I have a little rebel in me

John Oliver’s recent “last week tonight” episode reminded me of a blog idea that has been in the back of my mind for a long time now. Let’s start with the clip that triggered this:

At the 7:07 mark, a man steps up to defend confederate statues by speaking about his family heritage at a community meeting in North Carolina. He says he always felt proud of his great grandfather’s involvement in the American civil war. His ancestor had stood up for his rights and was willing to fight and die for them. The man says it reminds him that he has “a little rebel” in him. You can tell he feels he is being robbed of this feeling now that the confederate statues are being shown in a different light.

As much as this makes me giggle, roll my eyes and shake my head, I do get it. Profoundly more so than I may care to admit, at first glance.

My own heritage is filled with adventurous globetrotters, standing for what they believed was right in the context of their time.

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My great grandfather, for example, was a preacher from the rural North of the Netherlands who travelled to the Dutch colonies (in current day Indonesia) at the beginning of the twentieth century for what I imagine would’ve been missionary work. I know very little about him or what he did there exactly, but as a colonizing power, you can imagine we Dutchies do not have clean hands in every aspect.

I hope to be able to find out more about him and what he did, some day. I am proud to be a descendant of a man willing to venture into the unknown. I can only hope he did more good than bad for the people of Magelang.

The preacher had a son, my grandfather, who was born in Palembang, Indonesia in 1915. All though I’m not sure about when exactly they returned to the Netherlands, I do know my grandfather was attending University  in the Dutch city of Delft, when  the Second World War was at its peak.

I can imagine his international upbringing made him more conscious of global issues and the miles he must have made at sea as a child traveling from Indonesia to the Netherlands, would have tempered his fear of open water. So, when faced with a possible Nazi labor deployment, he decided to flee the country by boat with two companions and his Belarussian wife, who refused to leave his side. Across the North Sea, in England, they joined our queen and the allied forces to fight fascism across the globe.

Foto+van+de+Dag++vaarkrant+2As I wrote a few years ago after my own tribute to their voyage, the so called “Engelandvaarders“, or England sailers, are an important part of Dutch WWII history and even have their own museum in the seaside town of Noordwijk to commemorate them. So yes, I am proud to be able to call myself a descendant of theirs.

At the same time, I know my grandparents chose to join the KNIL, or Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, a military division that is not without controversy. As with my great grandfather’s deeds and position, I do not know the details of my grandparents’ role here (yet). What I do know is that following World War II, “the KNIL was used in two large military campaigns in 1947 and 1948 to re-establish Dutch control of Indonesia. The KNIL and its Ambonese auxiliaries have been accused of committing war crimes during this “police action”.”

So yes, still proud… but very conscious of the fact that the reality they were facing and that facts they were presented with at the time, must have made them feel the cause they were fighting for was a just one. If this is still the case today, now that we can zoom out and look at the end results, remains to be seen.

Next in line is my father, who was born in Indonesia in 1947 himself and has travelled the world during much of his life, doing development work in South America and the Middle East. How many people’s lives has he actually improved? How many people learnt how to fish themselves thanks to the projects he led and how many “merely” received a charity fish? How much money was wasted on corruption and how much was actually spent effectively? How many projects brought people what they really needed on the long term and how many were merely set up as short term tools in the Dutch political agenda?

So… I guess my point is, I am proud to say that I come from a lineage of adventurers and people wanting to make a difference in the world. If their cause or methods were always good, is up to debate. A debate I am willing to engage in.

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What happened at the W-20 summit ?

W-20 summit 2Earlier today, the W-20 Women’s summit kicked off in Berlin with a panel- discussion titled „Inspiring women: Scaling Up Women’s Entrepreneurship”. There were some interesting names on the panel, our Dutch queen Maxima among others. I was looking forward to hearing what she had to say and how she stood her ground beside iconic powerhouses such as Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde.

Sadly, media has reported on only one thing: Ivanka Trump. The one person I couldn’t care less about. She was apparently booed and hissed at by the audience when she tried to convince them her pops was a promoter of women’s rights. I can’t even roll my eyes hard enough.

Why was she even there?

W-20 summit

All though I am quite certain the other members of the panel must have spoken as well and that what they had to say must’ve been pretty empowering or at least relevant, I can’t tell you for sure. All I know is that Maxima was the first speaker and that she described herself as a “feminist”, what in her vision meant “wanting equal rights” as well as freedom of choice. This drew applause from the audience, with Merkel saying, “Then I am one.”

Well shucks girls, I sure wish it wouldn’t be necessary to start the discussion at such a basic level but more so, I wish media had chosen more interesting snippets to quote…

I’m hoping the discussion will be online in full at some point so I can give it a go myself and see if I can collect some more interesting quotes.

“Give me a piece of your mind”

My parents are honest people with strong opinions for which they sometimes need loud words.

Even now that they have grandkids, I have seen them explaining matters of the world in a way some others may feel is not appropriate for such young kids. Some kids dig it and others zone out when being spoken to in this manner, but I always thought it was kind of cool that my dad never “dumbed things down” for me.

A request I got from my father on several occasions (and far too often, as far as I was concerned at the time) was “give me a piece of your mind”.  You can imagine it was something he did to get a sense of what his sulky adolescent daughter might be thinking. I never really knew what he meant and my answer never seemed to be what he was hoping to hear anyhow.

You could say honesty was valued highly in our household. And to express your honest opinions it was required to be eloquent. “Just because” was never a valid explanation for anything and I was allowed (up to a certain extent) to expect the same from them.

I remember my first boyfriend was quite overwhelmed by the in depth conversations we had over dinner.

The biggest liar and most truthful person, all in one

A line that I wrote down in my “ideas journal” the other day, is that my father is “one of the most honest people I know, as well as one of the least”.

He is one of the most honest because he doesn’t seem afraid to have an uncommon opinion. He will stand up for his beliefs, at the cost of being “the odd one” in a crowd. He is also unwillingly honest, as his face just gives away what he thinks about you and your explanation.

At the same time, he is one of the least honest people I know because as much as he tries to uphold the idea that he doesn’t care what others think of him, his fear of appearing to be weak always wins. He will say everything is going splendidly and that he has never felt better, until he reaches the point that the only one buying it is him.

Then again, does it count as lying if he lied to himself about it first?

Also, his stubbornness sometimes reaches truly absurd levels. He will stay on a chosen course even after being disproved by someone. Adjusting your course would be admitting you were wrong at some point and that apparently is not an option in his world.

He can also be very arrogant, in the sense that he will easily discard your idea as a lesser opinion if it is not in line with his. And not only is the opinion of low quality, so are you for coming up with it. He will use big, aggressive words to make you feel unsure about your line of thought, and make you back down. You might even accept his own idea at some point, just because he presents it with so much self confidence.

Intellectual & Emotional Honesty

What I figured out only recently is that the type of honesty I was taught to express was purely intellectual. That is the type of honesty that researchers and journalists apply in their work. It is the type of honesty that is based on logic, historical facts, knowledge, vocabulary and grammar.

This type of intellectual honesty is something that comes natural to me. I have never had trouble forming my opinion or pointing out to someone when they set off my bullshit radar and why.

Apparently the invisible, irrational, uncontrollable concepts of feelings are something you can be honest about too… You apparently don’t even need words to express them! Mind. Blown. And when it comes to being honest about those, I suck. I wonder why?

A child’s tears

This brings me to the final clue to my father’s dishonesty; he has never been able to handle my tears.

…Not that I even know how to cry anymore…

Unless some plant or tree is in bloom, or something.

And there’s some snot involved during these pollen allergies, as well.

But maybe they don’t actually qualify as tears.

Anyhoooooowww, see how awkward I get from talking about these things??

…where were we?

Ah yes, me crying.

Far before I reached an age that this was reasonable for, I was expected to be able to explain my behavior, especially when my behavior included tears. If I couldn’t come up with a “good” reason for my eye leakage, I was simply asked to stop doing that. And so I did.

All though my father told me years later that the crying prohibition was one of the few things he regretted in life, it did teach me to express myself pretty well. I know what I want and don’t want and am more capable than many others to express where my boundaries lie.

After analyzing the heck out of it during my long train ride home last week I came to a new theory. He saw my tears as criticism. Honest little wet mirrors rolling down a child’s cheek. And he couldn’t deal with that.

Time for a new lesson

Don’t get me wrong. My childhood was actually pretty awesome. Part of it was thanks to my parents, other parts were great despite of them. I hold no grudges. Or I try not to.

I am definitely thankful towards my parents for giving me the ability to discuss every possible topic, be it social, political or cultural in any crowd. When it comes to other forms of honesty however, I think I may have a lesson or two for them.

Article 1

Two of my previous blog posts started out as the introductory words to this one but they ended up getting lives of their own. Hopefully this third time will be a charm and help me get this story out of my head.

It all started when the annual Black Pete discussion reached its peak this last year. I had already decided I would not avoid confrontation on this matter any longer and would ALWAYS point out to the other why I felt Black Pete was indeed a racist element in our culture and that we were making fools of ourselves by denying it.

Sylvana.pngA Dutch celebrity that became very vocal on this matter is a lady called Sylvana Simons. I remembered her merely as a charming TV show host, that started out on a Dutch music channel called TMF. When she started to become a regular on Holland’s most viewed talk show and vented her thoughts about prevalent racism in our society people went crazy… CRAZY!!

She started to receive death threats straight away, which is apparently the thing to do these days when you disagree with someone… Facebook events were dedicated to her, with “Wave Sylvana goodbye”-day as the most popular one. People all around me thought the idea was a hilarious initiative: just gather at the airport holding sarcastic banners, to see Sylvana off because “she didn’t appear to like it here anyway”.

But it’s all good! Just tongue-in-cheek banter; no ill intent, nothing personal. 

Sylvana wasn’t even going to be at the airport! So why would she even feel threatened by this frivolous idea?

Oh sure…. that’s just typical that she would use this to appoint herself the victim role again.

…suggesting they were threatening to have her deported, was she? Why would she even think that?

…we were just kidding…!

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…and I was completely dumbfounded by it.

What shocked me the most was how unanimous this sentiment seemed to be. People that I had always considered to be progressive, nuanced and moderate in their opinions would say things about this woman that made my jaw drop and showed me how extremely deeply rooted this problem really was… And it only proved her right, too!art-1.jpg

Sylvana then went into politics, first with an existing (and pretty controversial) party called Denk. Shortly before the end of 2016 and with only a few months left to get a full program together Sylvana started her own political party: Artikel 1, referring to the first article in the Dutch constitution, stating everyone staying in this country is to be treated fairly and equally, prohibiting any form of discrimination.

I was actually quite excited about Sylvana’s new political party and still have her in my top three candidates for upcoming Wednesday’s elections (all though not on number 1, I must admit).

It has been so difficult for me to understand why my compatriots have so little love for her, so these past few weeks I have made it my mission to figure it out.

I asked my closest friends to explain to me why their knickers got caught up in a twist every time I mentioned her name. They all seemed to agree that the way she brought her message across was counterproductive and divisive in itself. They said they did feel the Netherlands had a racism problem but that she was only pouring oil on the fire. They said it wasn’t WHAT she said but HOW she said it that bugged them.

I thought this was quite interesting, as people seem to use the opposite argument to explain why Geert Wilders is an acceptable option; they are willing to forgive him for his rude tone because they agree with the underlying message.

Why didn’t this logic apply to Sylvana, then? Her gender? Her race? Or is she really so much ruder than him?

When my boyfriend’s brother was at our place the other day and I once again got that look of disgust when I said I thought she was actually a pretty awesome power woman, I grabbed the opportunity to get some clarity.

I asked him to show me what I was missing. I admitted I didn’t watch any of the Dutch TV talk shows and that I may well have missed the bits in which she said such nasty stuff that made her deserve the cyberbuckets of shit that had been poured out over her since then.

So I watched interviews in which she definitely came across as bitchy. I saw her get angry and (unnecessarily) defensive. I saw how she interrupted other people at the table to ask them if they even heard what they were saying. I saw why people might find her annoying.

But nothing that I saw or heard justified how we were treating her. Nothing brought me that big eye-opening revelation I was hoping for. It turned out that it really was as bad as I had feared.

A woman… no… a BLACK woman… no… a BLACK DUTCH WOMAN was telling us the backbone of our Dutch identity was rotten and that we should be ashamed of ourselves.

The chapters of our nation’s history that we had so skillfully “re-interpreted” were being shown in a very uncomfortable light.

guilty dogIt kind of reminds me of one of Cesar Millan’s lessons. Yes, I am actually referencing the dog whisperer here… And yes, I am comparing the Dutch to the “bad dog” in the equation. Or more: I am comparing the Dutch to a dog that has been showing the same behavior for far too long and has a panicky fit the first time it is asked to show different behavior.

We are facing the wall, trembling slightly… not knowing what to do now… Avoiding all eye-contact. How do we go on from here? How do we change the behavior we’ve always shown? It’s uncomfortable. It’s uncertain. Who knows what else we might have to change once we allow this!

I think we all need a pep talk.

Writing a conclusion to this story is making me kind of nervous…

I would like to say tomorrow (election day) might be the nudge we need to get our minds back in motion. To straighten our backs and lift our glances back up from the floor. To admit that we were wrong but that we know better now.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Fighting intolerance by popping our filter bubbles

It’s Political Crunch Time in the Netherlands.

Just two more days before election day. I am ready. I have decided. I know who I’m going for, or at least which party, which in itself is a mini victory as we have about twenty political parties to choose from this time around…

As many places in the world, our country is going through a phase of polarization. It’s not so much “left and right” anymore, though… The logical question to ask is: Ok, if it’s not about left- and right-wing politics, what is it about? Well… I can’t explain that in just one sentence, because it took me some time to figure out… In fact, I think I will need more than one blog for this.

Let me start by pointing out the white elephant in the room:

Geert Wilders.

geert wilders tulp.jpgThis man is quite something.

I know many people say he’s the Dutch Donald Trump but I really think that gives him too little credit. Contrary to the Donald, I actually don’t dislike Geert Wilders as a person. He does quite well in one-on-one interviews and is a very talented speaker. I think he is a much better politician than the current POTUS and deserves some props for that.

I dislike him in debates, that’s for sure. What happens is that he gets so fired up, that he degrades any good argument he may have had into a vulgar mud slinging contest. I do get it though. I mean, it must be incredibly frustrating to have practically every single person in parliament go against your propositions and ideas, sometimes purely on principle…  But still… Not chic…

I can not deny I feel sorry for him as well. His ideas have put him in a position where he needs security 24/7, preventing him from conducting politics in the same fashion his colleagues can. He can not simply go out and shake hands with people on a random market place, even though I believe he would like to.

bruce hulk.jpgAll though I can follow his rhetoric up to a certain degree when he explains it calmly in interviews such as this one for Europa Magazin, he completely loses me with the way he chooses to bring it across at rallies and debates. I can sympathize with his Bruce Banner version but he seems to prefer the Hulk, which is nasty, ugly and rude.

Until this morning, I had nothing positive to say about Geert Wilders, besides feeling pity for his security issues and the burden this must be on him and his family. But I made an effort to truly look into this guy, who is so easy to dislike. So many people apparently agree with him that I felt I should at least try to get it. At least one honest look. So I took off my filtered glasses just for a bit and started reading, watching and listening.

All though I have always tried to be conscious of the fact that my reality is based on how I was brought up and which lessons I was taught, it has been increasingly difficult to sympathize with the “Trump voters” across the pond and the “Wilders voters” in my own country. It’s so easy to just dismiss them as “angry white men”. The shameful murmurations inside of me about the ignorantes who don’t know what’s good for themselves nor for the greater good, can hardly withstand the light of day…

Last weekend though, I read an article about the phenomenon of “filter bubbles”. It wasn’t something that was new to me but for some reason it really hit home at that moment. I realized how unfair I was being and that I really needed to read news from other news sources and open my mind to the Wilders voters, even if they may not be prepared to show me the same courtesy. Or was that just an unjust preconception as well?

I watched several full length interviews with Geert Wilders and read articles I would otherwise have dismissed as populist propaganda or clicked away from in annoyance, without even giving it a listen.

And boy is it important to do this every now and then. Because it turns out we’re all actually not that different from one another and essentially want the same things. I know, shocking right?

And do you know what? Don’t take my word for it. Go figure it out yourself!

I recommend it.

Having said that, I’m still not voting for the guy. I disagree with him on many different levels, which I will not be going into right now (but maybe after the election results are in). But at least now I know why and can look myself in the eye when I stand up for my version of what is right.

quote-spend-5-minutes-at-the-beginning-of-each-day-remembering-we-all-want-the-same-things-dalai-lama-53-96-23.jpg

Dutch women marching towards election day

Last week was international women’s day. Next week is election day in the Netherlands. Today was the Women’s March in our capital, Amsterdam, as well as in other cities like Nijmegen and Groningen.

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I vote: against hate, for diversity, against racism, for equality

I went to the event in Amsterdam, all though I must admit I just barely made it, and was only half out of couch-potato-mode when I caught the train. The two friends I had planned to go with had already cancelled… Periods… go figure…

All though I could dedicate an entire blog purely on the irony of that fact alone, I’ll try to focus on today’s event and how it made me feel.

Let me start off by explaining that I don’t particularly like Amsterdam.

It’s pretty and all, in a big-spender bombastic kind of way. It’s our country’s main tourist attraction for good reason but it lost its spirit in the process. It’s a well known phenomenon, I suppose. The ugly side of tourism: downgrading unique characteristics into bite-size stereotypes, chasing prices of everything up to ridiculous Disneyland levels without improving on the quality of anything…

Damrak.jpgBut I was heading to Amsterdam anyhow. The Women’s March was planned to start off on the Dam square, which is near to Amsterdam Central Station, connected by one straight street called the Damrak. And trust me when I tell you; this is the most awful little strip of the city (maybe even the entire country), where everything I dislike about Amsterdam is crammed together in such high levels, that I prefer to avoid it when at all possible.

What I decided to do, was head to another train station and join the march on the final stretch, right before its final round up point: Museumplein, or Museum Square. This is a big green lawn with the impressive Rijksmuseum building on one end and our fancy shmancy concert hall on the other.

17212193_1826231944286446_3491047008598282718_o.jpgBecause I was skipping out on about 90% of the actual march, I decided to dedicate my thoughts and the choice of my music to relevant issues. I focussed on inequality of women in particular but also in the broader spectrum of human rights in general.

And without having planned it this way, my own personal march towards museumplein led me through a street where women in very intimate apparel “showed off their goods” to bald headed white men casually walking by. Of course I know that Amsterdam has a reputation for its stance towards prostitution, but I know it to be as something typical of “de Wallen” which is an area quite close to that same Damrak area I spoke of earlier. Finding it where I did was something I had not anticipated but it did kind of fit…

I wondered if it would be offensive or encouraging to these women to know where I was headed to… I wondered if the actual women’s march had considered leading their protest rally through the red light district. I wondered if I should look at them and smile or look the other way, to give them some abstract sense of privacy… Complicated thoughts, I can tell you!!

Anyhow… As I approached the museumplein area, I could hear chants in the distance and saw police officers on bikes and horses patrolling the area. What did they think of all of this? Who would they be voting for next week? Where were all the female cops?

When I saw the crowd I must admit I got goosebumps all over my body and even got choked up a bit. So many had shown up! Fifteen to twenty thousand, as it turned out later. I walked the last stretch with the group and found a nice spot on the museumplein lawn to listen to the speeches that were planned for that afternoon.

When the first speaker grabbed the microphone I was kind of surprised by the tameness of the crowd in general… There was some applause, some cheering but… but…. I didn’t really feel the conviction behind it… I missed some sense of… something. Anger? Passion? I wondered why nobody else seemed to have trouble holding back their tears. And I wasn’t even on my period!

I have been at rallies before and I realized what was different now… This crowd consisted mostly of women… But then I thought of the youtube video of the incredibly moving “I can’t keep quiet”-song at the Women’s march in Washington DC and realized it wasn’t just the fact that it was a female crowd that made the vibe so mellow… It was the fact that they were DUTCH women.

We have grown so complacent here. Lacking nothing. Wanting nothing. Needing nothing. Not really. We may feel we NEED something from time to time but this usually comes up when a new iphone is revealed or something of the sorts.

Yes, I think I was disappointed. I was disappointed by the fact that I feel more passion and willingness to fight for a cause when I go to a soccer match than when women’s rights are at stake. I am sad that the wonderful ladies that showed up on stage spoke true words but didn’t manage to fan those flames. I wished they had gone to see a soccer match first!! Or at least watched a Beyonce concert (btw, did you guys see her at the Grammys? OMG, right?).

So… we will be voting in four days…

What I need is the BFG to cook up some life changing dreams for my fellow countrymen and -women and motivate them all to; a) show up , b) vote with their hearts open. Oh, how I fear what’s in my compatriots’ minds…

What to do with our VOC heritage?

I was born and currently live in the Netherlands.

According to IMF’s List of Countries by Projected GDP in 2016, my country ranks 17th and is therefore considered to be rich.

With the exception of perhaps South Korea, every country on that list is at least ten times larger in both scale and population.

When it comes to inequality, we rank 15th as country with least inequality.

Interesting fact: NONE of the countries that rank higher than the Netherlands in the first list, appear in the second list in a position above us.Facts-about-the-Netherlands.jpg

In short, we are a very wealthy country and have managed to spread this money around more evenly than any other developed country.

Poverty is something we barely know. The crisis did affect people somewhat and jobs were harder to find when it was at its peak but in all honesty, it wasn’t so bad.

All though my generation really doesn’t know that much about our history (let alone the ones that came after me), we do like to brag and boast about the things we achieved worldwide, being so small and all.

I know, people don’t usually brag about something being tiny, but we Dutchies love telling foreigners this to illustrate the grandeur of our achievements.

Because we definitely left our mark here and there.

After we drove the sea out of our homeland, we convincingly overcame our fear of the waves, swarmed over the globe and grew into a force to be reckoned with as a seafaring nation.

UPDATE: My boyfriend read my blog and told me my understanding of Dutch history sucks “biggerly” than I thought. It turns out we conquered the waves first and THEN drove the sea out of our homeland… but hey… you get the jist…

Midget nation as we may be, we played with the big boys back in the days. We conquered, divided, stole and murdered like the best of them!

Ah, I’m so proud…

…Or wait… actually… that’s not such a charming history at all! …and it sure puts into perspective how we managed to become the 17th most well earning country in the world…

Despite our history as slave traders in a far past, we’ve actually been better known as a very open and friendly society in more recent times. Our development aid was highly thought of around the world and was known to come with less strings attached than, say, US Aid. We welcomed people of all colors, religions and sexual orientations into our midst. We were recognized around the world for our tolerance towards controversial topics such as prostitution and drugs and our rejection of taboos.

Our former Prime-Minister Jan Peter Balkenende  often remind us that our “VOC mentality” was what had made our country wonderful. He wished we would embrace the optimistic and “get things done”-spirit of our ancestors to shake off the burdens of the financial crisis.

Let’s be happy with eachother! Let’s be optimistic! Let’s say: the Netherlands is willing and able! The VOC-mentality; looking over borders. Be dynamic! Right?

Jan Peter Balkenende – 2006

*facepalm*

I’m not sure exactly how, why and when it started to slip but at some point I opened my eyes and realized Dutch tolerant mindset was no longer real. Our views and eyes are no longer open and “innovation” has become a dirty word. Or maybe we never really practiced what we preached.

Perhaps we were just pragmatists all this time; doing whatever necessary to survive. And not just survive, but thrive. And because we are lovers, not fighters (or secretly just plain cowards) we try to do everything without fighting (or have others do it for us). What we do is figure out where there is money to be made and then adapt to come out on top.

Fast forward to 2017. All politicians are in full battle mode for the upcoming elections on the 15th of March and for some reason, our history is catching up with us. Conflict is unavoidable and fear has become the most common energy source.

As much as I loved our signature polder model, it seems to have fallen into disrepair. Our politicians are failing at both finding a common ground as standing for their ideals. It’s become a big brown mush with a lot of unhappy faces.

At the same time there is a growing group of people that is fed up with this state. Not just are they fed up, they are also putting their money where their mouth is and organizing themselves. Small sparks of passionate ideas are flaring up here and there. No fire has been lit yet but I do feel hopeful about the prospects…

In the meantime… let’s just laugh at the silly state of the world for a bit, shall we?