Since our silence never protected us…
In the Netherlands, a country that describes its inhabitants with a word that 97% of the time excludes its nation’s non-white citizens and where frames trump definitions, language classes are as political as the teacher’s understanding of Dutch society allows them to be. It is impossible to refer to ‘zwart’ (black) as simply the darkest colour and ‘blanke’ as just another flavour of a custard-like dish. Or at least it should be.
There’s no way to properly explain a word like ´Nederlander´ without talking about inclusiveness, exclusion and citizenship. Let’s not stand on ceremony here: ´Nederlander´ means ´white Dutch person´. Fair enough, it sometimes means ‘non-white, Holland based athletic man who excels at soccer’ or even ‘non-white model who grew up in a Dutch city and who’s now gracing the cover of an international magazine’. It’s a badge of approval, tolerance or visibility that doesn’t suffer the burden of agency and therefore can be applied and snatched away whenever The Autochtoon feels like it. ‘Ne-der-lan-der’, the baggage is as important the pronunciation.
Besides the joys of saying “Goedemorgen!” and understanding what´s what at the grocery store, learning how to speak language brings two great strengths:
– Reclaiming your narratives
– Understanding a country and/or community´s social and political dynamics which allows you to deconstruct the euphemisms and other myths about equality, normativity or inclusivity.
After two months of guiding a group of 20 undocumented Brothers at Amsterdam’s Vluchtgarage through this linguistic maze called Dutch, it became clear how much this honesty, this relevance is appreciated and how it stimulates people to study. To speak. To reply. And, if needed, to rearrange.
On Monday September 8 Ramona Sno and I gave our first class and from day 1 it was about so much more than teaching people how to not get stuck between the sch-s and gr-s of the Dutch language. It’s about self-reliance, about no longer being treated as a voiceless subject by those who either don’t want to hear your story or prefer it to be told by someone who looks like what they think objectivity and honesty looks like. It’s about the most basic questions and answers but also about safety and being able to explain medical emergencies and requesting proper care. And yes, it is very much about improving chances within the educational system and on the job market.
It’s unclear how much longer the group can stay at the Vluchtgarage but I truly hope to keep working with these Brothers for many months to come. Are there plans to work on a study book based on the experiences and insights that, for sure, will be gained? Well, I’m so glad you asked…
For more information about our Dutch classes, please follow this blog and/or #Vluchtgarage , #UndocumentedNL, @Lazeefuik and @Ramonasno on Twitter.