Category Archives: #UndocumentedNL / #IllegalizedNL

The Mis-Education of our Activists

On February 16, when at least 29 people of died of hypothermia on board of Italian coastguard vessels , the city squares in Amsterdam didn’t notice. There were no trending hashtags in remembrance of the first casualties of a recent, deadly decision in Europe’s asylum regime. No mass movements claiming to identify with the 300 people squeezed on the 3 inflatable rafts that were still missing. What we did offer, was silence. Silence when on February 19 Amnesty International released their statement about how the European Commission “offers no concrete solutions to protecting and saving lives”. Silence as our inboxes filled themselves with invitations to Amsterdam based commemorations of the assassination of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and local organizers failed to connect Shabazz’s urge for Pan Africanism to the calls for solidarity as they are shouted out by the undocumented members of our communities. Absence when the Brothers from the Vluchtgarage asked us to join them in court as they fought against the eviction of their current residence. Why, if we claim to understand institutionalized forms of anti-Black racism and xenophobia, do we continuously fail to include the tragedies and casualties of Fort Europe’s deadly shores and suffocating borders in our collective, politicized discontent?

Part of it can probably be explained by the fact that too many of us are hoodwinked by the false comfort of citizenship. Most of us have heard those particular statements and speeches that, despite their varying lengths, frames and flow, all boil down to the same sentiment: “We, too, are Dutch citizens. What kind of country allows its own citizens to be pushed, strangled, kicked, bent and broken by the long limbs of the law?” Translation: This burgundy passport of mine should be all it takes to remind you that we are equal.  When saying and/or believing this, one implies that within these Dutch borders, those who can identify  as citizens deserve a better treatment than those who can’t. I understand that it might not sound like that when it’s squeezed between a dozen decontextualized motivational quotes and an oppressive ‘joke’ or two but by clinging to citizenship like we are, we’re creating hierarchies of humanity, hierarchies of worth. By believing that our identity documents should protect us we rank ourselves above those who don’t have the papers Fort Europe demands.

Combine this with a worrisome lack of knowledge about the current political situations in West, Central and East Africa that force people to flee their homes plus a very narrow understanding of Africa’s histories and the Mis-Education of the Activist is close to complete. I’m exhausted by folks who derail conversations about current migration by bringing us back, back into time. “Who could possibly want to escape from Mali when Mali gave us Mansa Musa? Who wouldn’t want to live in the  countries that used to be known as  that  the Kanem empire, Shonghay empire or the kingdom of Kush?” Many of us can hold our own in conversations about ancient Africa. Some because they actually studied, others because they Googled just the right trivia to make it seem like they did but hey… conversations. Mind you that too many of us still haven’t outgrown statements like “we might be from Trinidad, Martinique, Suriname, Africa or wherever” and don’t see any problems with the singular forms with which we describe “African dance, spirituality and/or culture” but like I said… conversations.

Contrary to what is considered the sexy part of Africa’s histories, contemporary activists, leaders, heads of state and/or political happenings barely make it to our rhetoric. Sure, Nelson Mandela and Patrice Lumumba are often mentioned. Amilcar Cabral? At events that aren’t organized in Rotterdam… almost never. Hearing Thomas Sankara’s name (just the name, I’m not even talking about references to his work) already feels like spotting a unicorn but honouring the women who were/are activists? Let’s not even start about the women who’re activists and weren’t/aren’t First Ladies.
When we study, do we merely focus on the political visions we love to mention or do we also try to wrap our heads around how their views affect the lives of the people who’re connected to and impacted by their leadership? Do we know what happens when Western governments order the assassination of such a political leader or when terrorist organisations, who either oppose or support a country’s regime, wreak havoc? Do we realize how these ruler straight borders that were so randomly drawn during Europe’s Scramble for Africa impacted and continues to impact the lives, identities, alliances, social structures, political situations and safety of the people in many African states or regions?

We have to do better. Better and more. We can’t one day turn the rehashing of isolated quotes into a preach-athon if we don’t plan to act on it the next day. If we care anything about consistency we can’t possibly preach Pan Africanism and African Unity if we continue to base our right to protection on citizenship knowing that so many of our Comrades are dying or hardly surviving their quest to apply for it. Not getting… applying. And what happens when their applications get denied and they’re brutalized by some of the same systems? Who can they turn to if not to Captain Passport? If we think the answer to that question should be “Us!” then there’s absolutely no reason for our absence, no ground for our dismissal.

When will we collectively put our money where our mouth full of MalcolmMartinMandela quotes is? When will we understand enough about the current political situations in, for example, Mali, Niger, Sudan and South Sudan plus Europe’s war on Black presence to care about the undocumented members of the Black communities based in Western-Europe? When will this care mean more than a retweet here, a like there? When will the narratives of the undocumented members of our communities be included in all our conversations about and protests against anti-Black racism and institutionalized xenophobia in the Netherlands? When will the names of our undocumented comrades pop into our heads as we come up with the event and not just a few days before the event takes place or on the day itself?

We have to do better.

For articles, political updates, calls for action and statements with regards to the undocumented communities of the Netherlands, please check #UndocumentedNL on Twitter.

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.