I live (for the moment) in a rich, Western country that prides itself on being progressive, accepting, liberal – human rights wise, that is. Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, I can buy weed at a coffee shop (totes legal), gender (in)equality is an important issue and as such is featured prominently on government agenda, social welfare is taken verrrry seriously, freedom of humans and rehabilitation of the criminal minded is more important than incarceration (recently Netherlands shut down a number of prisons for non-occupation due to decrease in crime rate), living together as partners is as legal as living together as husband and wife or husband and husband or wife and and wife. Anyways…you get my drift.
However, despite the Dutch’s seeming attitude to (human rights) progressive behaviour, racism is still an issue in The Netherlands. Of course, unlike the US, the Dutch don’t set out to be racist (see Donald Trump on racism and xenophobia and all those police incidental deaths that see black men and women being murdered like Black lives don’t matter). Unlike the racist bigots in the US, the racist bigots in the Netherlands shield their racism under a cloud of polite snobbery. They refer to multi-culturally populated neighbourhoods (Amsterdam Zuid-Oost for instance) as slums; they would sooner accuse a Moroccan or Turkish or any African/colored teen of being the burglar in a case of burglary than a Dutch kid, even when evidence tilts towards the Dutch kid; they have quite the shock when they encounter intelligent black people; and they tell Blacks that we are being too emotional for fighting their tradition of painting their white bodies black and mimicking a dumb, Black, fictitious clown of a man called Zwarte Piet . To the average Dutch the Zwarte Piet tradition is harmless fun, an age old tradition that lightens the mood and sends children giggling in glee; two Dutch friends once told me it’s a festival I should look forward to. Like seriously, I should dress up and go watch my race being caricatured? Ka m nukwa with my left hear! On the day of the festival, I was snoozing on my bed while pondering how such a progressive, intellectual people can be this racist and backward.
For a long time I pondered at this kind of covert racism, that which Fatima El-Tayeb in her wonderful book “European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe (Difference Incorporated)” – I’m a HUGE fan of postcolonial literature – referred to as color blindness, which is, by the way, an European problem. The continent is so fixated on being seen as not-racist and human rights progressive, but yet shuts down it’s colonial history and waives race away like a moth that don’t matter, when it matters. It’s no wonder their citizens are so stuck up on and blind to their imperialist, racist attitudes to colored people. A friend called this covert, polite racism “political correctness”. But, I beg to differ. Thanks to Scandal Season 5 Episode 4, I now know what this polite, covert racism is called: “Dog-Whistle Politics”. Dog-Whistle Politics is the kind of racism that doesn’t utter a racist word but infers, insinuates that the addressee or subject (Black/colored man or woman) is less than the white man or woman. It is the kind of racism that sees Dutch people praising and telling me that I write good English (for an African woman, that is). It is the kind of racism that had a professor tell me she was surprised and impressed that I am so articulate and intelligent (for an African with previous studies in Nigeria, that is). It is the kind of racism that sees Dutch people asking me if I can speak Afrikaans or Swahili because I’m Black and African. It is the kind of racism that have old Dutch men leering at me on the streets because I’m Black and sex slavery and prostitution is synonymous to Blackness, in their white mind, that is. It is the kind of racism that have white people acting “different” around educated Black women. It is the kind of racism whereby the white master/mistress blows the whistle (racially inclined, different behaviours/utterances) and the dog (Black man or woman) is brought to heel. Let me bring it down…Once I came to this fancy, high rise apartment building and couldn’t seem to find the entrance. I walked round the building trying to locate the entrance, called the person who I was to visit but she wasn’t picking, frustrated I stood staring at the beautiful monstrosity of a building in exasperation. All the while, the receptionist (a uniformed man who blithely ignored me even when I smiled and said hello) was outside, on his mobile, chatting away in Dutch. Minutes later when he was done with his phone chat, he turned to me and asked “are you a cleaner for one of the apartments?”. In-other-words, a Black woman, like me, however well dressed, cannot afford to live in or even know some friend who lives in that kind of fancy apartment. Did it help that he was indeed correct and I was only there to clean? No. But, his whole attitude was one of Master with his bitch of a dog. He whistled and I was called to heel. He might be a white man with a low level job, but he doesn’t owe me any courtesy, because I’m Black and as such I (should) have no power over him.