What I Learned About Racism At The Wacken Open Air Festival
Here in Germany, too, a new debate on racism has arisen in the wake of the USA's massive anti-racism demonstrations. Racism is often not as apparent to white people as it is to those affected. In this context, I remembered a festival visit five years ago.
In 2015 I visited the Heavy Metal Festival in Wacken, North Germany, with my nephew and my niece's husband.
The Wacken Open Air is the biggest heavy metal festival in the world and takes place every year on a site in the small village of Wacken. More than 70.000 visitors fire up a big party there for several days with international stars of the scene and numerous newcomer bands from all over the world.
The metalheads travel from all over the world to witness this spectacle.
If you have never heard of this festival before, you can first look at the homepage of the event: https://www.wacken.com/en/
A German-language documentary with English subtitles about the village and the festival can be found under the title "Full Metal Village" on Amazon.
The heavy metal scene is one of the most peaceful and tolerant subcultures there is. But the overwhelming majority of the fans are white.
I had never thought about it because the metalheads are not known to be racist. Only when I went to Wacken with my two guys did this become an issue.
My niece's husband was born in Congo, and his skin color is black. In Wacken, he was the only black person far and wide.
Racism is not always aggressive
Already on the first day, we were approached by some metalheads. They were excited to see a black guy at the festival, because that, they said, is much too rare. They gave our friend beer and booze and had a lively conversation with him.
Where is the racism there, you might ask now. At first sight, there was no racism at all. The people were happy that their music is not only loved by white people and would surely be more than pleased if many more black people would visit the festival.
Nevertheless, we were uncomfortable with it. My niece's husband was less uncomfortable with the situation than my nephew and me because he didn't see any racism in these encounters. He was simply pleased that he was so kindly received in the community.
But let's be honest: if he weren't black, no one would have paid attention to him. He would have been one of many. A black man at a heavy metal festival was considered a curiosity, which is the real problem.
Nobody is fully integrated if his presence does not seem entirely natural for others. No matter what the person does, he will always be mainly the black person who appears at a festival dominated by white people.
Furthermore, he has been confronted with numerous stereotypes. People said that black people usually listen to hip hop only and that it is especially remarkable when a black person appears in the metal scene. Also, many were surprised that my nephew and I are related to him. They found it extraordinary that he is married to the white sister of my white nephew.
They did not disapprove of that at all, but they found it remarkable.
Racism may seem to be too strong a word for many when it comes to what we experienced with the fans in Wacken. I understand that. It is hard to criticize people who have good intentions. But it is a fact that they perceive a black person differently from a white person and assign different attributes to him.
I wrote that heavy metal fans are not racist. Most of them are leftist or politically neutral.
But right across from our tent there was a group from East Germany camping. Two of them visited us on the first day to welcome us and drink with us. At first, they had only seen my nephew and me.
When they came into our tent in the evening, my niece's husband was sitting there as well.
The younger of the two visitors got big eyes when he saw him. But he said nothing and tried not to let on.
When we started talking, it turned out after a while that the younger one in his home town mainly dealt with Nazis. He said that you could either be a Nazi there or have no friends at all.
Some regions in East Germany have a massive problem with neo-Nazis. So we were not surprised.
We asked him what he thought when he came into the tent and saw a black man. He admitted that he was uncomfortable. But he had noticed that his prejudices did not apply in this case. He had nothing against our black friend.
We asked the older one if he was also right-wing radical, but he answered that this was rather a problem of the younger generation. He had never had anything against foreigners, blacks, gays, or leftists. However, he was the only one in the group that went to the festival with whom this was true.
So now we knew that our direct camping neighbors had racist views.
So we were all the more surprised when we washed in front of the tent the next morning. We used a bucket of water and stood there in our underpants.
My niece's husband was in pretty good shape at that time. He went to the gym three times a week and looked very fit.
What surprised us so much was the lewd bling thrown at him by one of the women across the way. This woman, who we knew to be racist, looked at our friend like he was a piece of meat.
It's not uncommon for racists to have fantasies about sex with people of different skin colors. With men, the idea of submission and humiliation usually plays a role. On the other hand, women often succumb to the allure of sexual stereotypes that white people ascribe to black people.
The hyper-potent, animalistic black man plays a role in the fantasies of many women. Whether women are aware that their view of black men is racist is irrelevant. He is not seen as a human being, but as a sex toy that is used and that is there for one's own satisfaction.
In Wacken, we experienced racism that was not accompanied by hatred and aggression. Nevertheless, it was racism because our friend was ascribed specific characteristics solely because of his skin color, and he was seen as a curiosity.
Simultaneously, it was shown that racists could also be proven wrong when they come into personal contact with people of different skin colors. The young man who visited us in our tent was obviously ashamed when he admitted that he consorted with neo-Nazis at home. He did not justify his racist views but admitted that he probably would never have become a racist if he had had more contact with people of different skin colors.
So, on the one hand, we still have a lot to do to fight racism in the middle of our society.
On the other hand, there is also hope. Whenever our society succeeds in initiating personal encounters with people of different skin color, origin, religion, or culture, there is a chance to push back racism and remove its basis.