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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argument stubbornI love being right almost as much as being proven wrong. I don’t enjoy being contradicted per se, but I do enjoy it when someone shines their light on a situation from a new angle, putting my truth to the test. I don’t mind admitting I was wrong (or at least incomplete) when new facts are presented to me in a fair way.

This happened to me a couple of months ago, when I got into a cyber discussion witih a Jewish FB -er. It happened to me again last week when a fellow WP-er, Being Woke, called me out on my use of the word “exotic”, among other things.

All though part of me is still a bit defensive and wants to emphasize how good my intentions are and that that should be what counts, I know deep down that she was right to cyber-slap me on the wrists.

polar bear facepalm.jpgLet me summarize what happened. I read a blog in which a muslim girl described how threatened she feels on a regular basis (and during one especially aggressive encounter in particular) by looks and remarks she gets about her muslim appearance.

Instead of stating straight away that I hated that she had to deal with these kind of reactions, I inadvertently channeled my inner oaf and pretty much asked her to sympathize with the burden of my white privilege.

I told her how muslim women (or anyone foreign looking in general) stick out in my predominantly white hometown and how I struggle sometimes with how to react. I tried to explain how I would want them to feel welcome and acknowledge their presence, but at the same time I know that they would much rather just blend in. So how do you forcefully help someone blend in, when in all truth they stick out like a sore thumb?

Making myself explicitly not look makes me feel like a silly child ignoring a former friend on the school yard. It doesn’t feel nice or friendly or welcoming or productive in any way. Looking at the person in question however, even if it’s just to give her a smile, might make her feel uncomfortable and exposed, which is pretty much the opposite of what I intended in the first place. My idea was to acknowledge the facts, show her that I see her but that this has no negative connotation.

And then I earned myself a one way ticket to hell by referring to foreign looking people as “my exotic compatriots”. It’s  really bad… right?

My comment was met with a verbal eye-roll and a couple of questions to top that off:

I personally do not believe your stares are required to acknowledge someone’s presence. Do you stare at people who look like you to acknowledge their presence? Or is that reserved for those who don’t look like you – and therefore are your stares for them or to fulfil your own curiosity?

The answer to the first question is probably “no” and I go back and forth on how to feel about this. I know she is implicitly calling me a racist here, and I myself have admitted at some point I am not perfect in this field. The answer to the second rhetorical question is “yes” and again, I know I am being expected to feel bad about this.

What I want to say is that I have been on the receiving end of stares myself. I grew up in a country where my appearance stood out and I was the odd one out in a crowd. I tread a fine line here; because even though my skin and hair color made people point at me and call me names that have a negative connotation I will always be privileged by the simple fact that I am white.

Or as Louis CK puts it:

So, yes I am white and “thank god for that shit, boy”.

I am guilty but I mean no harm. I am one of the good ones, I really am. I understand why it must annoy the hell out of you to be called “exotic” and have us whiteys defend ourselves by saying we meant it as a compliment. I understand you feel you are being compared to a tropical parrot or something.

I should have never touched the word. I understand that now. I do want you to know I didn’t mean it as a compliment… or an insult, for that matter. I used the word as an adjective, to describe all my fellow countrymen and -women that may have lived here their entire lives and maybe even their parents did too, but lack the Northern European look the majority of us Dutchies has. I wasn’t saying you are not Dutch. Or less worthy. Or extra sexy-feisty-squeezy-easy. Or whatever other negative connotation it may have.

So, let me be completely open and disregard all political correctness for a minute and ask some frank questions of my own:

    • How can I, as a member of the white majority population, find the balance between acknowledging your values, respecting your right to wear different clothing and help you blend in? The only way I can think of is stop looking all together, which is most definitely not what I want. I love my sense of wonder!
    • Can I, as a white person, ever say you are too sensitive? Thin ice cracking, thin ice  cracking, thin ice, thin ice…
    • Am I allowed to say “I understand” or is the impossibility of me ever getting the struggle of a person of color so evident that it would always be either a lie or a display of my ignorance?
  • Why does us discussing semantics feel so silly?

Anyway, I promise I will never stop trying to improve myself and trust I will find a balance at some point, all though I am starting to sense that it is almost inevitable to tread on some toes along the way. I apologize beforehand. I really do try!

Smother my spirit in privilege

A thing I have been struggling with lately is a term that has been around for years now and that I thought I understood. It’s something I have written essays about during my studies and even blogged about in a roundabout way. Looking back at all that now, I’m not sure I ever really truly checked myself properly or if I understood the full scope of it. I’m talking about white privilege.

yin-yang white-black.jpg
Perfectly in balance…

It’s been following me around all week.

I feel like such a fool to admit this but it hit me only recently that I’m not just someone on the outside looking in on a situation of inequality and racism in a distant country. I’m right there with everyone else and I can no longer say my hands are completely clean.

This does not mean I actively did wrong. I can even say that there is nothing I could or should have done differently. The only thing that was missing all this time was intent and true consciousness. So what changed? Well, a few things happened:

One of mfinger one.jpgy co-workers is adopted. Despite the fact that she is Dutch to the core, she mentioned she ALWAYS get stared at. Everywhere she goes, she gets looks. Not negatively per se, just sort of subconscious stares from people, lost in their own thoughts about her different skin color and appearance. I was surprised by this and told her I couldn’t imagine why people would do that and was sorry she felt uncomfortable at times because of this. And then it hit me and I felt like an idiot…. because I am most likely one of those staring people too…

fingers two.jpgThe other day I saw Law and Disorder in Philadelphia, an episode in the documentary series by Louis Theroux. One moment that especially moved me was the part where they apprehended a nineteen year old kid, running from the police. He was slammed to the floor by the police and mocked for saying he ran because he was afraid; and no, the fact that they yelled they were police didn’t make it less scary. They hardly gave him the opportunity to explain himself and had no sympathy whatsoever for his ordeal. He was black and walking down the street in a notorious neighborhood, therefore he was a drug dealer, a liar and a thug.

Watching white people assume only the worst about people of color makes me feel awful. Yes, I know about the statistics and how crime numbers seem to prove their higher tendency to choose the wrong path, but I can’t help but wonder about the chicken and the egg and all that… Philadelphia is a long way from home though, and it’s quite easy to turn a blind eye to the situation there or at least convince myself that it has nothing to do with me.

fingers three.jpgMy eyes are open now… Especially since, last Thursday, when I read an article by Arjen van Veelen, announcing the release of the translated version of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the world. His book, written as a letter to his 14 year old son, is:

[…] a tribute to James Baldwin, who wrote The Fire Next Time about the same topic to his teenage nephew. At the same time it is a refinement in book form of “the talk”, being the conversation that black [parents] have with their children about how to behave while being stopped by the police. Coates expands the talk with the question: how do you live in a body that inspires fear in others but also experiences fear itself?

Despite our own police brutality incident in The Hague a while ago, people at the bottom of Dutch society are faced with a less imminent threat to their lives than in, say, Ferguson. Arjen van Veelen reminds us that this does not make Coates’ book any less relevant for us Dutchies to read, as we have so much more to lose.

Van Veelen describes how our prime minister became terribly upset over the riots in the Hague and showed his support for the small businessmen who’s shops had been looted. He displayed more grief for those broken windows and lost revenues than for the man who had died in police custody days earlier.

It’s precisely this deafness for the pain of the people at the bottom of the food chain that causes these festering wounds. According to Van Veelen there have been many explicit warnings from Cassandras in all shapes and sizes about the situation in The Hague, even specifically warning for a Ferguson-like situation with tired police officers with short fuses and dangerous biases.

The deafness is systemic. The people that, like Coates, were critical of the system and spoke of institutional racism have long been seen as too radical.
[…]
There is a certain eagerness to speak about racism as long as it is about the past or about America. […] Oh yes, sometimes another opinion is given a small space in the paper, but it is hardly generous – it’s the Dutch stinginess; one cookie and then close the cookie jar, you’ve had your turn. This mono-culture had physical consequences, like what we have seen the Hague. Broken windows are the opinion piece you get when the mayor and the newspaper are incapable of listening.

As an advice to Coates, who may  be visiting our country in the following months, van Veelen says:

Less people die in the Netherlands, so there is no need to fear for your life. Here, only your mind is smothered.

Come on over, mr Coates and give us some spiritual CPR!

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This blog actually started out as part of my previous blog, but it kind of got out of hand so I decided to split it in two and give my white privilege a blog of its own. I do realize it is quite a heavy topic and scrolling through my blogs of late, I see it is becoming harder to digest as a whole.

I hereby promise the next 5 blogs I write will be shorter, easier to read and lighter on the morality scale. 🙂

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…