I recently noticed my first “Doubter Alert” blog was getting quite a few views (which I still can’t really explain). To be honest, when I saw the title appear in my stats I couldn’t even really remember what it was about. So I re-read my own post and was inspired to write a follow-up on it.
The original blog sprouted from a WP Prompt, in which you were encouraged to write about a “commonly accepted truth” that you disagree with or at least seriously doubt.
The list I assembled consists not so much of “commonly accepted truths” but more of modern day arguments and opinions that a growing group of people seem to have.
Voting is useless. I think it was actually my brother that said this to me at some point. He’s a skeptic, in more ways than one, and he has stopped casting his vote. He says that he doesn’t know who to vote for and always feels like he’s been duped in some way or other anyway.
I guess I kind of understand the sentiment.
I disagree vehemently though and it makes me sad to see people so disillusioned by the people in power (and, following George Carlin’s logic, the general public as a whole).
Atheists have no moral compass. This has never actually been said to me explicitly. It is something I read in comments on Social Media and may have been suggested by a street Evangelist or two.
I like to think I am a good person. I care about what happens around me, from plants to animals and of course fellow human beings. I do what I reasonably can to be a positive presence in the world.
What could believing in angels, spirits and god(s) have done to improve my morals? I really don’t see it…
A Dutch white person criticizing Black Pete does this only out of political correctness and doesn’t truly believe what they say.
This is a complicated one, especially to non-Dutchies. Is that true? I’m not sure. Now that I’m writing it down I’m think it’s actually simpler for outsiders… (Oy, so much doubt!)
Anyway, it took me 5 long blogs to sum the problem up last year, so please feel free to read those (starting with this one) to get a general idea of what I mean with the statement above.
Other statements that people these days are making, that I have my doubts about:
Genetically modified food is bad for the planet.
I have freedom of speech so I can say whatever I want in whichever way I want.
You can’t trust the media (or even worse “journalists are the enemy of the people).
Vaccines are unnecessary
Climate change (human caused or not) is an inevitable fact of life that we just need to accept instead of trying to fix or prevent.
Reading my list makes me rethink my first A-to-Z blog, in which I asked myself if I was an activist. It’s clear politics and societal issues play a big part in my musings of late…
All this talk of doubt reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books:
As much as I love this book (seriously, read it. Better than the movie), I think I actually disagree with that statement. I think asking “why” is always a good thing.
People that believe in absolute truths are not the most pleasant people to be around, if you ask me…
At the same time I do understand that you need to calibrate yourself as well and decide on what rings true to you. Doubting everything can drive you mad (or paranoid).
This blog is the fifth and final post in my Black Pete Pentalogy.
My plan was to have my Black Pete conclusion-blog done on the fifth of December, which is the final day of the Sinterklaas celebration in the Netherlands. I failed to meet the deadline, but have had this blog on my mind pretty much every day.
Black Pete & Opponents, about the people who want to kick out Black Pete but are probably its only real friends.
The four blog posts I have written over the last few weeks have really helped me untangle some of my personal frustrations. At the same time it help me to (re)connect with thoughts and ideas I had distanced myself from.
Conclusion 1: There aren’t just two sides to this matter
At a first glance it seems there are only two sides in the Black Pete debate: people in favor and people opposed. However, I have come to realize that the motivations of both sides vary greatly and understanding these motivations is crucial.
Let me share some of the different angles with you:
People in favor – thoughts and motives
“I love Black Pete because I have fond memories of him. It hurts me that people call him a bad element in our celebration. I don’t understand why we can’t just go back to the way it was when we all still loved Black Pete and everybody had fun.”
“I love Black Pete because he is part of my culture. It angers me to see my culture being criticized, (in my own country nonetheless)! I want to protect Dutch traditions. People that don’t like what they see, can move on to somewhere where traditions are more of their liking.”
“I love Black Pete because it is dark element in an ancient celebration, dating back to Wodan & Odin. Sinterklaas without Black Pete is yin with no yang. To change Black Pete or remove him completely destroys the balance”
“Every Dutch child loves Black Pete. They look forward to his arrival, sometimes even more than Sinterklaas’. The concept of racism is an adult invention. Removing Pete from the celebration taints the celebration with a hateful sentiment that was never there to begin with.”
Opponents – thoughts and motives
“Black Pete must be removed from the Sinterklaas celebration because his appearance is disrespectful towards present day black people and descendants of slaves.”
“Black Pete must be removed from the Sinterklaas celebration because it is beneath ourselves. We were ignorant in the past and did not realize there was racism at play. Now we do. Holding on to the tradition is unacceptable.”
“Black Pete must change. We have been telling our children that he is black with soot, so there is no reason for him to go full blackface. A couple of black smudges on the face should do it. (Aren’t chimneys much cleaner now then they were in the past anyway?)”
“Black Pete can change. Children’s imaginations are open for wonder. We can introduce a Rainbow Pete and a yellow, green and blue Pete to demonstrate this and push the diversity factor further.”
Starting with the girl in the mirror
As I illustrated with the examples above Black Pete supporters (which not so long ago, was pretty much everyone around me) are not all the same. As a longtime opponent of Black Pete I may, at times, have been quick to label someone as “racist” or “hateful”.
I realize now that some Black Pete supporters are merely melancholic souls. Others are nervous conservatives that don’t really want to deal with change, in any way, shape or form. Me calling them out as racist only made them put up their guard and counterattack, bringing us no where closer to a common ground.
Also, apart from Black Pete supporters and Black Pete opponents, there is a growing group of people that is just fed up with the discussion and doesn’t really care how we resolve the issue, as long as we can just carry on.
Conclusion 2: Admitting you’re wrong is hard.
You know the kind of fight that is way too loud, over-dramatic and full of inaccurate accusations? The type of argument that comes with a lot of finger pointing and sentences that begin with, “Yes, but you ALWAYS…” or end with “Well, that’s just typical!”.
It’s a fight that’s probably not really about what we are saying it is about. It’s a fight we’re having because we actually care a lot about one another but have forgotten how to show it (and our pride is making it hard to admit it). It’s a fight with no listeners. It is a fight with no winners.
We are now in that awkward phase, right after an argument, when neither side is ready yet to extend a hand to the other, nor is anybody willing to admit that all they really want is a hug.
That silence can go both ways. It can turn into passive aggressive silence, which is actually just a continuation of the conflict, but with no sound. The “silent treatment” keeps wounds open and painful and often leads back to the point where we started: the yelling and the closed hearts.
The second option is that, during that sudden and uncomfortable silence, the words of the other suddenly start sinking in. Words that you had been blocking with your own stream of words start connecting with your own ideas and concepts.
It takes courage to admit you were wrong and even more to admit someone else was right. Sometimes an apology is necessary, which is next level stuff!
So I guess what I’m saying, is that the screaming and the yelling, the threats and the arrests, may have looked bad (and they really were), but there is something in the air that makes me feel optimistic.
Speaking for myself, I must admit I may have been a bit too harsh on my compatriots over the last few years.
I’ve been asking (demanding?) friends to accept a whole new set of truths, to change a tradition that has been passed down for generations and then also apologize for it. I’d rather they got to it yesterday, rather than today, giving them very little room to make it right.
So if some Dutchies start celebrating “new style” Sinterklaas but find it hard to do this without being sarcastic about it, that’s fine. If they say they only do it because PC immigrant-huggers made them do it, I’ll happily take the blame (and give them a free hug in the process).
And I guess this brings me to the third and final conclusion:
Conclusion 3: Black Pete is bad karma
My first Black Pete related blog was in 2013. For years it felt like I was one of the only ones speaking out against this tradition. What bothered me the most was (is?) the denial.
However, defending Black Pete is becoming harder. Social media is letting the world peak through the windows as we celebrate. We are being exposed for what we really are.
We are not quite ready to actually say Black Pete is a racist phenomenon, but we are somewhere close to “no longer denying it is not free of racism”, which is progress!
Black Pete is becoming a burden. A smudge on the global image we have created of ourselves.
Yes, Black Pets is bad karma and we will rid ourselves of it.
In the meantime, please be patient with us (but don’t let us off the hook either).
In the past, Black Pete fans were predominantly Dutch children. Now that his position and appearance have come under scrutiny, adults have started rejoining the fanclub and are standing up for him.
If you ask me though, Black Pete’s real friends are the ones that wish him to be removed from the Sinterklaas celebration all together. This blog is dedicated to those people.
Black Pete & Sylvana Simons
Sylvana Simons is one of the most controversial public figures in the Netherlands. Before she became everyone’s favorite punching bag, she was a popular TV host on the Dutch version of MTV. Her unapologetic and relentless anti-Black-Pete-stance is what earned her the number one position on the Netherlands’ unofficial most-hated-figures list.
I dedicated a blog to her about a year and a half ago and some things have changed since then. The biggest change, as far as Ms Simons’ position goes, is that she has decided to focus her energy on local politics, starting in her hometown of Amsterdam.
This move wasn’t fully of her own making, given that no senate seat was granted to her after national elections in 2017. I must admit that I did not vote for her at the time either, all though I did consider it. In the end, I am happy it worked out this way, as this result means she doesn’t come up in hateful memes, harsh opinion columns and racist caricatures as often as before.
“If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” is definitiely a quote that comes to mind when I think of Ms Simons. This lady is pretty much fireproof. I never saw her back down from any discussion, nor did she ever pull her punches. She was a crucial spark and if it wasn’t for her, I doubt we would actually be talking about alternative ways to celebrate Sinterklaas at all.
What we need now though, is someone who can ease those flames down a bit and lead the discussion in a more compassionate way. The fire doesn’t need to die out. It does need to be fanned in a more controlled fashion so that it doesn’t burn down the house.
It’s not fair to Ms Simons to say she wouldn’t be capable of fulfilling such a role. I do believe however that my compatriots would never appreciate her attempts and that therefore there is no useful part for her to play in the debate at this point. She is invited to the afterparty though.
Black Pete & Jerry Afriyie
What Jenny Douwes is for the pro-Pete-movement, Jerry Afriyie is for the anti-Pete-movement. More specifically, he is the face of the protest organization “Kick out Zwarte Piet” and sister organization “Nederland wordt beter”.
Jerry is the son of Ghanian parents and came to the Netherlands at the age of ten. I haven’t decided yet if the fact that he is still seen as an outsider (whereas Sylvana was very much seen as a traitor stabbing us in the back) actually helps him or is getting in his way. When speaking of the Dutch he does always use the first-person plural.
He has explained in interviews how his first memories of the Sinterklaas celebrations were actually purely positive ones.
It was all fun and games, until other kids started calling him Black Pete as an insult. He realized he was actually the butt of the joke and that all was not right in this children’s celebration. He then heard from other people that children sometimes came home crying and asked to be scrubbed “clean” as their black tone was supposedly caused by chimney soot.
As he grew up, he became more vocal about this and has described having heated discussions about the matter in highschool. He ended up joining Nederland wordt beter, which can be translated both as the imperative “Netherlands, be better” and the hopeful “Netherlands shall be better”. According to its own website, the organizations incentive is as follows:
Stichting Nederland Wordt Beter focuses on a future without racism and exclusion. We believe that this can only be achieved by recognising the influence of the history of colonialism and slavery on contemporary society and on all Dutch people. The foundation works towards spreading more knowledge about the consequences of the Dutch history of colonialism and slavery.
Stichting Nederland Wordt Beter organisation is a collective of parents, poets, artists, teachers, students, academics, bloggers, filmmakers, and historians. They are contributing voluntarily to make a better Netherlands.
Stichting Nederland Wordt Beter aims to dissolve itself in 2025. We assume that the following goals will be achieved by then.
To people who say, “but this is what we’ve always done and nobody has ever had a problem with it”, mr Afriyie says that ignorance of the past can be forgiven, but now that we know better we must do better.
He has compared it to someone treading on someone else’s foot without noticing. When the other says “hey, you stepped on my foot and that hurt” you can choose to say “gee, I hadn’t noticed but I’m so sorry I hurt you” or you can proceed to step on it again and then say “If you were standing where I was stepping then you must have been in the way and you are just way to sensitive anyway”.
All though his confrontations with police have led to him being barred from his profession in security management, mr Afriyie will not back down. He insists that he pushes on out of love for the country and not out of disdain for it, as his opponents suggest.
He has said it is normal and understandable that this generation is finding it hard to cope with the idea that what we have been doing all along is hurtful and wrong. He says it’s fine that people blame him for causing unnecessary discomfort.
To that his response is that he is not accountable to this generation, but to the next one…
Since my first post about the “Black Pete debate” in 2013, things have not gotten any better. This week protesters from both sides of the debate were arrested for instigating violence and it looks like this was only the beginning.
Actually, the real beginning of when Black Pete entered the political arena was years ago.
Black Pete & the UN
I remember that I was kind of confused when I heard the United Nations was asking questions about every Dutch persons favorite holiday. This was in 2013 and I don’t remember ever having questioned anything related to Sinterklaas until then. Maybe I did, but if so then it must have been in a dismissive fashion, laughing it off with a “yeah, I guess it is a bit weird” kind of remark. But as I said, I don’t remember ever feeling guilty about celebrating Sinterklaas or seeing my friends paint their faces black to scare their nephews and nieces at the family celebration.
When the world started pointing fingers at us, making it official when the UN report was thrown in our faces in 2015, I was one of the first to say that it was a ridiculous waste of time and resources. Why would the United Nations have an opinion about something so harmless and so exclusively Dutch (and let’s face it, we are a puny country). And how could they possibly be against it??
It wasn’t the UN report itself that changed my mind (which I don’t think I ever actually read). It was my fellow countrymen. Hearing and reading their reactions to being called “racist” convinced me at once that that was precisely what we had been all along, and I was SHOCKED by the extent of it.
All though I haven’t lived anywhere but the Netherlands since my teenage years I suddenly felt like an outsider again.
Since that moment I have made a vow to myself to never hold back my words about this topic, as I noticed that friends with similar opinions as mine were doing precisely that. This meant that it was only the knowingly racist and the harmfully ignorant that were doing all the talking, which I find unacceptable.
If you want to know how to make the temperature in a room drop from “pleasant” to “icy” in a heartbeat, try bringing up eliminating Black Pete from the Sinterklaas celebration in a room full of Dutch adults. If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be kind of funny…
Black Pete & Dutch politics
All though the United Nations’ accusing finger did stir up a debate in Dutch society I don’t really recall any of our politicians ever daring to take a stance in any of this.
Instead of expressing disapproval for the harmful atmosphere being created, they just smile and wave like idiots. I imagine they sit in their cars and point at their constituency as they drive by, saying: “Isn’t this nice? The people are really getting involved”.
All comments made in public have been luke warm and evasive, with the exception of one horrible occasion 2 years ago, which I wish never happened, but does explain why other politicians hadn’t ventured into the topic until (and since) then…
Our prime minister made a complete and utter fool of himself when he was asked about Black Pete at an international summit, by saying something along the lines of “Black Pete is Black, there is nothing I can do about that, since his name is, after all, Black Pete and not Green Pete or Brown Pete”.
If you are into cringe-worthy English and oblivious white men saying blatantly racist things, go ahead and press play below (skip to 1:10 and stick around until the very end if you are not afraid to bleed from your eyes, ears and/or heart).
Yepp, he actually said that (and on behalf of the good half of the country, my apologies).
As you can imagine, his leadership (or lack there of) has done us very little good. Events in recent days have demonstrated how wounds will fester if they are not tended to properly.
Once again, peaceful protests were blocked by nimwits and hooligans, ending in senseless violence and 60 arrests throughout the country. Our prime minister said something along the lines of “there werefine people on both sides” and then washed his hands in innocence.
He also stated that the problem is one society needs to fix on its own and that politics can play no role in it.
So, as you can see, the wounds in Dutch society are not only pungent and painful, it seems we are now heading towards a zombie apocalypse. We need to start cutting off some limbs if we want to survive.
Dokkum is a city in the northern province of Friesland. Friesland also happens to be the province that I was born in and where I lived during my high school years.
Friesland and I have bit of a complicated relationship. Don’t get me wrong; I love Friesland. I love its rural nature and its endless skies. I love the merciless winds and the darkness of the nights (if you want to see an amazing abundance of stars, go to Northern Friesland).
“Rural” and “merciless” are words that not only apply to the landscape but also to its people. Additional terms to charecterize Frisians would be “blunt” and “stubborn as F**K”.
Now, those last two are descriptions foreigners might use to describe the Dutch in general. But the Frisians really take it to a different level and I am quickly running out of patience for their harmful humor and narrow minds.
Also, the pride with which they carry themselves and their bullshit arguments infuriates me to no extent. Relevant for this story is also the fact that they identify themselves as “Frisians” first and “Dutch” second. The rest of the Dutch population is refered to as “Hollanders”, with which they mostly mean the people from the big city areas in North and South Holland (i.e. The Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam).
But back to the intocht…
In the build-up to the intocht in Dokkum, a peaceful protest was announced by an organization called “Kick out Zwarte Piet” (KOZP). It was approved by local officials and would take place in Dokkum but not directly on the route of the Sinterklaas procession.
Frisians however, were having none of this “political correct nonsense from Holland” and decided to take matters into their own hands. Social media groups exploded, resulting in a large group of knuckle heads (soccer hooligans and mudrace fanatics) getting in their cars and stopping the buses on the highway (you know, to “protect the kids at the celebration”).
The Frisian rioters got out of their cars (I repeat, this all took place on a highway, where speeds up to 120 kms per hour are allowed), waving flags (mostly the Frisian one, not the Dutch one), middle fingers up and baseball bats in hand (ok, maybe not with baseball bats)…
Black Pete & Jenny Douwes
As the preparations for Sinterklaas’ 2018 arrival began (this year in the less polemic city, Zaanstad), the Dutch judicial system also just happened to be rounding up the court case against the “Blokkeer Friezen” (Blockade Frisians), which is how media refers to last year’s highway hooligans.
Quite a poor timing, if you ask me, as it meant that Frisian opinions were once again making headlines.
A woman called Jenny Douwes was particularly vocal in all of this, as she was apparently the initiator of several Facebook groups aimed at mobilizing like minded people. She was also present on the highway and has made her appearance at several talk shows on TV and Radio since then (with such infuriating results that I can’t quite get into that right now, as my computer might end up flying through the window).
[correction dd 23-11-2018: I have now learned she was actually NOT present on the highway during the blockade]
As you can imagine, Jenny Douwes has no regrets. Any person that felt threatened during the spontaneous highway blockade is either overreacting or creating a false version of events to demonize her and her rightful cause. Jenny Douwes has a charming farmergirl accent and a pretty smile.
In the days before the Blockade Frisians’ trial, social media blew up with declarations of support for her and her cause. Crowdfunding campaigns were initiated to fund her legal battle and within no time, thousands of euros had been collected.
Last week, Jenny Douwes and her partners in crime were sentenced to several hundred hours of community service, which is basically a slap on the wrist (and way too lenient as far as I’m concerned). Her followers are furious (because of course,) and have started a petition to not only free her of all charges, but to reward her with a medal of honor (or rather a “ribbon”, which is something our King awards to people who have done something exceptional).
Jenny Douwes has now become a national symbol of determination and a protector of Dutch culture. And Dutch culture needs to be protected from islamic influences and politically correct Hollanders who would rather cancel Sinterklaas than insult a minority. If KOZP and the Hollanders get their way there is only one way this can end, which is obviously the implementation of Sharia law in the Netherlands.
The true extent of the support these anti-anti-Black-Pete activists have only become clear to me in recent weeks and it makes my heart ache.
All my childhood friends, all of their parents, my neighbors, my teachers; they all applaud the blockade. To be honest, I haven’t even really dared ask my own parents about it…
If there were such a thing as a Frisian nationality and passport, I would hand it in today.
This is one of those blogs that has been in the making for months and I was convinced today would be the day I’d share the whole thing with the world.
However, as I previewed it just now I realized it was turning into a lengthy thesis, rather than something easy-to-read-while-sitting-on-the-toilet (which is one of the best places to catch up on blog updates and news events, and you know it).
So I decided to pull a JK Rowling.
Instead of one massive text, I will now be publishing 5 Black Pete related posts, spread over 5 days. The fifth one will contain a meaningful conclusion to tie it all together, which I hope to come up with any minute now…
So, without further ado, let me introduce to you episode number one, in which I take you back to my own personal childhood memories of Zwarte Piet, aka Black Pete.
Growing up as a privileged Dutch kid in South America, I remember feeling sorry for my non- Dutch classmates who did not know about Sinterklaas. At the international schools I went to, it was mostly Christmas that was celebrated in the holiday season, and I remember it made total sense to me that Santa Claus did not exist, but that Sinterklaas absolutely did. I was a true believer.
It was a well known fact that Sinterklaas arrived in the Netherlands from Spain every year by boat. This steamboat carried all our gifts, Sinterklaas’ horse and his loyal companions: the black Petes.
For kids, the Petes are often quiet scary, and this is kind of the point. As the (literal and figurative) “dark element” in the Sinterklaas celebration, the Black Petes were always used as a threat to keep children in line throughout the year. Nowadays this is less common, but Pete’s disciplinary character still shines through every now and then.
Sinterklaas’ arrival, which is referred to as “de intocht van Sinterklaas” is celebrated every year in a different Dutch city. Kids from all over the country count down the days for his arrival, as this is when they can start leaving out their shoe (usually in the windowsill or by the fireplace).
With a small gift or snack for Sinterklaas’ horse (usually a carrot) tucked safely in the shoe, each child sings one (or several) traditional Sinterklaas song(s) and then heads off to bed. The next morning the carrot is gone (eaten by the horse, of course) and traces of Sinterklaas’ visit may be seen around the house. Most importantly though: the shoes are filled with traditional seasonal candy and a small gift. They get to repeat this ritual several times until December the 5th, which is Sinterklaas’ birthday.
On the day of his birthday, Sinterklaas and the Petes go door to door handing out gifts to all the good kids, in a tradition packed evening called “pakjesavond” or “gift evening”. It is said that naughty kids receive a lump of salt instead of a toy (no idea why) and that repeat offenders may end up being taken back to Spain in the jute bag as Pete trainees.
Upon their arrival, the black Petes barge in, making a big ruckus, doing cartwheels and jumping on the furniture. Sinterklaas enters after them, slowly and solemnly, waving at the kids and winking at the parents. I never recognized any of them, all though they probably were parents, uncles and aunts of my friends and classmates.
How he managed to arrive in Bolivia on the same day he was busy handing out gifts in the Netherlands never raised any questions. Living in a landlocked country I should perhaps have been worried about the fact that his preferred means of transportation was an old steam boat.
I was satisfied with the idea that he probably sailed up the Amazon river and had ridden the rest of the way up the Andes mountains by horse. How the Petes had made their way to my home is a question I ask myself for the very first time today… I wasn’t a great critical thinker at the age of 6, apparently.
Even as I grew older I continued to look forward to the Sinterklaas celebration. Of course I no longer believed he was anything other than a man in a costume, but I still got jitters when the Black Petes made their entrance, throwing sweets through the classroom and later in the offices where I worked.
All though kids usually stop believing in Sinterklaas around the age of 8, most families continue to celebrate “pakjes-avond”. The shoe-element disappears to the background as children grow up and a new element is introduced: poetry.
The adult version of the Sinterklaas celebration still revolves around giving each other gifts, but more than that, it is about praising, reprimanding and teasing each other with cheeky rhymes.
Contrary to Christmas (which obviously has some common traits and historical origins) Sinterklaas-for-adults is not exclusively a family celebration but something people also often celebrate among friends.
All though there are many ways these get-togethers can take shape, the most common one can be summarized as follows:
Establish gift-budget with the people you will be celebrating with.
Write your name + wishlist (within budget range) on a piece of paper. and put it into a box or bag along with everyone else’s.
Everybody picks a name from the box, Secret-Santa-style, and buys that person a gift.
The gift is presented or wrapped in a “surprising” way (for example stuffed in a big jar of gunk or hidden in a papier-maché sculpture).
Along with the gift every person must make a poem for the other, in which gossip and old grudges about the receiver can be put into rhyme. The poem is usually written from the point of view of either Sinterklaas or Pete.
On pakjes-avond each person reads their (sometimes quite embarrassing) poem out loud to the rest, before unpacking their present (and hopefully having a great laugh about it all).
If you are interested in reading more about the many different ways in which adults celebrate Sinterklaas I recommend the following blogs and articles:
During most of my lifetime, I had never thought of the Black Pete element in this whole celebration as wrong or discriminatory in any way. I can’t even remember anyone ever telling me it wasn’t ok, not even any of my international friends. If someone did, it didn’t really make an impression.
The racist character of Black Pete is a real problem however, and one that is becoming increasingly hard to ignore. I will go into different elements of this matter in upcoming posts and hope I will be able to rid myself of some personal frustrations along the way.
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.
A 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…!
…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!
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.
It 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.