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No Dogs, No Blacks, No Jews…

October 9, 2011

The notice ‘No Dogs, No Blacks, No Jews’ was a fairly common one only just a few decades ago. Generally used to indicate the likes an owner wanted —but most of all didn’t want— in his establishment. Some things have changed since then. People don’t openly say this nowadays. What I’m wondering though, has the leopard really changed his spots? Or can we now extend the list with ‘…No Arabs. No Polish’?

No romantic thrills

Like most Dutch Antilleans of my generation, I came to The Netherlands as a student. It was a cursed necessity. Those with good money and good connections went to the United States to study. The poor man’s versions like myself came to The Netherlands on a student loan.

Not allowed.
Not allowed.

My first years here weren’t the best ones. I hated it; saw my stay as a big gaping black hole and I was homesick something terrible.

The political climate at the time —we’re speaking of the early eighties— wasn’t very favourable for newcomers (of colour). Though born and bred in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and having a passport that clearly stated me a Dutch citizen; I was labelled an (unwanted) immigrant. Something I never quite got my head around.

You know, as a teenager, I read books on black slavery and the struggles of the Afro-Americans. And as ignorant as I was; I found it all quite thrilling. I’d romanticise the stories and fantasise of some revolt in which I would bravely lead ‘my people’ on to victory.

However, confronted with blatant racism in my early student years, I quickly learnt there’s nothing thrilling nor romantic about it. Racism is plain blind hate that’s intentionally meant to degrade and hurt you. And it’s scary as hell.

Of Wars and Riots

The Dutch Moroccan actor Nasrdin Dchar won a Gouden Kalf at the 2011 Netherlands Film Festival. A ‘Gouden Kalf’ (read Golden Calf) is our Dutch equivalent of the BAFTAs, the Palm d’Or and the Oscars.


(Note: the clip is English subtitled)

Dchar, awarded best actor for his leading role in the film RABAT, gave an overwhelming, very emotional acceptance speech. The poignant highlight was Dchar’s defining curtain line: “I’m Dutch. I’ve got Moroccan blood. I’m a Muslim and I’ve got a F* Golden Calf in my hands.”

Guess it was to be expected. Some weren’t too pleased with Dchar’s performance at the festival.

[…]
Gerton van Unnik is a member of the Provincial Council and a representative of the PVV, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party. In his tweet van Unnik uses Dchar’s name as a noun to categorise criminals of Moroccan descent. Unashamedly ignoring the fact that the actor has nothing at all to do with what he’s tweeting about. Furthermore, van Unnik associates Dchar with ‘roedel’. That’s Dutch for a ‘pack of wolves’ or a ‘pack of dogs’.

Rudimentary psychology of war and riots dictates to abstract the opponent. You compare them to insects, animals, all things poisonous. You declare them a threat aka damnation, to your family, to society. You do and say anything; as long as it effaces the other and strips you and those close to you of all empathy. Van Unnik executes this basic rule to a T. The question is: Why?

The Multi-Culti State and Honesty

The multicultural state is a relatively new phenomenon. The migration debate, on the other hand, is as old as Adam. In Analysis, Aid or Immigration, Owen Barder tells us that for example in the nineteenth century migration was a much bigger movement than it is today. “A third of Europeans left Europe to go to America to make a better life for themselves.” Then there’s also the mass migration due to slavery and colonialism.

So, if migration has been going on forever; why is it that we still can’t have a rational grown-up debate about it? I’m not a sociologist, but I suspect that to have a grown-up debate, you need to be completely honest and say things people —aka the constituency— rather not hear. Things like:

#1. You can’t control the numbers. As said before, migration is historical. People have been migrating ever since we were able to travel from A to B. And they will continue to do so. Long after we’re gone.

#2. Change is difficult. Migration primarily impacts the poorer communities as there is where most migrants settle. And members of those communities are finding it hard to cope. The change is difficult for both the ‘newcomers’ and those who have lived there ‘all their lives’.

#3. Economies thrive on migration. On the whole, immigrants are (marked) cheap labour and there are a lot of entrepreneurs who make a big fat profit thanks to migration. Fact is in terms of wages and employment, migrants actually create jobs. Particularly skilled and educated migrants. The other side of the coin shows the immigrant who sends money back home. This is not a triviality; in his own small way the immigrant creates a better life for the relatives and loved ones he ‘left behind’.

#4. Unwelcome elements and equal rights. Sad to say, migration also brings with it unwelcome elements. Consequently, we’ll need to explore our cultural differences and the limits we’re willing to go in cherishing them. What do we incorporate, what do we set up for a democratic debate and what do we throw out? And how do we hold on to our differences without threatening the equal rights of the other to a quality of living?

#5. A fair society. People instinctively want a fair society. And I find it’s only fair to ask immigrants, to ‘put something into society’ before taking something out. Providing, of course, immigrants are given a fair opportunity to do so.

#6. Crisis and scapegoats. Whenever there’s an economic crisis, the multicultural society is tested. It’s amazing how politicians choose to forget their own flaying policies regarding low and average incomes. How for instance the privatisation of health care, legal care and education has only widened the gap between the fortunate and the not-so-fortunate. In hard times, immigrants are the easy scapegoats of cunning politicians.

Positive power of migration

Our modern world consists of rapid movements and communications. Globalisation has made our world smaller and various cultures accessible. We should never romanticise migration; yet it’s only fair to acknowledge the powerful impact cross-cultural pollination has on ideas.

When we come into contact with other cultures, we leapfrog. And though bad ideas also travel; the incorporation of good ideas have instigated innovations. Just look at main art movements represented by the greats of a Picasso and Rietveld. Or even today’s dynamics of Silicone Valley.

My student years are now long behind me and I’m still here. What at first seemed a gaping hole, has turned out to be an enriched experience. I’m a well-rounded individual for the years I’ve spent on this side of the ocean. Along with politician Adri Duivesteijn, I therefore welcome the new insights of our Minister for Immigration, Gerd Leers —whatever his political agenda.

[…]
Society is an organic entity. Migration and multiculturalism are here to stay. Regardless of whether we like it or not. Regardless of whether we can handle it or not. Good news is, as long as we keep the migration debate open, honest, respectful and mature; we’ll be alright.

Tongue-in-Cheek

On a lighter note, here’s a tongue-in-cheek for you to mull over. It’s a sound clip from the Irish comedian Keith Farnan, adressing the topic of the (Irish) immigrant.


[…]

(Source image used: Clker.com)

Related post(s) to read:

Single Stories and Blind Spots


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