We’ve lost it in the Netherlands, well and truly lost it. Dazed by Trump’s victory in the states and the subsequent spike in hate crimes accompanied by jubilant right-wing enthusiasm, I’ve been torn between feelings of numbness and outrage. I’ve tried to remember what it is that motivates me, what it was that shaped me. What used to make me say I was Dutch, what still makes me want to say it because that’s how I feel. And why that now fills me with shame. Why now I only whisper it or pretend to say it in jest. In fear of ridicule from others or even from myself. I’ve tried to remember my forming years in this, what I thought to be a tolerant country. Was that tolerance – just as ever-growing voices proclaim – an illusion? Was it disingenuous? I’ve said those words myself. Yet now I realize it was said in anger, it was said as a plea, as an accusation I wanted disproven. Realizing how much I wanted what my middle school teacher Meester Theo instilled in me with his teachings and demeanor to be true. That the society I lived in was strongly rooted in the ideas and ideals of equality and fairness, a place where people with good and honorable intentions lived and thrived.
Growing up a popular saying was ‘What happens in the States will happen over here in 10 years’. For a while now that hasn’t been true. Almost simultaneously as it happened in the States like-minded individuals found their strength and validation in their common exclusion of others. In blaming the Other. In their common proclamation of rejection of national unity. In their common cry for regression, bigotry and hatred. They were empowered, not only by their own but also by those that were supposed to bar the door. I did not hear the deafening sound of outright dismissal and disapproval I was taught the only thing appropriate. I heard acceptance and legitimization of racism, nowadays thinly veiled as ‘fear’ and ‘concern’. Intellectuals urging to keep the peace as if what is happening all around us isn’t an outright declaration of war against my being. Against the fact that I exist and do not want my humanity to be subject to terms and conditions. The symbolism of hope surrounding the election of Barack Obama as president garnered him a Nobel Peace prize just for being who he was at that point in time. Being who we needed him to be. Pulling the world back from the abyss with a message of hope. I wonder, what prize should Donald Trump be given, what does HE represent at this point in time?
I feel outraged thinking of the massive amounts of brazenly open racist statements I’d never thought to have to endure on such a regular basis. Things I’ve only read about in history books, or as an anecdote in the newspaper about someone, somewhere where I didn’t live. Things that used to be incidents, or at least perceived as such by me. Now they feel as if they’re happening next door. I feel numbed by the thought of that what I would say in reply. What I and many others have been saying repeatedly these past years. Addressing racism and in particular anti-blackness in the Netherlands has been centered around protests against the very visible practice of blackface. A saying I hear repeated by people who fashion themselves reasonable proponents of the practice is ‘leave others to their own values’. Asking to respect the practices of others if we want respect in return. What vexes me when I hear this is the lack of empathy and understanding it portrays. How can I respect your values and practices when your values and practices continually and pervasively disrespect me? This outright refusal to accept any wrongdoing from their part seems to have widened the gap and I’m not sure anymore of it can be bridged. Rather than force an honest accounting of what ails us, we as a nation have grown very much more divided. As I read all to familiar words by old and new faces I’m left thinking, what more CAN we say? What is there left to say that hasn’t already been said, crudely or eloquently? The case against racism and its many iterations has been stated following the guiding principles of this land, blunt and straight to the point using arguments backed by hard scientific evidence and historical analysis. Stated on national television with teary eyes pleading to recognize our shared humanity and to not only consider their children but also our children. This sickness we live in was confronted head-on with the strength of conviction. On our streets, in our communities, in literature, in news outlets, on social media, and all the while enduring emotional, physical and economic hardships. Risking our physical and emotional well-being. Yet to no avail it seems. I’m convinced now there’s no convincing those that don’t believe me to have the right to approach the subject of their misconduct. So now, what am I, what are we to do?
I feel strangely lost as I write this. I have no true direction as I’ve felt in most my writings, though I feel it must be written. There was a fleeting moment not too long ago where I felt a connection. Not only amongst different communities here in the Netherlands but also within communities. I don’t feel that connection anymore. We lack leadership. Those that can lead, won’t. Those that want to, can’t. Having no leadership leads to pulling in different directions. Towards fragmentation and alignments based on loyalty and friendships rather than effectiveness. I did not pay it much mind, and even when I did it was from a place of annoyance at the arrogance of others. Something I myself at times displayed. Now I feel ashamed at the thought of squandered possibilities. And now while fragmented our efforts are under threat of being in vain as the right-wing Freedom Party surges in the polls.
A few weeks ago I was sure that we had passed a point of no return, the racist figure of Black Pete was on its way out. Awareness was growing. Today I feel different, it is not enough. The others have regrouped and have found new strengths. They’re not about to let it go and so-called moderates won’t oppose them. Appeasement and seeing their ‘perspective’ is being touted as the right thing to do. And that is something I cannot do. The way things are looking now they will win our elections just as they’ve done in the States and what once took 10 years to reach us will now only have taken months.