Category Archives: Imagery and representation
A few days ago writer and political science student Hélène Christelle Munganyende, who was born in Rwanda and lives in the Netherlands and Belgium, wrote a Dutch article with a title that translates to: ‘Sorry white woman: Lemonade isn’t for you.’ A Mainstream White Dutch feminist quickly responded by demanding that “all non-racist, non-stigmatizing black women distance themselves from Munganyende’s strange opinion that white women can’t say anything about ‘black culture’ or Lemonade.” I don’t know what sort of “The million ways Black women oppress White women”-books she read before swirling this demand at us but for future reference, disgruntled likkle white girl, you don’t roll up on Black women and summon us to nurse you back to comfort. Ever. This isn’t The Help! Never, ever think that you can slam your fist on the table while shouting orders at us. When you do, you prove that your ideas about social justice, equity and equality (not the same!) plus solidarity deserve nothing more than some gasoline and a match.
After stating how “very, very angry!” Munganyende’s piece made her, the Mainstream White Dutch feminist starts explaining how difficult life is for White women and how her anti-racist work started in elementary school because it was there that she made her first Black friends. All this while squeezing in there that instead of ‘wit’, the Dutch word for ‘white’, she prefers to be called ‘blank’. For those of you who can’t read or speak Dutch but wonder why ‘blank’ sounds so familiar, let me help you figure out where you’ve seen this colonial term before: on every single segregation sign in the days that South Africa still had an official apartheidsregime.
As the raisin on her article, the Mainstream White Dutch feminist used a picture with the text “We all bleed the same.” Which, of course, doesn’t deal with the reality that some of us bleed more often than others and not all blood leaves a stain. This, however, is where the political intellect of Mainstream White Dutch feminists falls short.
I write Mainstream White Dutch (MWD) with three capitals because the proverbial 85% of average White Dutch people who create, visit and/or are offered platforms that represent ‘the people’ have such horrifically mediocre worldviews that they should be granted their own category within the larger, transnational landscape of Whiteness. In the Netherlands, MWD people are just now learning to wrap their heads around announced Blackness so unannounced Blackness..? The kind that doesn’t have the words Black, Afro or Afri in the title and isn’t linked to what Mainstream White Dutch people consider “Black Topics”..? Nothing but continuous errors as they “try” to process the information.
In the Dutch tradition of the zesjesmentaliteit/6-mentality (why strive to get a 10 for your exam when you can also pass with a 6?) and sayings like “Just be normal ‘cause that’s crazy enough” and “Let’s keep it cozy!”, MWD people demand that conversations (if one can even call them that) about identity should be kept be as simple as possible. And yes, identity… not identities. Not plural, never plural. After years of colonial indoctrination masked as education and eurocentric views celebrated as neutrality, the overwhelming majority of MWD minds can only process and react to one identity at a time. Contrary to their own hopes and understandings, Mainstream White Dutch feminists are no exception to this rule.
The MWD feminist was outraged because a Black woman dared to tell her that Lemonade isn’t for her. A Black woman “limiting” a White woman? For MWD women who believe that the only people more important and more ‘deserving’ of agency than them are white men, those are fighting words. The stress that the MWD feminist who attacked Hélène Christelle Munganyende inflicts on herself, perfectly illustrates that for her and hers intersectionality isn’t even a consideration, let alone a praxis.
For Mediocre White Dutch folks, you are either a woman or a man. In this country where, for centuries, a proverbial 85% of all connections to non-Whiteness happened outside of The Country, “woman or man” of course means “white woman or white man”. MWD feminists appear to do a little better with regards to gender diversity but every person is White unless mentioned otherwise. Then again, it doesn’t matter if it’s mentioned because to the MWD feminist, gender is the one and only identity. It is this simplicity that demands Black women to “make up their mind” so the MWD feminist knows how to respond. Imagine having to deal with Mediocre White Dutch feminists as a Black, Muslim woman who identifies as a womanist…
When the MWD feminist urged Black women to distance themselves from Christelle, what she basically demanded was: “Pick a side! Identify yourself as a Black person or as a woman!” Because Munganyende talked about race, the MWD feminist identified her as a Black person. This “allowed” her to lash out at Helene because according to MWD people, this is how you “handle” Black people who’re making things ongezellig (uncozy) with “that divisive race talk”. In the Netherlands, people who aren’t White are demanded to be worshippers, the forever guests praising White Dutchies for saving us and/or allowing us to exist in their presence. For Mainstream White Dutch people, our gratitude is best expressed in constantly saying “Thank you!” or “I distance myself from the people in ‘my group’ who you don’t like!” and, of course, round-the-clock access to everything we are, do, say, think, see, make, etc. It’s either full access or exclusion. Exclusion of course being the ultimate rejection and the cue for exhausting rants about all sorts of “reversed oppressions”. According to the MWD feminist, Hélène Christelle Munganyende gave up on womanhood by choosing to be a Black person and therefore she deserved to be spoken to in a way that honours the world views of the MWD feminist. If it’s not about “that”, why didn’t the MWD feminist come for any of the White women who also stated that Lemonade wasn’t for them? One of the White women who confronted the MWD feminist is Marjan Boelsma who is an amazing thinker and Comrade whose contributions to the archives of Black resistance movements (specifically of the Surinamese and South African communities) are amazing. The response Boelsma got was significantly different than the rant spat at Munganyende.
Nothing about the Lemonade visuals is about non-Black women but somehow the collective memo’s were only directed to White folks. Why? Because we know how the proverbial 85% of Average White people don’t just see/centre themselves in everything… they take credit for “inspiring” creations that have absolutely nothing to do with them. Vogue magazine credited Audrey Hepburn for the stunning hairdo Lupita Nyong’o rocked at the 2016 Met Gala. Nyong’o responded on Instagram to school non-Black people in general and Vogue magazine in particular about the Black women who inspired her look. Why? Because the proverbial 85% of Average White people know so very little about us that when they see a Sister’s hairdo they automatically see Audrey Hepburn, Bo Derek, Björk or Kim Kardashian.
It’s important to have Black women writing Dutch pieces about these matters because Dutch fashion magazines, history books and/or ethnographic museums hardly ever discuss the traditional styles of Black women who aren’t Afro-American. When they do, they tend to do so from the position of the colonial, eurocentric anthropologist or other spectator. For them, the way Black women in African and Caribbean countries traditionally wore and continue to wear their hair, jewellery or clothes wasn’t and isn’t beautiful (at least not the kind of beauty that isn’t rooted in obsessions with ‘strangeness’)… let alone inspirational.
The same goes for the references to Oshun and the way Laolu Senbanjo painted the women’s faces and bodies. Who are the Mainstream White Dutch people who can talk about Oshun without cracking jokes about angry Black women and/or the spiritual practices of African and Afrodiasporic communities? Who are the MWD people who can talk about Black faces and/or bodies with white paint on them without saying something “funny” about “reverse blackface”? Or the ones who can talk about Warsan Shire’s poetry without stating how they can totally relate to her poems about belonging because one time they were on vacation/volunteering in Strangeland and at one point they just really wanted to go home?
Mainstream White Dutch people’s knowledge of the Blackity Black work that Black artists have been producing for centuries is so subpar that the work almost never gets explained through the traditions that inspired it. Or was I napping when MWD folks presented their razor sharp analyses of how Lemonade connects with the blues traditions of Black women in the Southern states of the USA, pays homage to Louisiana Creoles and the work of icons like Zora Neale Hurston or Julie Dash? Am I overlooking the stacks of essays, books, photographs and films MWD journalists and/or cultural critics are always removing from their desks before they start writing their scholarly breakdowns of how Black artists allude other Black artists in their work?
Perhaps when the Mainstream White Dutch feminist was told that Lemonade isn’t for her, what she heard was: “You can never sing any of the Lemonade songs as you’re driving to Twerk class or while you’re massaging the sore scalp between your boxer braids.” Personally, I absolutely think White people worldwide can sing along to the songs on Lemonade. Of course they can. Not every line tho’! White folks, please note that sleeping with a Black man who has Jackson Five nostrils and let’s a you call him all kinds of N-words doesn’t mean that you should do anything more than hum and swing your arms when that line comes along. The “call me Malcolm X!” part? Also not for you. And no, we can’t entertain you during your speculations about how al-Hajj Malik al Shabazz, if he was still alive today, would encourage Black women to not put ‘so much emphasis’ on race “because Michelle Obama and Oprah prove that Black women can be anything but women still don’t get paid as much as men so the only real struggle is about patriarchy, not race.” We won’t allow you to whitewash him so you can keep his legacy from making things feel “ongezellig (uncozy)”. You can absolutely sing about “looking jealous or crazy/ jealous or crazy” or getting in formation ’cause you, too, have some coordination. By all means… sing it with your chest, adlib like you wrote it.
But for the MWD feminist who dug her claws in Lemonade, it’s not about Beyoncé. She might never buy any of the songs or get a ticket for one of the shows. She might not even have watched Kahlil Joseph’s entire masterpiece and as she’s reading this, she’s probably asking herself: “Who’s Kahlil Joseph again..?” For her, it’s about not wanting to hear a Black woman saying “No!” Time after time MWD feminists fail Black women but now that the tunes are catchy and they think success “upgrades” Black women to “normal women”, they want to talk about “inclusivity” and “rejection”? Ground rule: If you don’t stand with us, you can’t sit with us. Technology and social media are democratizing and revolutionizing both archives and current realities as well as the futures of our ideas of beauty, worth and humanity. It is that process that will make MWD feminists and their platforms that continue to cater to the illusion that White Women’s Comfort is at the centre of everybody’s concern, less and less relevant. To not, in any way, contribute to the Dutch tradition of offering the most mediocre MWD folks a stage to talk about race and racism, the feminist who attacked Hélène Christelle Munganyende will remained unnamed.
Dear Mainstream White Dutch Feminist, step down/ we don’t love you like they love you.
(Three thoughts after watching the trailer of Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone.)
1. Seeing Zoe Saldana all blackfaced up to play Nina Simone is something even living in the Netherlands didn’t prepare me for. In the home of Black Pete and carnival floats with titles like “N*gger boat” carrying blackfaced white folks and some of their most offensive songs across the Southern towns, plenty of us critical, gifted and Black inhabitants of the Lowlands might think that when it comes to racist face paint, we’ve seen it all. Every now and then it enters a space we thought wouldn’t. Like that weekend when it took a stream of Tweets to convince the internationally known North Sea Jazz festival that hell yes it’s offensive to beam images of Al Jolson performing his other racist routines as part of your “celebrating jazz!”-clip. If anything, the Netherlands makes it a daily practice to affirm that Mainstream Western, Eurocentric Whiteness and those who long to be validated by it, will never not sink their teeth into an opportunity to spit in our contemporary and ancestral faces. The Blacker our berry, the more venomous their fangs. But Saldana’s bite, while her jaw is being massaged by the hand that starves us, is one that, if you’d let it, would suck the salt from our cultural sweat.
2. I don’t care about Saldana’s acting skills because it’s not about craft, it’s about colorism and misrepresentation. It’s about whitewashing for consumption while blackfacing for “correction”. It’s about telling dark skinned actresses with facial features like Miss Simone that they’re not even worthy of portraying their own reflection and yes, it is also very much about having a woman who “doesn’t like to talk about race” portray the Icon who gave us To Be Young, Gifted and Black, Pirate Jenny and Four Women.
In the cinematic tradition of centring biopics of game changing, dark skinned artists around abusive rage or other destructive behaviour, a light skinned woman with completely different facial features than Nina Simone plus one who argues that white people are really pink because white is the color of paper and is tired of talking about race and/or ethnicity, jumped out of all the seats she should be having and yelled: “Yes. Yes, this will be my contribution to our understandings of the High Priestess!”
3. After we’re done boycotting this movie straight to the discount DVD box, can we start investing some of our moneys in a biopic starring Tamar-kali or Adepero Oduye as Nina Simone? Can it be directed by Dee Rees? Can Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Betty Shabazz, al-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz, James Baldwin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Harry Belafonte be portrayed by actors who’re all fairly unknown to most of our audiences because we understand the importance of creating space for each other?