Category Archives: DecolonizeComfort
On July 31, Dutch newspaper NRC published a review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World and Me. With its title, the piece written by Guus Valk asks: Nigger are you crazy? How do you destroy the black identity? This comes only days after the paper published a column entitled Black America needs to look at itself in which Black Americans were told to “stop impregnating 16 year old girls because your grandmother sat in the back of the bus.” Since NRC is so eager to weigh in on what Black people should do, it’s only right to provide translations so we can drag them from the bench to the field.
Aside from the racist title, the piece which also discusses Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and Mat Johnson’s Loving Day, is adorned with this illustration (pic) by Aron Vellekoop León who captured Blackness as Dutch, mainstream whiteness likes to see it: colonial, submissive, sad and with a dash of blackface. When one of the sharpest Twitterati in the Dutch conversations about racism confronted Valk with the title, he stated that he merely writes the reviews but doesn’t pick the titles, intro’s and illustrations. He didn’t object to the use of the word nigger or the disgusting illustration. If that wasn’t a co-sign, it was at least a shrug.
Valk needs less than two sentences to illustrate how little he understands about racism. “The issue of race was assumed to be settled with Obama as president. Since the Summer of 2014 it became clear that this is absolutely false.” Imagine the uneducated white privilege that produces the illusion that in the evening of November 4 2008, racism was put on hold and that nothing racist happened until the white officer Darren Wilson killed the Black teenager Michael Brown.
With every single sentence, Valk drags himself further and further from the understanding that his analyses about racism are only as valuable as the silence that fails to smother them. He states: “A few years America, especially [white] America, lived in a dream. A new era had arrived, in which old problematic race relations didn’t matter anymore. The inauguration of president Barack Obama, the first black president, underlined that America has entered a post-racial era. Of course there are still differences between [white] and black but they’re more the result of social class than of race.” I write white in brackets because, to the vast majority of Dutch people being called white… well, those are fighting words. The Dutch prefer ‘blank’, a term that has no non-Dutch equivalent but means “bright white, without stains, without color”. It can be used for people but also for varnish or a yoghurt like dairy product called vla. If it sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen it on the signs from South Africa’s official apartheid era.
Then there’s also the term Black which is written with a lower case ‘b’ because the idea of Black with a captial B, combining political identities with African and/or Afrodiasporic heritages, has yet to enter mainstream Dutch media. How serious can we take someone who wonders “How do you articulate racism” but is still too much of a coward to rid his work of the comfort that the word ‘blank’ continues to provide? With his “The debate about race is dead serious, especially from the [white] perspective” he affirmed that he has absolutely no idea what he read or what he’s writing.
“Do we truly expect something different from a white privileged son of the Netherlands’ hyper-colonial academic climate and journalistic mediocrity?” This isn’t about expectation or even what “surprises” us, it’s about forced accountability and decolonizing Dutch media. And yes, it’s absolutely about putting a blowtorch to any conversation about Dutchness that fails to mention the country’s national levels of xenophobia, colonialism and/or racism.
Let us not be distracted and exhausted by white privilege driven liberals who slither towards our mentions or inboxes with lamentations of intentions, context or other philosophical derailings. The review is real, the illustration is real and both are problematic so let us have this conversation without those whose mere intention is to whitesplain this into nothingness. There’s no time to judge the arsonist by all the things he didn’t set on fire. We’re burning.
The November 20-edition of Dutch newspaper Metro featured a comic strip in which Dutch cartoonist Aimée de Jongh displays both her intellect and sense of ‘satire’ by comparing the crashing of a boat full of Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) to the Lampedusa tragedy.
A frame-by-frame translation of the cartoon
1: “Sinterklaas, Sinterklaas*!” “What now, Piet?”
2: “An iceberg!!” “Yeah, right. Is this another one of your corny jokes?”
3: “Once again a boot with refugees capsizes near Lampedusa. The question now is: How did this happen?”
The cartoon – background info
The Sinterklaas mentioned in the first frame is a Santa Claus-esque figure who, together with his Zwarte Pieten (an army of Black servants who’re all called Zwarte Piet and who’re portrayed by white people with blackface, afro wigs and Moorish outfits) brings presents to the kids in Holland. This Zwarte Piet-figure has faced opposition for more than 60 years but since October 2013 the displays of Dutch anti-Black racism have become extremely violent and gained more international attention than ever before.
The Italian island of Lampedusa made worldwide headlines when on October 3 of this year, more than 360 people died when the “migrant boat” that was taking them from Libya to Italy sank not too far from the Lampedusan shore.
Filing complaints/ demanding apologies
To join us in filing complaints against Aimée de Jongh and her tasteless
mocking of Black people, please use the following information:
The cartoonist: email@example.com
The cartoonist on Twitter: @aimeedejongh
The newspaper: firstname.lastname@example.org
The newspaper on Twitter: @Metro
The picture of the cartoon has been circulating on several ‘Dutch’ FB pages. Camera phones capture the darnest things…