Photo by Julian Wan on Unsplash

Black Lives Matter is more than a hashtag. It’s my life.

For centuries black/coloured people’s lives have been stolen, black people’s dreams have been looted, sacrifices have been made and people have been systemically held down from flourishing and evolving.  George Floyd’s murder was the final drop. It’s time to publicly and collectively rise up and call for change because Black Lives Matter is more than a hashtag.

This is the first time in the 9 years of blogging that I’m using this platform  to discuss social injustice. After seeing George Floyd’s horrendous death and in support of the erupting Black Lives Matter protests all over the world, I need to. I can no longer keep quiet. I’m a person of colour, the descendant of slaves and slave owners and racism has sadly always been a part of my life. I’ve seen it happen to others and I’ve experienced it myself. It hurts. It agonizes me. It is suffocating. It is time to tell my story and to use my blog as a platform to speak up and create more awareness. For centuries black/coloured people’s lives have been stolen, black people’s dreams have been looted, sacrifices have been made and people have been systemically held down from flourishing and evolving.  George Floyd’s murder was the final drop. It’s time to publicly and collectively rise up and call for change because Black Lives Matter is more than a hashtag.

Photo by Julian Wan on Unsplash

My experience with racism in America

I’ve been actively engaged in speaking out against and learning about racism in America since my college years. I majored in American Studies with a focus on African American history & culture. I researched and wrote papers about civil rights, politics, housing policies, African American literature and how the American legal system is biased. My minor was in journalism so after my internship at CNN in Atlanta, I wrote my dissertation on the portrayal and biased reporting on African Americans in the media. My best friend in college wrote hers on police brutality against African Americans. That was 20 years ago… Nothing has changed since then, it just get filmed and shared now.

Here’s a list of books, movies and documentaries to learn more about Black history, racism and racial injustice in America:

I also lived in the US for a while on a student visa. First on a predominantly white college campus in Flagstaff AZ, and later in all black off-campus student flat in Atlanta GA. I can tell you this: Hanging out with my white friends in Arizona was a whole lot more relaxed than driving around in Atlanta with my black friends. I remember us taking detours when we spotted police at the end of Peachtree avenue because my black friends were afraid to get stopped by the cops (for no reason). The stories my black friends in Atlanta shared with me were so saddening and devastating. Their stories about unfair treatment and fear for the police are overwhelming. From early on in their childhood they’re taught by their parents how to react when stopped by the police. It’s heart-breaking.

Watch this video to get a better understanding what it’s like to parent a black child and being a black child in America:

My experience with racism in the Netherlands

My parents also had “the talk” with me as almost every black parent in the Netherlands does. It wasn’t about the police but about how to act and stay under the radar in Dutch society in general. I was taught early on not stand out too much and to blend in as much as possible. I learned to work twice as hard to accomplish the same thing as a white person with the same credentials. In a predominantly white Netherlands, people of colour are expected to “be grateful to be allowed to live here as “guests”. Our Prime-Minister once bluntly said we just had to fight for our spot in society. (“je invechten”) When we do speak up, we are told to go back to our native country. When a crime is committed by a person of colour, the whole ethnic group is held accountable. When we apply for a job, we’re asked about our “exotic” last name and the roots of our parents. (why is that relevant to assess my skills and competencies?) When we speak out against a Dutch questionable tradition, we are accused for not being patriotic Dutch citizens. It tires me that I constantly have to tell people that I’m a patriotic Dutch citizen with different experiences.

Listen to this song by Dwight Dissels who perfectly conveys my story and how many black/coloured people, born here in the Netherlands, really feel. (in Dutch)

Naturally not all white Dutch people think and talk this way. But there are too many who do. In my college years, when I went out clubbing with my black friends, we were often denied access to the club purely based on the colour of our skin.  Racial profiling by the police, job recruiters, estate agents and the IRS (Dutch: belastingdienst) are proven practices. There are no black representatives in our government and hardly any in the Dutch top positions of corporate and governmental organisations. Dutch colonial history and slavery isn’t a subject in our school curriculum. The Surinamese holidays and remembrance days are only celebrated in a private setting. And there’s where it all begins if you ask me. A lot of white Dutch people are ignorant about their history of slavery and why “we” – the coloured people – are living here. We aren’t guests. Our black ancestors, grandparents and parents helped build the country and contributed to its prosperity. We need more education on this subject and with we I mean all Dutch people, myself included.

Check out these resources to learn more about Dutch colonial history, the heritage of slavery and racism in the Netherlands.

 

No more denial and excuses

A majority of Dutch deny racism being prevalent in our society. The numbers show differently. (source: CBS) Similar to the United States it is brushed off as being overtly sensitive or acting victimized. Often white people feel it as an attack on them personally when I raise the topic. They then counterclaim that fat, ginger-haired and disabled people are also discriminated against. Sure, I agree that racism and discrimination also occur on other levels but the crucial difference is that their examples aren’t institutionalized and systemic racism. White privilege is real. Whether you’re conscious or unconscious about it. I’m very much aware that despite my skin colour I’m still very privileged compared to some of my black friends. I come from an affluent and high educated family so my path was already partly paved. I never had to worry about money, food or college tuition. I had a stable two-parent youth and grew up in a white suburb. My social and economical circumstances leveraged the racial disparity. If it’s so obvious to me, why can’t white people acknowledge it? Why do so many white people deny racism or worse, avoid talking about it?

Here are my recommendations to learn more about what you can do as a white person to understand and empathize with people of colour and how to recognize white privilege:

The choice between not being a racist or being an anti-racist

What it all comes down to now is the choice people should make between not being a racist or being an anti-racist. What’s the difference?

  • A non-racist says: I don’t see colour. An anti-racist acknowledges my skin colour as being part of me and educates themselves about the limitations and challenges I experience because of it.
  • A non-racist works comfortably at an organisation with a handful op coloured people. An anti-racist flags the lack of diversity and inclusion with leadership and HR and asks tough questions about the recruitment policies and outreach.
  • A non-racist watches the injustice on the news and goes on with living like nothing happened. An anti-racist takes action by protesting, writing a blog, sharing a post on social media, signing a petition or donating to an anti-racism organization.
  • A non-racist says: I’m not racist, I have black friends. An anti-racist reaches out to the black friends to bring solace and ask questions to learn more.
  • A non-racist turns a blind eye to racist remarks or jokes. An anti-racist addresses it immediately as being unacceptable
  • A non-racist elects a person only based on their policies and plans for your own demographic and your own economic advancement. An anti-racist elects a person based on policies, plans and social sensitivity for all demographics and everyone’s economic advancement.

More links to anti-racist things you can do:

Now is the time to check your privilege, to listen and to educate yourself. Now is not the time to be neutral or silent. Racism is rampant and alive and it takes work to stop it. Thank you for reading this blog post. Hopefully it means that you care and would like to learn more about racism. And hopefully it means you want to take action.

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