It’s been a bit quiet around these parts lately; there has been a lot going on. Those who follow me on Instagram will know that over the past few months I have left my job and become self-employed. It has been a period of rapid growth as I rediscover existing skills while also learning new ones. I have been surprised by just how quickly the course of my business has been set and how clear my goals, dreams and wishes have become.
I am an avid writer and skilled proofreader. That is the core of my business; writing and editing texts for clients. I also write for myself, on all things to do with the topic of inclusivity. I cover racial, gender and LGBTQIA+ issues, body acceptance, and mental health, always exploring these through an empathetic lens. It has been revelatory to tap into the source of exactly which subjects I want to write about and what contribution I want to make to the world.
In addition to my passion for writing, I have always harbored a secret desire to be a public speaker. Like my writing, however, I was unsure what I wanted to talk about. I now have a specific purpose, and I dedicating myself to pursuing it.
In June I had my first public speaking experience at Creative Mornings’ ‘Audience Takes the Stage’ event. It was a digital event and felt so unique to speak to a group of people from the comfort of my own bedroom. 2020 has been quite the year, hasn’t it?
Last week, I had my second public speaking experience ever, and my first one on a stage. Out of a total of 101 applicants, I was selected as 1 of the 10 finalists for TEDxAmsterdamWomen’s 2020 Talent Night.
Each of us had 3 minutes on the stage to pitch a short-form version of our TEDx talk within the theme ‘Courage to Connect.’ 3 short minutes to win over the judges. The winner would receive a spot at the TEDx Main Stage on December 2nd as well as a tailor made mentorship created by the NN Group.
As this was my first time speaking on a podium, there was quite some preparation involved. I was determined to do well, so I practiced. A lot. I repeated the words over and over, practiced intonation and pauses. We dissected my walk, how I use my hands. We drilled the use of the clicker into my head. I practiced so much that the day before the talk, I was afraid I might lose my voice.
Watching this video and seeing the photos, I am glad I put in the practice. I am proud of how at home I looked onstage. Remembering the evening, I am glad that I had fun. To recall just how much I enjoyed using my skills.
I didn’t win the competition in the end. I will not be on the main stage in December, which, of course was something I had hoped for.
What I did get, however, was a confirmation. I have proven to myself that I have what it takes to be a public speaker.
This may have been my first time, but I am certain it will not be my last.
Watch my talk here:
The full video is on YouTube for a limited time if you would like to see all of the speakers (including, of course, the winner Nadya van der Sluis!). It will, however, be taken down sometime soon.
Happy days! I have had lots going on behind the scenes over here the past few months. As I navigate my new direction and the new opportunities I’m seeking, it’s been a bit of a balancing act. I have many more updates to come, but I’d like to begin with this one: the video of my talk at Creative Mornings’ Amsterdam chapter in June!
Together with two other speakers, Stephanie Tan and Sadie DeMaioribus, I dove into the topic of insecurity. It’s a topic that is near and dear to my heart, so it was a joy to be able to speak about it. Many thanks again to the Creative Mornings Amsterdam team!
Check the video out below. I have also included the full transcript of my talk, so feel free to make use of any quotes that you’d like to have. I hope you’ll enjoy it and I would love to hear your thoughts, either in the comments, on social media or via email.
Today I want to talk to you about insecurity actually as a means of connection and of creating community.
I feel like insecurities get a really bad rap. We see them as these fallacies and these deep character flaws that we need to work on. We need to get rid of them. We need to love them out of our systems completely and let them go.
I disagree with that. Deeply.
As humans, I feel like we have this incessant obsession with security. We need to feel secure about ourselves, our jobs, our every single choice in life. We need to be secure all the time.
But at the end of the day, I think that we all find that it isn’t realistic.
Two years ago I found myself in a pretty weird phase in my life. After studying law for years I decided that a legal career was actually not for me, so I quit law school and I started working full time to save up my money to go on an extended trip I had been dreaming of for a long time. And on that trip, I told myself that I was going to figure out what I was going to do.
If not law, then what?
What was my big plan for future security in my life?
I didn’t really know what I was going to do with that, all I knew was that I wanted something that was more aligned with my creative interests.
As preparation for that, I started attending creative events here in Amsterdam. I had this hope that they would guide me somewhere and that they would show me a little more of what I should be doing rather than just what I shouldn’t.
The events were incredibly inspiring, as we see now as well, but I couldn’t help but feel like I didn’t fit in. I felt that somehow my lack of any formal creative experience or education made me a fraud. And I created this very intense internal judgment zone for myself.
And then I made two connections at Creative Mornings. I had two conversations in which I just said: ‘you know what, sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing, and at this moment especially, I have no idea where I’m going to go.’ And they said that they felt the same way sometimes. And for the first moment, I thought ‘oh, so I do deserve to be here. I’m not the only person in this room that feels that way.’ It was really reassuring.
For the first time in a long time, I felt the rumblings of something that was headed in the right direction. And I wasn’t sure what it was or what it would turn into, but it was something.
I noticed that in the months after that, I kind of unknowingly applied that same communication to my personal life. I remember later that summer, a friend took a photo of me that I was deeply insecure about – it was about a part of my body. And I shared it. But instead of coming up with some cool, quippy caption, I just shared:
‘Hey, this is a photo I’m really insecure about.’
And I got DMs from people. And we had these private – always private – but very meaningful conversations. I kind of continued to apply that as I prepared for my travels, as I went through my travels, and even now that I’ve returned, and the connections just kept coming.
It’s those connections for me that have turned this concept of insecurity on its head. Where rather than seeing insecurity as just this negative thing I used to see it as I can see that it has positive potential as well.
Today, two years later, I feel like we are definitely in a space where we are seeing the importance of open communication and conversation. We see that conversation is creating connections and it is also healing collective traumas.
I think there is no better time to start practicing that speaking up and talking about our insecurities. Or maybe not even about them, but at least in spite of them. I feel that in talking about the things that make us insecure, the things that scare us, we create those connections and we create that healing for ourselves, but also for others.
I’m not saying you need to reveal your deepest darkest secrets, but what about the smaller things? What about the things that scare you, that hold you back, that are actionable? Like maybe your fear is going to a yoga class but you’re afraid of being the only new one in the room. How about talking about it? Maybe your fear is bigger. It’s something you’re missing in your job or in your relationship. Well, guess what? You’re not the only one. I have those too. Everyone here has those too. And maybe if we talk about them, we can take away a lot of that power that they hold over us.
When I was considering applying for this talk – I’ll leave you with one last little anecdote – I actually almost didn’t apply. I had this little grubby note in my room for weeks – it says ‘Apply to Creative Mornings”- and I almost didn’t do it. Because I felt that I didn’t deserve to be in the room. And here we are. So, think about that.
Think about what me being here today means for me, but think about what it can mean for you as well. What are the things that you deserve to do that you are holding yourself back from?
In my video pitch to Creative Mornings, I surprised myself with a little tidbit. I said:
“Insecurities are only connectors if we speak them out. If we give them the space to breathe and exist. If we talk about them and breathe air into their lungs, our insecurities can breed gifts.”
And I really, really believe that that’s true.
So my request is pretty simple. I want us all to leave here today and think about these insecurities in our lives that we’re tying this shame to. And think about how we can get rid of some of that shame. Shame does not grow you, it does not help you. So let that go. And then think about who you can talk to about your insecurities, through what medium. And see what gifts it brings.
I for one am always here, so you know, DM me. Let’s have the conversations, let’s talk about it.
It starts with one initial spark of courage and after that, believe me, it will flow.
It sounds like what you’re saying is that being vulnerable (i.e. sharing your insecurities) helps create connections. Does that resonate with you? I see a connection between insecurity and vulnerability and I’m curious if you feel the same!
Definitely. I think that vulnerability is the starting point for most every meaningful connection. I am a big proponent of being vulnerable. And I recognize that there are certain limits. Like I said, there are deep dark secrets that you’re not ready to share or that you don’t need to share. But I think that sharing the things that are a bit more shareable and that you do feel vulnerable about, can give you a lot in return. So insecurity and vulnerability – for me – are definitely interlinked. And valuable.
If you arrive at a junction in your life where you really don’t know how to pay the rent or pay for food, is it possible then to embrace your insecurities at that point?
I think that that’s a great question, it’s something that I – so I don’t think that sharing your insecurities will solve every problem, right? There are certain basic things in life that we need and work is one of them. So will sharing necessarily put money in your bank account so you do have housing? No. But I do think that even in a situation like that, even if you’re in this really difficult situation that you don’t know how to get out of, I find that if you share that, you will find people who are at least willing to help. And it can also be very insecure and very vulnerable to receive help. Receiving help is hard. But if you open yourself up to the sharing but also the receiving, I think that it can help in that way. Definitely.
How do you know if a space is safe to share insecurities?:
Yea, that’s a tough one as well. I’ve definitely found myself in situations where I see that: ‘this is not a space for it.’ I think that at the end of the day it comes down to gut feeling. I think that you know when it is safe. You will know based on the people that you’re interacting with, whether these are the people that you should be talking to. So I would say: always, always follow your gut. That’s the best way to go about it.
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.
I originally posted this on June 4th. It has sparked many conversations since then which has led me to think that it needs to live on this website as well. I highly recommend that you listen to the audio file. For those who need (or even prefer) the assistance of the written text, I’ll place that below.
“Ik heb een naam, en het is niet Piet.” (I have a name, and it is not Piet.)
The moment I found out about Monday’s [June 1st] protest in Amsterdam, I felt called to attend. I felt called and I immediately knew what I would write on a sign.
My decision to attend was not made lightly. After spending almost three months judiciously following all of the rules and isolating in light of COVID-19, was I really going to break that isolation to go to an event with that many people? Knowing how police involvement and enforcement could possibly endanger me, was I really going to put myself in that position?
But this sentence kept cycling through my mind. Over and over. Ik heb een naam, en het is niet Piet. Ik heb een naam, en het is niet Piet.
The past week has shaken loose a lot of memories. I’ve got a standard loop of standout memories that, when triggered, cycle through my mind. It’s been that way my entire life. Each time I am forced to confront the reality that the color of my skin somehow makes me different, the loop plays. It plays behind my eyelids and I remember.
I hope this past week has us finally understand that it does not matter where you come from. It does not matter where you live. I spent 18 years of my life living on predominantly black islands. Racism is alive and well there. I have spent 11 years living in The Netherlands. Racism is alive and well here.
Our colonial pasts are still with us. Our biases live on. Our racism is deeply rooted in our societies.
“Ik heb een naam, en het is niet Piet.”
This is for when I came home from preschool as a little girl, and my mother put me in the bath tub. Turning around for a moment, she turned back and instead of finding me playing with my toys, she found me scrubbing my skin. Some of the kids at school had said that my skin must be dirty, because I looked like Zwarte Piet. I must have been 3 or 4 years old. My parents spent the rest of my childhood trying to convince me that the color of my skin was beautiful. If I could go back, I would convince myself that they were right. I would beg and plead that little girl to believe it was true sooner, instead of waiting until well into adulthood.
This is for when I was 10 and moved back to Curaçao. The animal shelter in Tortola had ponies and I had spent a few years taking riding lessons. I loved it. Moving to Curaçao meant going to an official riding school – a privilege. Here, riding was a status thing and all of a sudden, I was the only non-white child there. The girls didn’t speak to me very much. When they did, they called me “bruintje.” (Brown one). It’s been so long, I can’t even remember whether I told my parents that was the reason I didn’t want to go anymore. But I quit. I quit. And somehow, I never sat on a horse again. If I could go back, I would tell myself to speak up. I would tell myself to stay and command my space there.
This is for 18, when I moved to Utrecht and I boarded the bus. There was an open seat next to an older white woman and when I sat down next to her, she looked over at me and moved her handbag from her lap to the other side of her body. Away from me. I felt ashamed. Deeply ashamed that I had made her uncomfortable. I moved seats. If I could go back, I would tell myself that her discomfort should be a reason for her own shame, not for mine.
This is for 21, when on my first day in law school, I had a full room of fellow students stare at me. We were playing a “get to know your peers” guessing game, and the question had come up “which one of us was not born in The Netherlands?” As they all turned to me at the same time, I suddenly realized that I was the only non-white face in the room. If I could go back, I would tell myself to question that. To force that conversation.
This sign is for these standout memories of mine. It’s for the fact that I can’t go back in time and undo them. It’s the for fact that countless other people have memories just like these. Countless people have memories far worse than these. They can’t go back in time and undo them, either.
I’m sharing these memories of mine not for sympathy. I do not need you to tell me to be strong, or that it will become easier. I’ve been living in this skin of mine for almost 29 years. I promise you, it’s made me strong. As for easy? I don’t need easy right now. What I need, what we need, is for more people to join in the hard. Come and sit in the difficulty of dealing with what all of this means. Only in doing that can we create a space where existing in our skin becomes easier.
We are having the conversation now. We are realizing, in larger numbers, that there is a lot of work to be done. We are asking the uncomfortable questions. Our communal discomfort has value. We are looking at transgressions, we are identifying the microaggressions. Now it is time we weed them out. Please, let’s not let this be another one of the many times that racism is a trending topic and we share the hashtags only to see it fade away. You are dipping your toes into the mess now. Now it is time to jump in and clean this shit up.
Okay, so now what? What can you actually do?
I’m going to compile a list of things I think are actionable. Some things will be directed at my home community in Curaçao, some will be directed at my community in the Netherlands, and some of it will be for us all.
We’re in it now, let’s get those hands dirty and do the work. For real, this time.
I had originally written an entirely different text to accompany this photo I wanted to share today. I wanted to share my complicated relationship with my body image. I wanted us to talk about the ups and downs that come with not fitting into certain molds; of tying your self-worth to societal constructs. I wanted to tell you about how this photo made me feel empowered, even though I am not a size zero. I wanted to tell you about (finally) feeling comfortable in my own skin. Hmm. Skin.
With recent events in the United States being what they are, that story does not feel aligned anymore. When I look at this photo and see my clenched teeth, when I remember the power I was trying to push through that arm and those legs, the photo takes on new meaning. This photo represents body image, but also so much more. As a woman, a person of color, a member of the queer community, there is a lot to unpack here.
In a lot of ways, this year has felt like a constant fight. But the truth is that this year is no different from any of the years passed. We have been fighting for a long time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And sometimes, I am tired. We are all tired. But there is strength in numbers. There is strength in alliances. There is strength in knowledge and understanding.
There is a lot that I don’t know. There is a lot that in some ways feels disassociated from my own existence. There is also a lot that hits incredibly close to home. There is a lot that I am learning. So let’s do that. Let’s learn. As much as we can, as quickly as we can. Let’s make sure that we all join the fight. Because no matter where you live, institutional racism exists. It is complex. It is deeply rooted. And it is so very global. This is not a US-centric problem. This is not a moment to sneer at other countries and maintain that “we do it better.” Racism is a disease that afflicts us all and to deny that is to keep on the blinders that privilege has given to so many.
Today I will be heading to the Dam Square in Amsterdam to participate in a peaceful solidarity protest. Today we will stand with the protestors in the United States. Today we will stand up against the institutional racism that exists in the Netherlands. I will be honest. The prospect scares me. I haven’t been to the city center in almost three months. COVID-19 is still very real. But I find myself, yet again, unable to remain silent. In a country where blackface is a yearly cultural ritual, in a country where racial profiling continues to permeate society, I cannot remain silent.
If you are based in the Netherlands and would like to protest, check out what the possibilities are in your city. As I understand it, various cities have organized peaceful protests. Do not travel for a protest. Stay in your own city and see what you can do. Go to the protest by bicycle, car or on foot. Wear a mask, carry hand sanitizer. Wear gloves if you have them. Maintain a safe distance. Our fundamental rights of freedom of speech and assembly are essential, but the actions we take in protecting those who are immunocompromised in our country from COVID-19 are as well.
If taking to the streets scares you, I see you. Protesting is not the only way to take action. There are different courses to take, and we need all of them now. Knowledge is an important one. I’ll share some resources I have encountered that I am using to inform myself on how to be better. If you have a look at them and commit yourself to learning and becoming more actively antiracist, you are fighting too.
Together, we continue the marathon. Let’s get that damn finish line into our sight.