The Racist Spectrum



Feeling triggered yet?

Me too.

In the +/- 2 weeks since sharing my experiences with racism in the Dutch Caribbean and in the Netherlands, I have had some very interesting conversations about racism. People have reached out to ask questions, to share their own stories, or in many cases, simply to say: thank you for sharing, you’ve opened my eyes to something deeper. We are learning, and for that, I am grateful. But we still have a long way to go.

Because I’ve also had conversations that have left me thinking “noooo, you’re missing my point! Let’s talk some more.” I’ve also been privy to a few conversations that have been so frustrating that I didn’t get involved, either because I am too tired or I recognize it’s not an audience that will listen, anyway. We still have a long way to go.

I had an interview with RTL Nieuws a few weeks ago. We talked about some of the stories I had shared and about statements made by our Prime Minister. There was one element that didn’t make it into the final written piece. I’d like to share that.

One of the comments made by Prime Minister Rutte that jumped out at me was the following. PM Rutte expressed that our government cannot tell its people that Zwarte Piet can no longer have blackface. The reason, he stated, was that there are people who do not want to be forced to make the change because “they are totally not discriminatory or racist.”

“They are totally not discriminatory or racist.”

This argument is one of the big reasons we need to continue having these conversations. There are too many who still see racism as a yes or no question. You either are a racist or you are not. If you happen to feel that way yourself, I kindly ask that you challenge that belief.

I recently read a tweet by Padma Lakshmi that summarized it better than I have been able to myself, so I will start with that:

“Racism is a spectrum, with varying degrees of unconscious & learned behaviors reinforced by society every day. It’s not: either you’re racist or not. It’s: to what degree are you prejudiced, against whom, and why?”

I will add one final question to that: once you’ve uncovered your prejudice(s), what can you do now to change your behavior? I challenge you to find those unexamined parts of yourself that may be causing someone harm and try to learn so that you can make them better.

That’s what it’s all about.

When I was talking to RTL Nieuws, my own words were that racism is a beast made up of many layers. There are the people who actively pelt anti Black Pete protesters with eggs. They are one layer. There are the people who resist change, maintaining that they are “totally not racist” and just want to enjoy the holiday. They are a layer, too.

I’m not sure what our government will do next. PM Rutte has reportedly scheduled a sit down at the Catshuis in The Hague for today (June 24th) in which he will speak to BLM protesters. It’s unclear who he will conversing with as the organizers of the BLM protests have indicated they have not received an invitation. This makes me wary, though I am holding on to hope. I have to hope. But for that hope to live on, I need to see action.

Action, I think, begins with recognizing the spectrum and recognizing your own place on that spectrum. I do not want to hear the phrase “I’m not a racist, but…” anymore. I cannot hear “they’re totally not racist, so…” I challenge our politicians to recognize that excuses such as that one, are results of a degree of prejudice, too.

We all need to uncover our own internalized prejudices and see what we can do about them. All of us.

In all of that work, I beg you to remember that we are not here to judge one another. If your first instinct is to feel shame, let that go. Fuck shame. Shame does not grow you. It does not serve you, do not waste your energy on it.

Are you feeling ashamed of yourself because you’ve found something you deem to be “ugly”? Forgive yourself, let that shame go and accept that you made a mistake. Commit yourself to trying to be better. Treat yourself with a bit of grace.

Are you ashamed of/on behalf of someone else? Ask yourself whether they might not be on a different place in the spectrum than you are. Maybe they’re still in the 101 class, but you’ve long since graduated the 301. Give them some grace, too. Give it time and revisit the topic later.

There is no shame in changing our opinions over time. There is no shame in growth.

We are undoing hundreds of years of built up, deeply ingrained racial injustice. And for as much as I would want it all to disappear tomorrow, miraculously replaced by true equality, it will still take some time. Let’s not allow that to discourage us. We can do this.

We can do this, we can do this.

If you read my experiences with Zwarte Piet from early June, you’ll understand why these photos make me, in particular, feel rather sick inside. Here’s looking to a future where children do not have the same experiences as we have had. 

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