Between 2012 and 2015 I lived in the USA. I was working with a multi cultural organization with many different cultures, from many different countries from many different ages going to yet another culture to fight poverty. It was a big challenge to lead teams, to be in that mix of people. They all were shaped by their own cultural background and personal experiences to be put in a team to live together for over a year or so.
However, all of us were foreign to the states. The staff, participants, everyone came from elsewhere. Except for the accountant, handy man and Valor. They were Americans but Valor not by birth.
With him, Valor, Afro-American, in his 60ies, I used to have many interesting conversations on a very wide scale of topics. Provoking too as he ‘labelled’ me as an institutional racist. He didn’t blame me for being a racist or that I were intentionally judging people of color, yet, he saw in me things that are part of this cultural, white cultural, bias against people of color. In fact, it was the first time I actually heard about that term – institutional racist that is.
He also said that racism in the former ‘slave-states’ is much more open and comfortable. Valor still was living there in his early days and met a man when he had car troubles. The man answered directly in his face he wouldn’t help him because he’s black. In New England (North East of the USA), this racism is hidden according him; turning around the point, sneaky acting but not telling, hypocrisy, shaking hands and agreeing but thinking something else. The latter he didn’t like – just tell what it is and I avoid you.
I really had to put effort on chewing on that. I didn’t see it myself, but, after talking more I understand it better and now I actually agree. I am a white European, brought up in a white environment in a white town, on a white school, and to people of color I probably will behave that way, unconsciously, as well. Of course, it was taught not to discriminate, not to judge people based on anything they cannot choose, such as color. But, that isn’t always in one’s mind. I am not consciously walking on the street as in “walking on eggshells” looking from another’s perspective on what I do.
Statistically, yes, probably I have gotten things which people of color or with a “different” last name wouldn’t have gotten. Think of school, fewer questions, not being pulled over, not being denied accommodation on platforms like Couch Surfing. Yes, I probably could have started a conversation with someone of color by stating what I will say is not about them or my inherent bias against color.
Still, I am not a intentional racist or intentionally judging/favoring people by color, culture, sexual orientation or religion.
Valor too acknowledged that, and after getting aware of it I think I did change habits.
It came to my mind that obvious racism, as in openly talked about and on the news, as in the USA, gives fuel and tools to actually do something about it as it isn’t ‘hidden’.
Yes, sure, it isn’t on the mainstream news in the States, and major news agencies do address events including people of color differently as when it is only an event with white people. I just see that there is much more action and maybe regulation (as in the USA race has to be filled in on forms, etc) compared to the Netherlands. There also isn’t a Dutch version of Beyoncé, for example, who sings on a Super Bowl and refer to the continuous struggle of people of color.
Except for maybe Sylvana Simons. She might be my Dutch equivalent to Beyoncé. I don’t follow her on the media, don’t watch her opinions on TV, don’t have an opinion on her opinions as such as I don’t put an effort to really listen to what she’s saying all the time. I do follow her on facebook, follow in big lines how she is approaching racism and tries to get people aware that racism is very much embedded in the Dutch culture in a very institutional way.
White Dutch may tolerate the concept of “being different” but not accept it. We don’t embrace other people as ‘our white own’. There are comments in the back of a van about ‘those little-niggers’ (die negertjes) this and that, and, those Muslims this and that, and, and, and. There is that culture about “black Pete” (zwarte Piet) that can be explained in ways that I can agree it is offending for people of color. Or “Jew-cookies”, “nigger-kisses” and there probably are more cultured-in concepts that I can’t get out of my mouth anymore.
What I do know about Sylvana is that she is sticking her head out, she is reacting on what provokes her, she is a hero. She is not letting everything just passively happen as being a loser or victim of the culture. I might not agree in everything she says, but, I agree that many more people like her are needed to make ‘us’ more aware.
The facebook event to ‘wave her off’ is absolutely outrageously wrong! Those “supporters” are the everyday white Dutch whoever in the normal jobs, infecting next generations with racism keeping it alive.
I never have been an intentional racist and thanks to Valor I became much more aware of the institutional racism part, on which I am keen to change where I didn’t change yet. Therefore I do always will stand behind Sylvana and alike to address the problem.
You and I can only agree or disagree with her arguments. Debate, be open and flexible about it, however, we cannot lower ourselves to a point to argue about anything she does not have a choice in.
She is Dutch, The Netherlands is her home, who the F are you to tell anything different?!
(picture credit: Huffington Post)