Black Pete & his opponents

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.

Sylvana Simons, the Netherlands’ favorite racial punching bag.

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.

Fighting fire with fire. Burning 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.

Jerry Afriyie during KOZP demonstration in Rotterdam. Photo by BART MAAT

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.

https://www.nederlandwordtbeter.nl/en/organisation/ [23-11-2018]

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…

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Biting the bullet on gun control

If you tell me I have no place in the gun control debate a) because I don’t live in the USA, b) because I wasn’t born in the USA, c) because I don’t have to defend myself from my government or d) because I am clueless, I would agree with you on the first three points.

Clueless I am not, all though I can imagine my love for satirical news programs and the heavy lean to the left these shows tend to have, may have you believe I am biased. Guilty as charged. But who isn’t? I don’t think there are neutral parties in this discussion. And if there are, than I believe them to be the clueless ones.

To understand more about the pro-gun advocates side of the story, I have chosen three different examples to shine a light on in this blog, starting with Florida’s senator Marco Rubio’s, who is often quoted after any gun-related issue comes up:

Marco Rubio official statement gun protests 2

Marco Rubio is a frequent target on shows like the Daily Show for his lukewarm conservatism and unexciting “boy-next-door” appearance. But if this debate has to be had (and it really does), I actually very much appreciate his style. He always presents his opinion in a civil way and is as polite about it as a topic and situation allows.

Marco Rubio gun control quote

On a side-note after reading some reactions on social media; it’s really interesting to see how being balanced and well-informed is seen as negative in current day politicians…

But back to his statement on last week’s “March for our lives” protests, in which he doesn’t really say anything, other than “there are two sides in this debate, and everybody has a right to their opinion”. The last two sentences are the only ones really worth reading. What he basically says there, is “let’s talk and move towards a solution that will prevent more people being killed”.

It’s vague and it doesn’t really give me the idea that anything will change soon, but perhaps this shouldn’t be an overnight thing anyway. As long as the discussion is being held, truly, then there is hope. It does require willing participants, not just to speak but also to listen, and particularly this last part seems to be quite the challenge.

A show that also gets quite a lot of flak for being too liberal is the View. I have to agree the balance does tip more towards the left, but I feel they really do try to give all sides of the debate a voice. Take this conversation they had earlier this month, for example:

So the first argument I hear as to why the second amendment has validity, is made by Condoleezza Rice. She describes a situation she remembers from her childhood years, during which Bull Connor was the Commissioner of Public Safety for the city she was living in, being Birmingham, Alabama. With such a strong opponent of the civil rights movement in charge of “public safety”, – one who actively and openly supported racial segregation-, I can imagine that was a fearful time for African American children to grow up in.

She describes how her father and his friends would keep the neighborhood safe, by shooting into the air when KKK members would ride through the neighborhood. If her father would have had to register his gun, it would have been taken away by the local government at the time, according to Ms. Rice, leaving the neighborhood vulnerable to those who were determined to harm the black community.

Let me start by saying; that is just so terribly sad… I am not part of a minority now and even growing up in a country where I was, I was never threatened or discriminated against. The need to have a gun to protect yourself from your neighbors and from the intolerance of your government towards your very existence is something hard for me to fathom.

I would like to say that making a policy based on fear can never lead to a balanced solution, but I recognize that in the face of Ms Rice’s story and the current day president, it’s a hard argument to make.

The segment continues with Meghan McCain stating that “There has never been a mass shooting carried out by an NRA member” and that “as a vocal NRA and second amendment supporter, we feel vilified”. I get that. They are definitely being vilified. I can imagine how being a member of a gun association could help you become a responsible gun owner. However, I also feel they should have no place in government or policy making.

And if the one true argument to NOT ban AR15’s is that they are used for hunting in rural areas, how about you only allow people to have them that have a hunting license. That’s a thing right, a hunting license? At least in the Netherlands it is… Go ahead and correct me if the US doesn’t issue those, but it makes sense to me to combine the two. No hunting license, no hunting rifle. Right?

So… enough of all the balanced “on the one side this, but on the other side that”-stuff. What does an uncensored supporter of gun ownership and fanatic second amendment defender say?

This good sir, Matt Winkeljohn, of the “Resist the Tyranny” movement, repeatedly speaks of “lies and propaganda” being spread by the “March for our lives” activists.

Propaganda, according to the Cambridge dictionary is:

Information, ideas, opinions, or images, often only giving one part of an argument, that are broadcast, published, or in some other way spread with the intention of influencing people’s opinions

Sure, I agree. That is definitely what this is.

These are kids aiming for the stars in a seemingly unequal fight, like David against Goliath. It’s up to politicians to pour these heart-felt opinions, born through trauma, fear and grief, into balanced statements, discussions and policies.

Mr Winkeljohn, likes to refer to the protesters as “terrorists” because:

“They’re going around the country and they’re spreading all these lies and propaganda in order to scare the shit out of people in order to get them to support gun control”

All though I still haven’t figures out which lies he’s referring to exactly, I do agree with the fact that the protesters are trying to make people aware of the dangers of guns and motivate anybody who is willing to listen “to get them to support gun control”.

He finishes his argument off by stating:

“Well if that isn’t the definition of terrorism, then I don’t know what is.”

He then goes on by saying stuff like “If guns were the problem, then we would know about it” and compares being shot to having a “rare disease”. He argues that if less than 200.000 people have a certain disease it is considered rare and only 11.000 people get killed a year with a gun.

confusedboyBecause having a rare disease isn’t as bad as having a common one? Or should we only invest into trying to cure people with diseases that more people end up dying from? I’m still trying to figure that one out…

The fact that pro-gun-control activists are threatening his life several times a day, has led him to believe this march wasn’t about “saving or trying to protect lives” at all.

He refers to the most vocal Parkland shooting survivors as terrorists, standing on “a pile of children[‘s corpses] in order to pass a political agenda”.

Words like “propaganda”, “rhetoric” and “political agenda” are used frequently in this video and the debate in general, suggesting that people are being manipulated into believing something untrue.

I just can’t figure out what that might be. What’s the “political agenda” behind these kids’ “rhetoric” that we should all be cautious of? If he means “gun control”, then yes, that is definitely what they are trying to achieve, but it’s not as if they are trying to sneak that message into a warm, fuzzy conversation about unicorns and easter bunnies… They’re saying it loud and clear.

political-agenda-political-agenda-everywhere

So, I guess I just really can’t connect with this guy’s views. I don’t get it…

I’m afraid all I can do is go back to comedy… For some reason, blowing up a situation into ridiculousness and laughing about it, often brings out the nuance more than anything else. So, click play and let me know what you think:

 

 

Bear with me here

It’s Saturday morning, after a crazy week that felt twice as long as usual. I cancelled my appointments and vowed to lie in bed as long as possible. After a quick breakfast and a short attempt at answering my emails, I decided I wasn’t done yet and went back to bed for a second round.

When I woke up from this second visit to neverland I decided to take it slow and stay in bed a while longer and start up with a Facebook check-up. I looked around, saw who’s birthday it was and who had gotten drunk last night. I checked out some awesome pictures of naturally built homes and saw the dates for one of my favorite artists’ new musical tour. I saw thanksgiving recipes and inspirational quotes from my yogi friends. I saw this sleeping bag, which – for a split second- felt like something I really needed to have:sleeping-bear-sleeping-bag-2.jpgsleeping-bear-sleeping-bag-1.jpg

And then I saw the newest opinion piece from one of my favorite comedians, followed by a video of a puppy being confused by his own hiccups. I saw my finger hover over the opinion piece, -I could see it started with the words “We are at war”,- and then finally clicking on the puppy. I smiled at what I saw and then immediately realized what I was doing. It made me feel icky.

It bothered me enough to immediately shut FB down and open my news app. It wasn’t particularly optimistic stuff I was seeing, but in a way I did feel better about myself. I had had my break from reality but was strong and ready once again to face the world head-on.

I am struggling though and am finding it hard to see where I stand exactly.

I already expressed my feelings about prayer in my previous blog. It’s uselessness bugs me, despite the claims of every religion’s followers that they are peaceful at heart and the conviction that their passive prayers and good intentions will fix this mess. I hear myself say I should be tolerant and accepting of everyone’s life choices but then again, how often are religious people really faithful to their God by choice? I have been indoctrinated too, though, I know that, I just don’t call it religion…

I find myself thinking about the irony of how muslims and jews both use their word for “peace” as a greeting. They must say the word dozens of times a day but at the same time they fail so incredibly hard at achieving precisely this in Gaza.

Even as I write the above I am reminded of Reza Aslan’s strong response to the bigotry that was revealed on CNN a couple of months ago and went viral in recent weeks. I catch myself using the term “muslim” in a similar way. I really truly don’t want to generalize and ignore all the distinctions there are between muslim countries and muslim individuals.

cartoon Steve Sack panic.jpg

Cartoon by Steve Sack

I see quotes from Ayaan Hirsi Ali encouraging us to hold islam accountable and I feel confused about my moral compass. I hate that there is a subconscious part of me that feels that muslims need to express their horror for terrorist attacks more openly and must repent for the suffering that their fellow-muslims have caused. I know deep in my heart this thought only alienates them from us and may actually chase them straight into the arms of the extremists we all collectively despise.

I feel lost in my wish to contribute to the world. I want to reach out and understand but I can’t seem to suppress these little bubbles of prejudice and judgment floating in all the time. How do I eliminate them? How can I ever do anything positive, if every attempt I make at having an open mind results in me disliking religion more? How can I have an open conversation with anyone if I feel so strongly deep down that the other person is wrong?

Shucks, all of this just makes me want to crawl away into my cuddly bear sleeping bag…

Anti-evolutionary procreation

The subject I am going to discuss today is quite a delicate one and I don’t think I will be able to really say what I want to say without offending people, so I think I will just be straight and blunt about it and not even try to be subtle…

What happened is that I read this article in Dutch newspaper the Volkskrant, written by a guy called Anton de Wit, about single women who wish to have a child via IVF. The article I read was a reaction to an opinion piece that came out in a feminist magazine called Opzij. The writers of this piece in Opzij were upset about the fact that half of all hospitals in the Netherlands refused women for IVF who were not in a steady relationship.

Some of these hospitals decline requests from single women on the basis that they do not have a sperm bank on site and not merely because the wannabe mother does not have a partner. According to some feminist groups these rules are preposterous and discriminatory. A woman is made for motherhood and anyone who stands in the way of this wish is a bully.

mother simple linesAs Anton de Wit sarcastically sums up: “Why shouldn’t [a single woman] be allowed to be artificially inseminated? What if she can’t wait for Mr Right any longer or keeps on hooking up with douchebags that aren’t man enough to take on the responsible task of being father? Isn’t procreation a human right (…)?” and then adds: “Reproduction has, in the biological essence, always been a thing between two people, a man and a woman. Sure, thanks to scientific progress and shifting social conventions we have been able to reduce the first to merely a sperm donor.”

It’s a pity, in my opinion, that the feminist point of view was defended by a (single?) woman and the article in the Volkskrant was written by a man, which turned it into a “man vs women” thing for people looking for an easy point to score. You could easily turn it into a “Oh, that’s just typical; a man trying to take away a woman’s rights to be independent”-thing, all though that’s not the point at all. Because, as Anton very sharply adds:

“But when the conception has succeeded another individual appears with its very own rights, that we can not push aside so lightly – namely the child. (…) Does a grown up’s wish to have a child have more ground than a child’s wish to have parents?”

I, as a woman, must say I totally agree with Anton here. And even more so, it stirs up the devil’s advocate in me that wants to say:

If you can’t find a partner that wants a child with you, you weren’t meant to procreate! It’s anti-evolutionary. You are messing with the universe’s (or Darwin or God or whatever) plan…..

And to those whose feelings I just hurt: I’m sorry. I don’t enjoy seeing you sad, but it is truly what I believe…

Making peace with my inner-racist

The mayor of the Dutch city of Rotterdam is an interesting man. Let’s start with the obvious, just to get the elephant out of the room. He was born and raised in Morocco until the age of 15 in a small town in the Nador province. He is a muslim. Even more so, his father was an imam and he himself remains a devout muslim to this day.

Ahmed Aboutaleb, because that is his name, is an incredibly well spoken Dutch politician that has made me nod my head at my tv-screen on several occasions. I wish I could say that his provenance is not what I find most interesting about him. I wish I could say I consider him to be completely “one of us” or that I respect him for and foremost for his qualities as a politician and a person in general … but now that I think about it, every time I am wowed by one of his statements, my amazement is usually intensified, thinking of his background… and when I talk to someone about something I heard him say, I think I do often use words along the lines of “… and that is coming from a man from such-and-such background”. Does that make me a racist? It kind of does, doesn’t it?

Yesterday morning I saw an interview with Mr Aboutaleb on the news, which triggered me to write this blog. He talks about the second generation immigrants that are increasingly finding solace in the more extremist corners of their faith and are considering picking up weapons in armed conflicts elsewhere, to defend these new values they have come to stand for.ahmed_aboutaleb02.jpg

I translated a large part of it and included it below:

You describe young muslims that want to travel abroad to join the fight in conflict zones as people commiting treason, what do you mean by this?

Imagine for example my situation. I came to the Netherlands when I was 15. The Netherlands invested in me for many years, ten thousands of euros in education. I have now reached the point that I can do something for society. For myself and for my parents; especially my parents who have been through a lot to get this far, and then you would say “forget it, I am going somewhere else” and not just that, you are going to do things AGAINST the country that has invested in you. I can’t call it anything but treason.

So you are asking people that turn their backs on our values and the laws of our constitution to hand in their passports. That’s quite a strong statement, isn’t it?

We often organize ceremonies in our municipality, where we hand newcomers their citizenship on behalf of the Dutch State. I always mention that a passport is not just a travel document. It stands for an identity and its core values. And not only that, the values of our country, the laws of our constitution will sometimes need to be defended by force of arms if those values are threatened or the Netherlands are under attack. “If you don’t accept those conditions,” I always say in my speeches, “leave the document here”. And if, after all these years, you find out that these values don’t suit you, be a man and come in next Monday and hand over the passport. This way we don’t need to discuss in the senate who is right and who is wrong.

Aren’t people allowed to have another opinion?

Ofcourse people are allowed to have other opinions. There will always be room for that. I am talking now about people that have reached a point that they are prepared to leave this country, take their wife and kids with them and settle in a feudal system, where everything we have been brought up with, everything we have learned about, is rejected. That is a conscious choice, which is allowed, but be a man about it and come hand in that passport as well. If you reject our constitution, that your passport is linked to, than you obviously don’t want that either.

But isn’t that a bit harsh. Aren’t you bringing problems to other immigrants with this statement, people that do not agree with these minorities?

Absolutely not. You know, what people that are involved in these discussions often don’t understand is that dealing with these minorities, and dealing with them strongly, by for example asking them to hand in their passports, is the best way to protect the 1 million people that are wrongly being associated with this. This is the best protection for me, and the other 999.999 others.

[…]

But is repression the only way?

It’s definitely not the only way. Repression in this case may be a small part of a larger whole, but a very necessary one. The big tasks lie with the municipalities, the local authorities and the mayors to organize this debate, to open the dialogue, which we will be organizing here in Rotterdam at the end of September. Let it be a hard discussion, let’s tear this up because nothing shines without friction.

But if you lay the lines down so tightly, won’t it make it more difficult to have this dialogue?

I have always learned that especially when the lines are clear and tight, people are prepared to talk. I can tell you now, this conversation is going to give reactions of repulsion, it is going to spark angry emails but it will also trigger a lot of support. You can’t be everyone’s friend, as mayor of Rotterdam, and luckily that is not my goal either.

So what you are saying is that if there are certain elements in society, no matter how large or small, that we don’t agree with, that it should be removed…

For starters, I think that if you have consciously decided that you do not want to be a part of the Netherlands, that you should be honest about this. Come out, hand in the passport. But, if you are not willing to do so, if you do this secretly and undermine the values of our society, the consequence is that we, as a society, will isolate you and shut you out. And it is justified for the Dutch government to makes this possible and I stand behind these measures. But do not forget that the whole climate that has been created is very damaging for the 1 million muslims that live here. We must treasure them, hold them close and make them feel included and not judge THEM for the choices of these extremist minorities, because that is one of my largest worries…


An interesting interview… I am convinced that this message would have come across a lot different if any of our kaaskop politicians would have introduced it, but coming from him it becomes more acceptable… right? But where does this leave me? Do I actively try to include my muslim countrymen and make them feel welcome? Should I be doing this more actively, or is “tolerance” enough? I really don’t like that idea… to tolerate is to just barely accept someone’s presence… but only just… that’s not what I want to do…

racist but shhh.jpg

I have been wondering a lot lately about the racism I have in me. If someone were to summarize me in 10 words I don’t think “racist” would be one of the words they would pick, but I admit I do live by certain stereotypes though, just because they make life easier. I have always tried to see every situation from all possible points of view and I’m usually able to find understandable reasons for almost every stance. I seem to be losing my ability to put myself in “the other’s” shoes though. Either that, or the opinions people are standing for are truly becoming more unreasonable and I simply can not follow.  I believe the latter is the case, which doesn’t really make me feel much better…

I have an opinion about many things but I have noticed that when people around me talk about things with a whiff of what I would categorize as racism, I pull back from a conversation. I quickly decide these people are ignorant and that giving them my opinion will only pull me into a tiring discussion that will leave us both annoyed and not an inch further into convincing one another. So why bother?

Well… just the other day I changed my point of view, all though I must admit I haven’t put it into practice yet. My idea revolved around the fact that if I don’t open my mouth and voice my very reasonable, well-informed and moderate ideas (yes, I am full of myself), then the only people talking are the people with extreme (or just plain stupid) ideas. And that’s not good! Especially in these times, with tension building all around us and it seems all we are doing is waiting to see who will make that final spark to blow the whole thing up.

I know this new mission of mine will frustrate me. I know I won’t convince 9 out of 10, maybe even 49 out of 50. Maybe I won’t be making any new friends among my co-workers. But I have to try this! I’m giving myself a month to experiment with this and will then report back here on how it went and if I won anyone over to join my team…