Of growing up black in the primitive german outskirts and supposedly upgrading to avant-garde Berlin, where white heads of successful and “forward-thinking” creative studios yell “Turn that shit up nigger!”, while I treat them as guests in my radio station.
A story about why that’s frustrating and why a posse of cool kids standing there ignoring it isn’t exactly a motivation to try and fix the problem. Be encouraged to share it. (Photo: Tianna Strickland)
You are reading Thought Cue – a periodically published repository of thoughts on the young music bubble, made for those who consider themselves a part of it. We are interrupting our work on the “Gamechanger” series to give input on the ever-relevant topic of racism and its current peak in awareness that’s threatening to degrade the issue to just another viral internet hit. This piece is a comment by Overthinker Mob creator Hubert Spangler, who has been navigating through racist structures as a black figure for his entire life.
Only a few people have ever heard me speak a few words about racism. If I never spoke to you about it it’s not because it’s all good – It’s because if the racist encounter isn’t already traumatizing enough – trying to explain its full effect to someone whose mind is resting in a safe bubble has left me feeling more helpless than before too often. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitter nor mad at you, I promise – but after our convo, you’ll retract yourself back to the safe side without me.
Let me clarify that I’m doing great. Trust me, I am usually one happy geezer – I won’t ever allow any direct discrimination to have an impact on my mood or my trajectory.
Basely indeed they may behave to us, But they cannot debase us”
(Man kann uns niedrig behandeln, nicht erniedrigen) – This line from Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart has guided me through a whole lot of dark passages.
If t weren’t as abstract I could say it as it is: the general public doesn’t take me seriously, doesn’t see me as equal and constantly presumes motives in anything I do that aren’t in line with the truth, but obviously that won’t go anywhere – that’s nothing you can realistically work with. It would require me to write a band of books to make tangible. Same with the amount of racist encounters I go through – it would mean I wouldn’t stop writing for the rest of my twenties. Yet I picked out one story I do find easy to work with.
I won’t throw you into it without context: I grew up in a village in the conservative ends of Germany halfway between Munich and Austria. It had around one and a half thousand inhabitants at that time. For many people, young and old, my mom and I were the first black people they saw. I’ll get this out right away: My dad spent a lot of time being a cop. The ACAB mentality is nothing I was brought up with – yet the countless discriminatory encounters with authority, police, and teachers just cause this topic to be an isolated mess.
When later in his life he spent time in Africa as a diplomat, he fell in love with my Ivorian mother and they moved to Germany to start a 3 headed family. The white part of my family accepted my mother even less than they accepted me, and never reached out to me after his passing when I was a teenager – Except for screwing me over for money.
My “friends'” parents didn’t want me to hang out with them to not be affiliated with the black family in the village. The people I was vibing with in Kindergarten are the people that would later refuse walking home with me from football practice or even later would stop and roll down their window to yell “Scheiß Nigger” out of their car.
My mum tried explaining it to me in many ways but I had no real reference for a white kid’s reality and simply couldn’t understand. I didn’t get why it was always me who got accused of stuff or why when I was involved in something naughty amongst other people, it was always so clear to everyone that it was me who allegedly had the idea and forced the rest. And all the parents had an excuse for their children’s behavior when they said I was involved.
On the first day of snow one year, snowballs are zooming through the air as the dozens of kids that were dropped off the bus in my village are walking home. Everyone is absolutely gassed. I form one myself and throw it in the air. It doesn’t hit anyone, it pulverizes on the street next to the sidewalk everyone is walking on. I see someone turning around. I’ll call him Tim for now – he’s in my class. He drops his backpack, stomps towards me, and starts punching me. As soon as I fully realize that he’s trying to beat me up I punch him in the face once and we both tumble back. The brawl is over for now, but annoyingly enough, we all used to live very closely together, so we shared most of the walk home. After this incident, though, we are walking in a safe distance. I notice him stopping and waiting for me at the crossway where our ways usually split up. He might either apologize or try and beat me up again. Oh – he’s bulling towards me. The last person walking with us witnesses it and tells me “mach nichts!” – don’t do anything, because clearly I am the aggressor (?) and now it would be wrong to defend myself (?). Luckily, Tim only turns around to tell me what he thought the whole time – that I’m a “dreckiger Neger” – a dirty … and walks back off.
I’m having my dad’s delicious fried potatoes after coming home when the phone rings and a furious woman is yelling at him saying I assaulted her son from behind. She asked other parents and their kids can confirm it, she alarmed the police – and he should reconsider my education. The only thing he can get out before she hangs up on him is “Yeah, he will have had a reason”. My man.
Unfortunately, Tim’s mother is the chatty Karen type that likes to make herself look important in the parent’s council, maybe trying to make up for her son’s bad grades – I even heard of our primary school’s director barbecuing with their family.
So even though no one directly verbalized it – these chunks of untrue gossip turn out to harm my reputation and relationships in the long game. it’s the morning after the incident and we have swimming classes. I later catch a moment where Tim is in the locker room alone and confront him with the words “Assaulted from the back, yeah?”. I can tell he’s ashamed of his lying. He quickly packs up his wet bits and says “Yeah – “, grinning in my face, knowing there was no way he was gonna get in any trouble for this “ – Right”.
It took me a lot of reflection to remember that way back in the days, in elementary school I was keeping it low key in class. But the more I was framed as a rowdy, the less I saw any use in sticking to my mum’s advice about behaving in school or investing much energy into this school thing I absolutely hated. Gladly, I kept it together enough to still perform in the same league as the rest. It was around this time that my class elected Tim to be the class representative. (Side note: as I’m writing this I remember always dreaming of becoming that, no chance lol).
I’m happy I could move on from this environment and have not been in touch with its protagonists ever since, but only with the complexes I took from it. Yeah – the people might have moved on from the toxic personas they were back then, but as I’m writing this, my curiosity made me stumble over this guy Tim’s Instagram and found this post from later last year:
No need to speak German to be equally confused lol. I conclude that only minor reflections might have happened on his end – if any at all. I have no real clue or interest in what this cat is doing nowadays. All I involuntarily picked up over time is that he went to a private business school, proudly wore suits at 21, spent time in London like the open-minded man of the world he is. I’ll have to emphasize that I don’t feel bitter. I’m only unfolding this story for the reasons mentioned above – in everyday life I couldn’t care less and whatever mechanism within me makes me encounter racism with joy – I genuinely laugh on the inside at idiots discriminating against me. Rationally, I’d prefer it not to happen, I got enough other jollier, less harmful things to laugh about.
Obviously though, the issue is serious, more complex, and macro than the day to day racist encounter. I picked this case to help me deconstruct a massive internal conflict. I can trace back a specific trait in my attitude to losing all expectations in people, the way I had to forcefully ditch my expectations towards the people I called friends when they didn’t have my back in countless episodes like the one mentioned above. I have gotten a lot of shit from some of my black peers for this trait. For some reason, I manage to empathize with how hard it is to acknowledge your privilege, the more privileged you are. Your own narrative never seems malicious since you are witnessing all the organic steps that lead to your behavior first hand. I never expect anyone to snap into a harmless roll from one day to the other – and I especially allow everyone their wiggle room on their trajectory to becoming a better person. It breaks my heart seeing some people trying to do better and get active against inequality (whatever active might mean in their perception) and then getting butchered by the community for not having done enough in the past. I want to encourage the oppressed communities to invest a little empathy and work towards a solution in harmony – not by causing anxiety or impulsive anger in the counterpart.
I wanna take it back to the guy who’s family was deliberately trying to sabotage mine for the jealousy that a black woman has apparently married herself into the same status as them. I will now skip a rant about how my mother has seen, done, and fought shit that would make her deserve the luxury of luxuries way past that “status” the people surrounding us were born into. Tim’s family’s status complex has forced him to cheat in the finals as my classmates suspected and witnessed. He will hack his way further up the ladder and have success with it. And I wish him nothing less because I pity him for having to be an extension of his family’s status.
The point I’m really trying to make here is that this family has made me, but more-so my helpless mother go through a lot. BUT –
You “neutral” bystanders are really the ones responsible for our countless complexes. You disintegrated our belief in justice, safety, and the good in every person’s core. And that although you’re not calling yourself a racist and are posting a black square. As mentioned above, I never expect but only appreciate a step in the right way – and black square is the tiniest of steps – but it’s a step. But I wanna give you a waterproof action plan for when you’re trying to express solidarity. A simple framework that will back your solidarity up with substance and that won’t feed into the current degradation of solidarity’s value that is caused by a flood of words with questionable motives. With this framework, you can avoid degrading solidarity only to make you feel better or to tick that chore off your social media agenda or marketing schedule.
It’s a pretty basic and primitive concept we learn in Kindergarten. Apologize. Apologize to someone. This goes for Individuals and corporations. Reflect and engage with individuals you might have mistreated or with the whole community. The more specific you can get, the more honest your apology will be and look. Then even if your chore is fulfilled and you feel better – if your apology is genuine it will make someone else feel better as well. A racist won’t find a reason to genuinely apologize for.
The music industry is inertly misconfigured in so many ways – part of Thought Cue’s mission statement is to instigate thought and hopefully change. It’s tough to acknowledge and mostly even tougher to fix – but now that the issue of racism has a bit of our attention, let me add my two of many cents:
€0,01: Authorship for genres isn’t and shouldn’t be a thing, yet try and acknowledge that if you’re non-black and get paid for your jazz gigs or spin black music in the club, the base of your profit is black sufferance. Think about it: if you donate a percentage of your money to the black community it subsequently means that every paying guest does. Therefore everyone pays for who is providing them with the enjoyment. Berlin DJs: Consider paying for the edgy gqom tune you’re ripping from a South African cat that has it way worse than you.
€0,02: On a corporate scale, it becomes clear how flawed the configuration is if I can walk into the editorial offices of some of electronic music’s global player magazines and be the only black person in the room. And not even employed but a freelancer. It honestly warms my heart that electronic music is an inclusive sphere and eventually non-black people picked it up to contribute. It’s difficult to speak about because the last thing I want is to point out differences – and outside this reflectional context I never will.
But our media coverage of this sphere, which also has a major impact on how the sphere develops and who has success within it doesn’t reflect this inclusivity. And it’s mostly done by reporters from their safe bubbles that can only to a certain extent – if they’re aware enough to make an effort at all – engage with the spirit and sufferance that initiated the culture in the first place.
It’s hard and unlikely for a person in my position to speak up against issues in the corporate world because hiring someone that causes “drama” is bad for the office climate. As painful and wrong as it may be – I usually keep my mouth shut. Because I still have to maneuver through this realm of established companies to achieve my personal goals – We are dependent on it. And sadly there’s a number of minorities that can relate.
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