A few years ago I was sitting in the back of a cab, and the (white) driver was making racist comments about Moroccan people. It made my skin crawl, but I said nothing. She who remains silent agrees.
Until this day I still feel guilty about this. I should have stood up for our Moroccan Dutchies. But I froze, and after getting out I immediately regretted it: you should’ve said something! This is how racism is kept alive!
Growing up in a multicultural society
When I went to primary school my white and left-oriented parents consciously put me on a so-called “black” school. My classmates were Dutch-Moroccan, Dutch-Turkish, Syrian and Indian.
My best friend had Dutch parents and my other best friend lived with her Hindu-Surinamese mother. I enjoyed staying at my friend’s places. The food at my Surinamese, Turkish and Moroccan friends was delicious and I’d love being there because it was so different from my own home. We’d celebrate Eid and during our yearly school yard party we ate treats from all over the world. As a young girl I thought living with different cultures was very normal and I am very thankful of my parents for giving me this experience.
The high school I went to was also carefully selected by my white parents. My best friend was a refugee from Iraq. We shared a passion for singing, music and boys, and had countless sleepovers. Here parents were sweet, hospitable and I loved the lovely Iraqi pizzas her mother made. We didn’t talk much about their refugee past, but I could tell that what had happened to them was horrible.
After high school I went to university, and I cannot recall seeing diversity amongst students or teachers, at all.
My parents meant well, but they didn’t teach me anything about the privilege I grew up with. They taught us that “everyone is equal”, not realising that saying this is the pinnacle of white privilege. Yes, in my heart all people are equal, but in society not all people are treated equally. I now know that black American parents teach their children that they have to prepare themselves for a world in which they are treated differently. They teach them about how to act when they are (unjustly) stopped by the police, to protect them against police violence. They tell their children they have to work harder than their white classmates, to get a chance in society.
For years my family celebrated ‘Sinterklaas’ with ‘Black Pete’, without ever realising that this is hurtful to others. One time in primary school me and some classmates even went to school with our faces painted black, to hand out presents to the younger kids. It’s something that embarasses me greatly. When I was 25 I met my (non Dutch) partner and he made me face reality. He told me: “Yeah right, Black Pete is black because he goes through the chimney. How come he has an afro, golden earrings and red lipstick then?”. Naive as I was, I couldn’t answer his question.
In the years following I kept thinking about racism. As a white woman I am part of a system in which people are not treated equally, purely based on the colour of their skin. My white ancestors were responsible for this and my fellow white people maintain the system, consciously or subconsciously. I have the luxury to choose: either I face this uncomfortable subject, or I ignore it. People who are a victim of racism do not have this choice. They are confronted with it on a daily basis. They have to be alert, whether they like it or not.
What would be easier than thinking about this uncomfortable subject, is burying my head back into the sand and returning to “she who remains silent agrees”. But we cannot let minorities keep standing up for themselves without getting involved. Straight people go to Gay Pride, men voted for women’s rights and if you haven’t experienced sexual assault you can still support #MeToo. White people have to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
When you are born with white privilege, use it well. Feel responsible, take a critical look at your own privilege and the way you act. Do something, help or protest. Use your privilege to help and support minorities. Read about the subject, watch documentaries. Raise your children with ‘Roetveegpiet’, they won’t like the celebration any less, and talk about racism. Support anti-racist organisations and talk about it with your friends and family.
Show solidarity, because things have to change.
If you want to dive deeper into the topic:
- Video: Speech by Trevor Noah
- Ted Talk: “Get comfortable with being Uncomfortable” by Luvvie Ajayi
- Ted Talk: “How to deconstruct racism one headline at a time” by Baratunde Thurston
- Interview: “How to be anti-racist” with Ibram X Kendi
- Article: “Waarom het verzet van Black Lives Matter iedereen aangaat” by de Correspondent
Find more tips on this blog.