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.
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.