No, You Can’t Call Curacaoans Slaves In Front of Me. Thanks.

April 17, 2013 — 15 Comments

There have been two instances where I have felt pretty uncomfortable as a Black/African-American woman here in Curacao. The first such instance was during the time of Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet back in November, where scores of both Dutch and local people alike dressed up as Sinterklaas’s goofy helper Zwarte Piet, complete with blackface skin paint, oversized red lips, and curly Afro wigs. It was, and still is hard for me to stomach Zwarte Piet as innocent tradition.

A few weeks ago occurred the second instance that almost made me want to leave Curacao. A Dutch television station called NTR premiered a documentary episode about the “elite” white Dutch who live in Curacao.

OnderElkaar

“OnderElkaar”

The episode opens with shots of yachts, exclusive beach clubs. As the episode progresses, numbers of those interviewed express how they feel about the locals that live here. I don’t speak good Dutch at all, but several of the notable quotes I have heard from others come from this documentary are:

You can take the neger (derogatory Dutch word for Negro, sometimes translated to “nigger”) out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the neger!

Curacaoan men, all they do is sit under trees, play dominoes, and fuck!

They should be on their knees thanking us for bringing them here. Otherwise they would be in Africa with grass skirts on with bones through their noses!

Here is the link to the episode (in Dutch)

After the episode aired in Curacao, many of my local friends who had heard about it were of course upset. (Read Jermain Ostiana’s take on it, here)  Some Dutch acquaintances of mine, were at the least, a bit embarrassed about the documentary, saying that the people who were on the episode do not represent the majority of Dutch people on Curacao. There were a few voices in the documentary that talked about living and partying with locals, and that that was more gezelig (nice). But these opinions were maybe 1 or 2.

When I learned about the documentary, and watched parts of it, I was literally shaking. But I could not, in good conscience, agree with my well meaning Dutch acquaintances that these astronomically ignorant and racist views were completely out of the ordinary. I don’t mean all Dutch people on the island share these views, by any stretch. But unfortunately, in my short time on the island I have to say I have heard many disparaging remarks about local people said to my face. I have come to learn that a number of people, while embarrassed that such views were aired publicly, still may hold those opinions in private conversation. Even when they talk with me.

I remember talking about the documentary at dinner with Dutch friends several days ago. Most of my friends were ashamed of the people and their ignorant point of views. I noticed one friend of mine was quite silent about the whole matter. Later, in private, I asked him what he thought.

“Well, there’s gotta be some truth to what they said!”

I was shocked and became upset. And for the life of him, he couldn’t understand why I would be upset because, “Well, what do you care, you’re not one of them!!” I couldn’t for the life of me, understand why he thought that I would ever be okay with references using the word “neger” or derogatory remarks towards Africa (where my roots are), in my presence.

For the second time, I felt really uncomfortable here on the island. For the first time, I had thoughts of leaving. As I said before, I can name numbers of people who hold similar views about black locals.  Local papiamento papers did not report on the documentary. Few mentions were made in other media sources. Political leader Helmin Wiels made a few comments against the documentary.   Any other country, if such prominent figures made racial slurs against a segment of the population, an outcry would ring out. Boycotts would be instigated. People would demand explanations and apologies.

But here, life carried on as usual. No dialogues, no serious public conversations, nothing. The same sort of silence that continues to perpetuate the deep race/class divides on the island between the minority of the “haves” and the majority of the “have nots”.

But I won’t keep quiet in the face of ugliness and racism/cultural discrimination.

No, I’m not Curacaoan. But yes, I do care what you say about people of color.  I am human, and I abhor any form of ignorant, hurtful language used to tear people down and justify one group’s self-constructed superiority.

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15 responses to No, You Can’t Call Curacaoans Slaves In Front of Me. Thanks.

  1. 

    The worst thing is the silence given to issues like this! It is important to address these issues publicly and maintain that this wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated! Racism should be a thing of the past now, it is backwards and disgusting!

    • 

      It’s amazing how people are so afraid to talk about the issue, but the damage is being done. In my view, the relations between groups here range from indifferent separation at the least to hostility at worst.

  2. 
    eventsofalifetime April 17, 2013 at 3:54 PM

    Obviously ignorance is still a problem, when people describe Africa to be filled with grass and what have you! In this case it seems like its ignorance by choice, they’d rather believe people of colour are backwards and inferior to secure their “self-constructed” belief of superiority. Racism should be a thing of the past, especially now! It’s been long enough!

    • 

      There’s ignorance, and then there is willful ignorance, and I think a lot of the latter is going on, which is even worse, like you say. I agree, we need to move forward!

  3. 

    Holy….If you told me, there was That level of Blatant racism in the Caribbean, I would have told you, you were Bonkers…But, the ABC islands seem Shocking…Minstrel attire for festivities, say what. If that occurs there, the sentiment for the rest of the Leeward Islands must be Terrible, inter island rivalry is Very Intense in most of the Caribbean, but “Niger” is Very rare in that region. Are local blacks that docile in the ABC to tolerate that vulgar a tone from the dutch, Wow. Moreover, Afro Carib are one of the most Pan African region in the World. Historically, Pro African beliefs and culture Pours out of that region. Wow, the ABC must live in a vaccum with Zero impact from the Caribbean and all its culture from the dutch…Wow….

    • 

      It is a shocker to see such open hostility here. I have talked with people from other islands such as St. Maarten who say that there is no way they would tolerate such things over there. Some say that islands with more influences from English speaking or U.S. influenced countries are less tolerant to racism. Speaking with local, Africa conscious activists here, they tell me that there is a serious lack of pro-Africa education here as opposed to people from say, Haiti or Jamaica….but that’s a whole other topic for another story….

    • 

      And yes, I do think that Curacao is a bit more isolated from other islands….

  4. 

    Hi Karen, thanks for posting about this. Many of us who watched the doc in the Netherlands were shocked, but it’s even more shocking to hear this triggered zero discussion in Curacao. It would be good if English subtitles could be added to the documentary. This dirty laundry could do with some wider exposure.

    • 

      Hi there, thanks for your comment. I think a lot of my Dutch friends were embarrassed at what they thought their friends back home would think of the Dutch that live here. I too agree that if someone could translate the documentary into English, then more people would be forced to confront the ugly situation for what it is on the island. I checked out your blog by the way. Great posts, especially on issues surrounding Zwarte Piet. I’ll be following!

  5. 

    Thanks! For better or worse ours–the world of those actively and critically concerned about these issues in the Netherlands and its former colonies, that is–is a remarkably small world (we actually met once when both of us were interviewed about Zwarte Piet on the Al Jazeera Stream last December. It was that post that got their attention).

    For things to change I think the push will ultimately have to come from “inside,” but I think we can get the ball rolling at least a bit more by giving this stuff more international exposure = subjecting the Dutch and their “what me worry” attitude to more international scrutiny (or what the Japanese call “gaiatsu” = “pressure from without”). People will say the most unbelievable things in Dutch, assuming that no non-Dutch are listening/watching. Will see what we can do about getting some English subtitles on this shocking documentary.

    The good thing is at least that the Dutch public broadcaster NTR had the guts to record and show this!

  6. 

    First its important to state a whole sentence when quoting. The man said I have a lot of respect for the local women because they carry everything. ..The fact that you only state the part about men sitting under trees says more about you I would say. You are differentiating here and taking a victims standpoint? If you look at this doc. without any difference in color you will only see a few ignorant people talking about what they don’t know. The women who was talking about that the Dutch brought Curacaoans to Curacao (otherwise they would still be in Africa) is such an ignorant human being (like lots of people are from all kinds off backgrounds) Their problem is their narrow mindedness and the fact that they “see” difference. Next to that she probably does not have any local friends so how can she judge(judge on character not race I would say)? Makamba’s and locals get discriminated by each other all the time, it’s not just one way and that’s a real pity. I am a open-minded/travelled women with friends of all kinds of backgrounds including Curacaoaners and for me there is no difference in colour just difference in personalities. Unfortunately there are still people who do discriminate based on race and that’s just sad for them…they are restricted and narrow minded and are missing out on the beautiful things in life which is living together as one and experiencing personalities from different backgrounds which we can learn from and grow. Like rastafari’s say I AND I and not you and I because they believe all is one, i am you and you are me. The fact that you are getting emotional about this could mean that you also differentiate and that’s unfortunate. Instead ignore these ignorant people and focus on people that have an open mind no matter what race. Don’t give them a voice because they are not worth listening to I would say. I am Dutch but I don’t feel embarrassed by being Dutch just cuz these people are Dutch and blabbering nonsense. I have NO affiliation with them what so ever. I do think that a lot of Dutch people are to narrow minded in a certain sense. On the island but everywhere in the world Dutch people tend to always stick together which I hate and that’s why i am not to fond of the Dutch mentality but that’s different for every person and just unfortunate for them because they are missing out I believe.
    The dutch played a big role in slavery. Slavery in general sickens me. But because they played such a big role and the fact that i am Dutch, do I then need to feel embarrassed by it? Take a certain responsibility or it? WHY? I have nothing to do with it! I am a person, a citizen of the world and in my life I live embracing everyone I meet no matter the race. arrrg I wish everyone was just one race so that this issue would not exists and people would just judge based on character, nothing more nothing less. Stand above it be positive and don’t give these people any worth by talking about them cuz they are not worth talking about.

    • 

      The post was not meant to “embarrass” anyone or make anyone feel guilty for being Dutch. Race and discrimination is more than just, “Youre a different skin color, therefore I don’t like you.” It’s not about individual attitudes towards other people, although that is a part of it. What I saw in Curacao was a small Dutch/non-black minority that lived separately from, and mostly better than, the African descendant population on the island. Education systems are poor. The populations live pretty separate lives. I saw this first hand. I knew owners of businesses who did not want to hire locals and would say awful things about them Of course this is not all Dutch. But to ignore that Antillians are, economically in Curacao and in Holland, rendered second-class citizens is part of the problem, not the solution. How many Curacaoans own major businesses on the island? How many times have there been strikes or threats of strikes by locals because they demand equal treatment/pay to thier Dutch colleagues? It’s in the history books. Its not about seeing color or not seeing color, and erasing color does not solve the problem of recognizing that there are systematic inequalities that still remain after slavery/colonization. No one is asking for anyone to take individual responsibility, rather asking for open-mindedness and a consciousness to different points of view.

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