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This is Blog 24 in my A-Z Blogseries:
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The town that I live in in the Netherlands is called Leiden. The city’s coat of arms looks like this:

The emblem features on buildings and structures all over the city, including streetlights and bollards, as is customary in the Netherlands.

As Leiden has many of the same urban features as Amsterdam does, scenes for TV series and films that are meant to take place in Amsterdam, are often re-enacted in Leiden.

You can imagine that elements such as the ones featured in the pictures above, need to be temporarily replaced with their Amsterdam counterparts before filming begins. For Leideners, this is always kind of painful to watch, as any Dutch city’s fear is to “become Amsterdam”.

Now, to get to the point of this blog…. Amsterdam’s coat of arms looks like this:


Determined
Courageous Compassionate

In the current composition, it is believed to date back to the 13th century.

When we see the three X’s positioned vertically like that, we all understand we are referencing Amsterdam. It turns out though, that the meaning and origins of these X’s are a bit of a mystery.

Online historians and Amsterdamologists tell me that the three X’s are actually three silver Saint Andrew’s Crosses (which also features quite prominently on the flag of Scotland). And that’s pretty much where the story ends.

Nobody has been able to think up a good explanation as to why the city thought St Andrew, or the cross he was crucified on, were so important that they should pay tribute to him thrice on the city’s emblem.

According to Amsterdam’s own website, there are two other cities in the area that also feature the cross in the same fashion on their coat of arms, which is an interesting fact but still doesn’t really offer any clarity.

The only theory I could find, led back to the coat of arms of a powerful family from the region, van Persijn, that looks like this:

It is possible that this family owned so much real estate in the area (which they apparently did, including in the area around Leiden) that Amsterdam honored them by referencing them in the coat of arms. It’s still hard to believe that somehow we managed to forget all about this fact in the centuries that followed, don’t you think?

Fast-forward to the 21st century where somehow, the term “triple X” has also became intertwined with sexual imagery, prostitution and pornography, which has also just happened to become part of Amsterdam’s identity.

How? Why? Coincidence? You tell me!

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Questions


This is Blog 17 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Questions

The other day I watched a Dutch TV documentary with the title “Climate of Confusion” (those of you who understand Dutch can watch it here). A handful of people were interviewed with a varying set of ideas on climate change.

The documentary featured an interview with a wealthy Dutch real estate executive called Niek Sandmann. The point of interest was a substantial donation he had made to a skeptical thinktank (Climate Intelligence).

According to his alternative calculations even our maximum effort would only make 0,0003 of a degree difference, in the end. So, according to Sandmann the whole “climate crisis” and accompanying policies are really just “a storm in a glass of water”, as we say in Dutch, and therefore not worth pursuing.

Sandmann emphasized he is not interested in this for his own sake, as he is already making all his new buildings energy efficient thanks to state-of-the-art technology that he can easily afford.

It is true that for people with low incomes making the transition is not so simple. Also government measures may bring on additional costs in already extremely tight financial situations.

Niek Sandmann

So, Sandmann’s donation to Climate Intelligence is a form of philanthropy for those less fortunate, which is a thought I can appreciate.

By asking the questions he feels mainstream scientists don’t want to ask and digging on grounds that politicians have already built policy plans on top of, he hopes to find out if it is really worth it to continue down this path.

While watching the documentary I complained about mr Sandmann’s skepticism, making parallels with another tanned real estate mogul across the pond. The fact that his appearance would make for a very convincing villain (or white walker) means nothing for the point of this blog (or anywhere really), but I admit it took some effort to get past that as well…

Zombie movie villain or not, I must applaud mr Sandmann for asking unpopular questions and in truth I wish people would do so more often.

Asking questions is only a problem when you aren’t actually interested in the answer or when you only accept the outcome if it is convenient for you.

I will try to keep track of this Climate Intelligence investigation and look forward to reading its conclusions. I may have some questions of my own in return though!

Milk

This is Blog 13 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Milk

The Netherlands is a country of dairy producers, processors en consumers.

I am not a huge dairy addict myself, even though a milky-crunchy cereal breakfast is one of my favorite ways to start the day.

When I started to think of ways I could reduce my ecological footprint, dropping milk was actually one of the easiest things to do. Especially now that there are so many tasty alternatives.

First I switched to soy milk, because that was the one I heard about the most. Then I tried almond milk which I quickly decided was much tastier than soy milk. Then I tried a coconut based milk and… wow… that is just such a heavenly combination with cheerios (or its Dutch equivalent) that I now run the risk of not eating anything else ever again…

Then I read an article in which dairy alternatives were discussed and I realized that oat milk was actually the better option, environmentally speaking. The video below is a pretty good summary of what I found out:

I actually hadn’t tried oat milk yet and that wasn’t an accident. I imagined oat milk would be a watery version of oatmeal, which I don’t like the taste nor texture of.

Luckily oat milk turned out to be delicious and I totally recommend it to everyone as a dairy substitute.

Oikophobia

The Netherlands had provincial elections earlier this month, with unexpected results. Right wing populist party FvD won 13 of the 75 available senate seats, to all appearances out of nowhere.

In all truth I shouldn’t have been as shocked as I was, taking my last five blogs into consideration… But I was. I really didn’t see this coming, at all.

Apparently, my social bubble only consists of people who are on my side of the political spectrum and the ones that are not, no longer voice their opinions when I am in the room.

I am still ruminating on the why’s and how’s of all this, but in the meantime I would like to focus on something Thierry Baudet said in his victory speech (and repeated and explained in this interview).

In the middle of his (slightly bizar) tirade, he said the following:

It is pure oikophobia! Pure self hate.

It is a guilt complex, that apparently needs a way out. […] That arrogance, ladies and gentlemen, friends, that stupidity is what they were punished for today.

In this specific segment of his speech, he was referring to recent climate reports and political measures that are being taken to reduce our ecological impact, or in his own words “climate sorcery”.

Image: Vincent Jannink / ANP / AFP)

I realize that I am very much on the defense here. He’s talking about me. I am one of those self-hating oikophobes that believes we should repent and change our habits, traditions and culture. I even believe in climate change! I’m radical like that.

Self-hater in the house

The thing is that I can’t deny I am extremely critical of my country.

Take our role in global slave trade, for example. Small a nation as we are, our part in this slice of history was substantial and this is something we are only just starting to see as anything other than “good business”. I believe our apologies for this should be explicit and generous.

When it comes to Dutch governance in our former colonies, I guess we weren’t the worst in the region, but it was still nothing to boast about. Our position in the top twenty of wealthiest countries was achieved on the backs of others. I realize we can not turn back time but I do feel we can be more honest about this in our education system and history teachings.

Our cuisine is bland and unexciting, our landscape is basically flat-earther-heaven, our favorite pastime is complaining and I think the way we celebrate carnaval is the stupidest on the planet.

Heck, I’ve even been bashing our national anthem and motto on this very blog.

So yes, I realize that people that voted for mr Baudet were basically voting against me and my way of thinking.

Self-critique is not self-hate

The diagnosis Mr Baudet has given me and my country is oikophobia. He even wrote a book with that very title, apparently…

In short oikophobia is a word based on the Greek word “oikos”, meaning home or household. In political context it is used to describe those that criticize their own culture and heritage and defend or praise cultures outside of their own.

What bugs me is the fact that my criticism and my wish for us to improve as a nation is seen as “hateful” and “disloyal” somehow. That sentiment feels so foreign to me. The Dutch have never feared the mirror nor shunned an argument.

When did we turn into cowards? How is it that I don’t know a single person that voted for this guy? Why can’t we talk about shit anymore?

The fact that I hold my country to a high standard is because I am in fact an oikophile, not an oikophobe!

Black Pete wraps it up

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.

A quick review:

  1. Black Pete & Childhood celebrations, about my own personal memories and Dutch Sinterklaas traditions
  2. Black Pete & the Frisians, about the 2017 highway blockade and my own personal resentments
  3. Black Pete & Politics, about the political response to the debate, if “apathy” is a response
  4. 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. 

Sinterklaas’ 2018 arrival, with different types of Petes.

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.

Breaking with the shackles of tradition

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).

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…

Black Pete & Politics

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 were fine 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.

I watched Evil Dead. I know what to do.