experiences of racism, giving people a chance to share their stories, anger and frustration about (police) violence against black people.
The award-winning journalist Simon Inou has lived in Vienna since the 1990s, covering African Affairs in German speaking countries such as Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg and Switzerland.
With degrees in Sociology in Cameroon and Media Studies at the University of Vienna, he was co- founder and editor of “Le Messager des Jeunes”, Cameroon ́s first youth newspaper from 1992 to 1995. Between 1999 and 2005 he was Chief Editor of Radio Afrika International and of “Informationsportal Afrikanet”. Later, Mr. Inou became the project director of BLACKAUSTRIA and took part in the campaign against prejudice towards black people living in Austria.
More recently, he has scaled back his political activities: “I have almost stopped fighting for and in Austria,” he said. “I was already so tired. I had written so much and nobody listened. I no longer believed.” The current protests all around the world, though, have now given him new hope, and he agreed to give this interview, the first he has given in four years.
MET: Mr. Inou, that there is racism in the world is not new. Why are these protests happening now?
Simon Inou: Well, people didn’t just start getting involved today. It is only today that people are paying attention. This movement does not just affect the black communities but everyone: Hispanics, Whites… After the death of Floyd, many people said: “Enough. We have endured this for too long.”
Now, there is a new generation of young people who are shaping America and who are not just white. What I always emphasize is that it’s not “black people against racism”. This is a social struggle because we have certain structures in place. That’s true in the United States and in Europe. I have been working in this field since 1999. That is 21 years.
MET: What has changed?
SI: The fight now has a different quality. It’s about awareness. The majority has understood this.
When the football player Colin Kaepernick kneeled down during the American national anthem three years ago to protest against police violence against blacks, he was criticized. Now he is a hero. Even policemen are demonstrating, that’s a complete turnaround.
In the last five days, almost all global companies have taken a stand against racism. Firms like Nike, Coca Cola, L’Oréal or Starbucks. The core of capitalism is talking about human rights. My feeling is that this struggle has a different meaning now.
MET: Is it possible to compare racism against black people in the USA with racism in Austria?
SI: The USA has a racist history with slavery. Black and white men were segregated, even later when they were fighting for the same thing. And when the Allies “liberated” Europe in World War II – as the Americans like to say – they brought this system with them. Even to Austria.
I am talking very specifically about police education and school education. There is no positive content about Africans in classic Austrian schoolbooks. But it must not be about the victim perspective if we want an egalitarian society. Schools, churches, societies – we must not allow our children and grandchildren to grow up with racist images today and to be placed in leading positions tomorrow. That is the greatest challenge. And it is a lot of work.
MET: Do we have a lot of violence against black people in Austria?
Fewer weapons are used here but laws and structures subconsciously spread racism in the subtlest way possible. And we have accepted this. I find that worse than if someone was to point a gun at me.
Also, I believe, Austria has never completely freed itself from its history, so that they could train their own police in a good way.
MET: What do you mean?
SI: Police officers are also victims of their system. They need help too. The police in Austria need to take a critical look at racism and the oppression of others within their ranks. This needs to be addressed and taught in police school. We should also start to leave out nationality in crime reporting.
MET: What is different for black people in Austria?
SI: We often can’t work or go out at night. Sometimes we get mobbed in public. Because of our skin color. I wrote a paper on this a few years ago: “Unsere Hautfarbe ist unser Davidstern” (Our skin color is our Star of David).
In the end, people suffer. People. Not just black people, but white people who live in this system. Racism always has to do with both systems. Oppressed people who are oppressed by oppressors. When we say that we suffer as blacks, as victims of violence, at the same time the white man does not know what he is doing. What his actions are…
MET: What can we – the “white” people of Austria – do?
SI: Don’t be silent when you see something that is wrong. Show moral courage. Don’t think that you as one person are not relevant enough to stand up for something. Protest when necessary. And support policemen and journalists when they are doing the right thing. Praise them! That motivates.
Pay attention when you go out in the evening. If you see a black man is not allowed to enter a club, speak up, leave, act.
And as a parent, watch your children’s school books. Say it if you don’t like what you read. Look out for racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and homophobia. It’s our fault if we don’t do something.