Isaiah Lopaz is a gay, black, American artist/writer/DJ living in Berlin, Germany. Ever since he moved to Germany almost 10 years ago, he has had to stare racism in the face more times than he can count. Being the true artist that he is, he decided to get creative and make a statement about it.
He took all the offensive comments that he has heard over the years about his race and slapped them onto T-shirts. The times that people asked where he is “really” from, the many times people ask him for drugs or to bring African food to parties, the questions about him being gay and black; he used them all.
While Lopaz feels like Berlin is his home, he is constantly being mistaken for a drug dealer and approached for drugs, whether the encounters are random strangers coming up to him on the street or friends of friends approaching him at parties. He has been followed around grocery stores and eventually he decided to cut off his dreadlocks hoping it would help him blend in a little more.
In an interview with The New York Times Lopaz said, “At some point I just cut my hair. I cut it for lots of reasons, but I also knew that if I cut my hair I bet this is going to go away. The truth is that it didn’t go away completely, but the frequency of people coming up to me and asking me for drugs, it lessened.”
It goes deeper than just people assuming he is a drug dealer. Many times in his life Lopaz has experienced the discomfort of white people when he is around. They hold their bags extra tight or won’t make eye contact with him.
“There is this idea that black people are not to be trusted, that black people are criminals, thieves, deviant. We don’t have these ideas about white people. We as black people don’t have objectivity. We are judged based on stereotypes.”
Lopaz is from South Central LA and so were his parents, but when people ask where he is from, they are looking for a different answer.
“They want me to say that I am from Africa. There are several reasons that I cannot really give them this story. One reason is that I am not from Africa. But also, there is a lot of pain that comes with this. It is painful because we were never meant to know where we were from.”
In 2011, he was at a bar in Berlin when he was chatting with some German girls. One of the girls started to ask him where he was from and he told them that he was born in the United States. She told him that the U.S. has not been a country for long enough to really have it’s own culture. And then she said, “And you have no culture because you come from slaves.”
Lopaz explains, “That is the worst thing that anyone has ever said to me in terms of race.”
Lopaz has been very active in the gay community since he moved to Berlin. He has DJ'd in several gay bars that refuse to play hip-hop music.
According to Lopaz, “One promoter said, ‘The men are too sexist and too aggressive.’ How can they make such a blanket statement about hip-hop? I think it’s very strange and racist to say that because some people are sexist and homophobic, all of the artists are. It’s really problematic."
He was even fired from a DJ gig because a man was angry that he didn’t have any music by the singer Grace Jones. The customer said that he should have her music because he's black. The argument escalated and when Lopaz complained to a supervisor, the supervisor told him that he was acting unprofessional and racism did not actually exist and that he should pack up his equipment and leave.
When confiding in a white co-worker about a racist incident at work, the co-worker said “Black people are always talking about racism. Jews are always talking about anti-Semitism. There are lots of other people who are having problems, too.” And then he said: “The N-word isn’t the only bad word. The N-word is the same as a Nazi.”
He just wants to live in a place where he can blend in.
“I do feel like I have met my best friends here. This is my city. I have a name here. I have a place here. But I don’t see myself staying here long term because I want a little bit more. In other cities, I can be another face in a crowd.”