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Blocking the bad stuff out

"I have to start off by clarifying that I am “lucky” to have been born and raised in Amsterdam. But I’ve seen and experienced a lot of unfair stuff happening outside the city. I don’t even like to call people racist, because I don’t always know what they're really thinking. But I’m not going to lie, I’ve lived through numerous “unpleasant” experiences because of other people's racist behavior. This ranges from people in public transport standing up or switching seats as soon as I decide to sit near them, people flat out calling me the n-word, police asking for my ID way more than necessary, and the death stares you get when you’re the only black person at a party with people you don’t know.

I went to a predominantly white catholic high school, in one of the wealthiest parts of the city. However, my group of closest friends has always been very diverse; Turkish, Surinamese, Dutch, Indonesian - all kinds of backgrounds. Our bond is really strong, and I truly believe that is because we’ve moved beyond foolish concepts that would limit us from getting to know the actual person. Unfortunately, there are always those people constantly questioning why black people make such a big fuss about the use of the n-word, and some even try to lecture me about it. There were teachers saying inappropriate comments, and later they would try to play it off as a joke, or tell me that I should get a thicker skin if I would feel offended. I once had a teacher that willingly admitted that she didn't like me and my friend - who is also a person of color -, and I'm telling you; we were two of the quiet kids.

My parents moved from Ghana to the Netherlands when they were around my age. It might be difficult for some to believe, but they have had their fair share of unfair treatment. However, they are so used to brushing it off and carrying on that it basically seems as if they stopped caring about it. My parents finally shared their frustrations with me as the global protests and the black Pete controversy in the Netherlands recently sparked. That actually makes me extremely sad. My parents are the most genuine and kind people I know. But either way, they’re so proud of what the new generation is trying to accomplish right now. They keep telling me they hope we - the new generation - will manage to make a change because they no longer feel empowered to do so.

I have learned to block most of the bad stuff out. I don’t let it bother me too much anymore. Several times throughout my life, I've been in situations where it feels like somebody is judging me for what other black people are doing or may have done in the past. But I don’t know how to be responsible for every black person's actions. I’ve realized that this feeling of having to explain myself to other people isn't an issue that's only relevant to black people. We live in a society where minorities subconsciously feel like they have to be extra polite; they have to obey the rules and the system in order to avoid any problems. In class, you keep your mouth shut more than the other students; When you get into trouble, you know they'll punish you harder. You constantly need to do what's expected of you, because you're aware that you don't have the same big support system as the rest. If you ask me how to end institutional racism or xenophobia, I don’t have the answers. But I just wish people would become more sensitive towards each other’s thoughts and feelings. I believe that might be a good starting point. Maybe our generation will be able to change things around, and people will start treating each other with common decency and respect. That would really make me happy."

- Emmanuel, The Netherlands

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