Mein Name is Stephane Magloire und ich bin ein schwarzer Mann. Wenn du mich die Straße runterlaufen sehen würdest, wäre das sofort klar. Wenn du meinen Akzent hören würdest, würdest du schnell erkennen, dass ich Amerikaner bin. Wenn du dir die Zeit nehmen würdest, um dich mit mir auf einen Kaffee zu treffen, würdest du bald lernen, dass ich in Haiti geboren wurde, in New York City aufgewachsen bin, über 35 Länder bereist habe und aktuell in Wien lebe. Als Künstler habe ich begonnen, Erfahrungen zu schaffen, die sich spezifisch darauf konzentrieren, Aufmerksamkeit für die LGBTQIA+-Community zu kreieren. Mein bekanntestes Event, das ich in Wien ins Leben gerufen habe, ist Queens Brunch – eine wöchentliche Drag Brunch Show die im Herz der Wiener LGBTQIA+-Community stattfindet, der Türkis Rosa Lila Villa. Darüber hinaus habe ich während der kürzlichen Quarantäne Be Proud entwickelt – ein LGBTQIA+-Awareness-Workshop für Firmen und Organisationen, denen es ein Anliegen ist, ein offeneres Arbeitsumfeld zu schaffen.
Most of the time, I tell stories about me which are largely influenced by a mix of my black, Caribbean and queer culture, upbringing and perspective. However, out of these three labels, the most obvious one is also the one I’ve struggled talking about most of my life: my blackness. I could simply say, “Racism sucks!” It’s almost as easy as saying, “Homophobia and xenophobia suck!” but when you often find yourself in spaces full of white people, which I often do, you find yourself asking, “How do you really talk about racism?” Not as a theory or in the context of politics, but as a social sickness that perfect strangers and sometimes my closest friends suffer from. This leads me to a story I would like to share with you:
Friends of mine, let’s call them Jim and Seth, invited me out on a Friday night because there was this popular DJ in town and they thought I would like him. They arrived at my place around 11PM with gin and tonics ready to pour. We watched an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and shared silly gay memes from our favorite Instagram influencers. The night was off to a good start and I was in the mood to dance. The laughter and good vibes carried us from my couch all the way to the metro station closest to the club. I had never been there before, so I let my friends take the lead as I took note of my surroundings, in case I decided to go home early. In the three minutes after exiting the metro station and arriving at the line outside of the club I observed two important details:
- Two black men ran by us with a worried look on their faces.
- After a few more minutes of walking, one police officer was detaining two more black men a few meters from the club, and another police officer was searching in the bushes behind them with a flashlight.
“The thing about racism is that there is no right time for it to happen.”
“Why are you anxious?” I asked myself. I stood in line with my friends trying not to bring attention to my unexpected feelings of anxiety. By the time we reached the front of the line, I could finally relax again as they told me about what kind of music to expect. My friends had pre-purchased their tickets online, and only when we arrived at the security check did I realize I was standing on the wrong line and needed to go back again in order to purchase a ticket. Annoyed but without a fuss I told my friends to go inside and grab me a drink. As I neared the other security check, I was greeted with a “No.”
“Excuse me?” I said politely to the security guard.
“You’re not getting in. Sorry buddy,” he said.
“Are you joking? I was just standing in the other line with my friends,” I replied, a bit more agitated, but still trying to keep calm.
“You have no friends here. Get out of my line.”
I made eye contact with a few people waiting in line behind me who quickly turned their gaze. And that’s when I realized what was happening: Everyone is white. I’m the only black person in line. The security guard thinks I’m a drug dealer. This is racism! As I turned to walk away, I noticed the two detainees from earlier being handcuffed by the police officers. Seth sent me a text: “Hey, where are you?”
The thing about racism is that there is no right time for it to happen. It more or less slaps you in the face, and in my past experiences, it triggers a series of auto-generated responses for how to save myself from a very humiliating and degrading situation in front of my white friends.
I quickly began to text Seth, “Hey man, I’m actually not feeling too well. I think I’m gonna go home. Have fun for —” I deleted the text. Stephane, just turn off your phone and in the morning send them a text saying, “Hey Sorry! My phone died and I forgot my wallet at home, so—” I texted back, “I need you to come out here and help me.”
Jim and Seth exited the front door of the club confused and looked at me from behind the security check. Now, separated by an invisible line of racism, I called Seth and fed him a few sentences that he would need to repeat to the security guard in German. As I watched the last word land on the security guard’s eardrum, he looked at me and pointed: “Amerikanisch?”
“As long as I continue to use my voice, tell stories and speak my truth, it is one step towards victory for those who have not yet found their voice to speak.”
All of a sudden this secret password gave me an unfair advantage compared to my arrested brothers. American — a badge of white privilege in Europe. Racism is not only a problem in America. I was no longer perceived as a drug dealer, usually a stereotype reserved for the African community. Racism is not only a problem in America. As we entered the club together, Jim put his arm around me and said, “That guy is stupid. Let’s have some fun! Just forget about him.” As much as this was a passing inconvenience for my friends, I thought: How could I forget about him? This was just one of many experiences where I found myself trapped to make the white people around me feel comfortable. But the good vibes were gone and all I wanted to do was go home, which, eventually, I did.
“I’m just really tired. Have fun for me.”
The first time I was able to talk openly and unapologetically with Jim and Seth about my experience that night was on June 4, 2020. The Black Lives Matter movement had arrived in Vienna and I found myself representing my black and queer community as I sang a call to action in front of 50,000 people ready to listen, learn and get uncomfortable with me:
Lift every voice and sing
’Til earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on ’til victory is won
The second time I shared this story is now – with you. Like many other stories I have begun to share, I don’t feel the need to tell you what was wrong about that night. If you’re a black or indigenous person of color, I’m sure you have found yourself in similar situations where you have felt embarrassed, misunderstood and silenced. And if you’re a white or white-passing person, you have probably witnessed a similar situation and either turned your gaze or told your friend after getting some distance from the uncomfortable situation to forget about it. But as a close white friend recently expressed to me, after I asked about her feelings on racism and white privilege, she replied, “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it, Stephane. And your stories have helped me not only look for it now, but also do something about it.” The work that I’ve begun to do in Vienna is only the start of a life long mission towards awareness, acceptance, respect, and most importantly, representation. As long as I continue to use my voice, tell stories and speak my truth, it is one step towards victory for those who have not yet found their voice to speak: Black Lives Matter.