Archives For Netherlands

A few weeks ago, I was at the Curacao courthouse to report on the sentencing of a Curacao-born Olympic athlete for the Netherlands who was arrested carrying cocaine while attempting to board a plane for Amsterdam. While waiting for his hearing, I sat on the wooden benches with other local journalists and watched as other cases were brought before the judge. One by one, the defendants, (all of whom were black men) were led into the room by their translators and lawyers (advocaten). My Dutch is still pretty pathetic, but I could make out that each of these men were answering for drug offenses. A Dutch journalist, who was kind enough to be my translator for the day, said, “This is pretty normal. And so many times its the black poor chaps that get caught. The white Dutch are also smuggling too.”

It is no secret internationally that Curacao is a hub for smuggling. There’s a healthy menu of trafficking options to choose from: cocaine, gold, humans, even counterfeit cigarettes. But what effects do these things have on the island itself?

Many of my friends tell me that cocaine here in Curacao is as cheap as it gets. “And its the good stuff,” they always say. I’ve heard stories of young Dutch interns who pick up cocaine habits, and frequent parties high as kites, grinding their teeth while they grind to the music. Walking down the street, one may see cholers, some of whom are drogadictos walking in a daze in the street. Unfortunately, sometimes these wandering drug addicts are subject to abuse and attacks by ill-intentioned souls. Plenty of times, I hear the stories of business owners and big men who have fallen prey to drugs. Usually the story starts like, “See that guy over there? He was/used to be/used to work at ____________ before the drugs set in blah blah blah.”

One of the major drug addiction rehab clinics in Curacao shut down earlier this year. How will people get help? That is, if they got help in the first place…

Another side effect to this whole drug business is the rise in violent crime. Talk to many people on the island and they say that the level of assaults (atrakos), shootings, and violence with weapons has risen drastically. While there could be other economic explanations for people turning to crime, many people blame the drug trade from Colombia and Venezuela. In the last few weeks, authorities have admitted to the existence of a gang war that has been resulting in reports of shootings and attacks quite frequently.

Let me not forget about alcohol. Drinking culture is heavy here in Curacao. As expected from a small island, there is not always much to do. Happy hours are big here. Every day there is a drinking time at some popular spot. While the happy hour life may be fun for a two week vacation, it can be too much for some living here. I know people who have gotten into serious accidents while driving intoxicated. My boyfriend tells me that numbers of Dutch people who come to Curacao pick up alcohol abuse problems and smoking habits.  One of the tour operators, the quirky “Mr. Goodlife” (more about that trip at another time) told me, “Yeah, many Dutch people cannot handle it here, you know? They come here and then gotta go back ‘cuz they pick up alcohol problems. Too much freedom here sometimes.”

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A year ago, I remember reading for the first time about the Dutch holiday tradition of Sinterklaas. I happened across the Slate article written by Jessica Olien, an American new to the Netherlands at the time, where she described her first encounter with Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Piet celebrations, which she calls “Holland’s favorite racist Christmastime tradition. She puts it pretty bluntly,

In Holland, Santa doesn’t have elves. He has slaves.

For those who do not know, Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of Santa Claus. But According to the background story, Sinterklaas is a Turkish bishop who arrives in Netherlands via steamship from Spain every late November. He is assisted by Zwarte Piet, or literally, “Black Pete”. Every year, hundreds of people dress up as Sinterklaas’ helpers by painting their faces black, coloring large red lips on their faces, and donning curly black afro wigs and gold hoop earrings.

Sinterklaas Arrives in Curacao in 2012. Photo by Karen Attiah

When I first heard about Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands, I was 2 parts shocked, 1 part disgusted, 1 part angry, and a dash of saddened to learn that such a stereotypical image of black people was not only allowed, but celebrated. Even the word “celebrated” doesn’t do it justice. Since coming to live in Curacao, I’ve learned just how ingrained Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet is to the collective Dutch culture. It is a huge children’s event. My Dutch friends tell me that growing up, most children believe Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet are real. There is a Sinterklaas news channel that documents his journey into the Netherlands. Famous Dutch national actors play the different Zwarte Piets. Every year Sinterklaas parades into a different city, greeted by thousands of families with eleborate ceremonies. Its like Santa Claus on steroids. All for the kids.

A toddler in a Zwarte Piet hat waits for Sinterklaas to arrive in Curacao. Photo by Karen Attiah

Even more peculiar to me, is the fact that here in Curacao, a former Dutch colony of mostly African descendants here in the Caribbean, celebrates Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet as well. I went to the Sinterklaas arrival this past weekend in Willemstad, and when I saw local black Curacaoans painting their own skin darker, their own lips redder and bigger and donning the Zwarte Piet costumes, I was equal parts surprised and confused.

Sinterklaas parades into Wilemstad Curacao, flanked by a helper playing “Zwarte Piet” dressed in blackface. Photo by Karen Attiah

The parade was HUGE. Well, as huge as a parade can get for a small island. Okay, the parade was island-sized huge. Hundreds of parents brought their young children out early Saturday morning to wait for Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Piets to arrive to Curacao. Kids were dressed up in Zwarte Piet hats.  And arrive he did. Curacao’s Sinterklaas was not on a white horse, but a pony led cart in the Brionplein area of Otrobanda, on the edge of Curacao’s famous harbor. The celebration was a bit like Christmas meets Carribean carnival. I have to admit, if I was a child, the celebration is a blast. Drumming Zwarte Piets performed on drums, while dancing Zwarte Piets entertained the crowd with acrobatics and choreography. Other Zwarte Piets toss out candy for the children, while Sinterklaas sits on his big throne on the stage and watches the show entertained by the Zwarte Piets and their acrobatic skills.  Young performers danced and sang to welcome Sinterklaas to Curacao. Here in Curacao, Sinterklaas is greeted by a mayor, and addresses the crowd in Papiamento.

Local Curacaoans don black facepaint and curly afro-wigs to play “Zwarte Piet” Photo by Karen Attiah

But how can an island that boasts a population of 85% African descendants celebrate a character that for many is reminiscent of the offensive minstrel shows of Black Sambo? How can parents line up every year to watch community play Sinterklaas’ goofy, mischievous helpers, who always screws up something with the presents, and requires an overseer Piet to to supervise the rest of them? How can Curacao, an island where many locals blame Dutch neo-colonialism and slavery for the island’s problems, still celebrate what many think to be one of the most racially insensitive traditions out there? It was eerie to feel like I was watching a 2012 Holiday Minstrel Show, in the Caribbean. Watching Zwarte Piets dance and be goofy while Sinterklaas runs the show reminds me of this clip from the Cotton and Chick Watts Blackface Comedy Routine from 1951. (Forward to the 2:45 mark)

I’ve had conversations with Dutch people here on the island about Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, and many of them cannot find anything wrong with it. In fact many have gotten downright angry and defensive at the suggestion that Zwarte Piet is a racist caricature for black people. Common responses:

There’s nothing offensive about it. Zwarte Piet isn’t black, he’s Moorish! ( Okay, that makes it all better if Zwarte Piet is a North African Muslim.)

Children love Zwarte Piet! It’s not like we hate him or looked down upon. All the kids want to be like Zwarte Piet. They are a little more afraid of Sinterklaas. Do you want to ruin the children’s fun? (Using children to justify maintaining Zwarte Piet is the most common. But it is the adults who create the tradition and perpetuate it, right?)

Zwarte Piet isn’t a slave, he’s a helper! It is not a race thing. (If he is just a helper, does it matter what color he is? Why is he black? *Note* Holland tried to introduce non-black Piets in the past, using other colors. People did not receive it too well and that was the first and last time they used colored Piets)

Zwarte Piet is black because he got dirty from falling down the chimney, not because he is black! (Then why aren’t his clothes dirty? And why is Zwarte Piete’s hair always a black and curly Afro wig? Did the chimney change Zwarte Piet’s hair? Did it make his lips bigger and redder too?)

It can’t be racist. Black people and locals here in Curacao paint their faces blacker too. And they sometimes they paint their skin whiter to play Sinterklaas! (Doesn’t make it okay.

Americans are just too sensitive! You have no right as an outsider to judge our traditions if you don’t know the story. And if 95% of the Dutch population sees that there is nothing wrong with Zwarte Piet, then who cares what the other 5% say. Don’t Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and the slaughter of Indians? That’s worse than Zwarte Piet! (Usually if the conversation has come to this point,  it signifies the end of the hope of a productive dialogue.)

Zwarte Piet Enthusiasts in Curacao for the arrival of Sinterklaas. Photo by Karen Attiah

Zwarte Piet would never happen in the States, my friends say. Others ask how it is possible for Curacaoans to also celebrate a character that is so demeaning to black people, while at the same time claiming that they desire to be free of Holland and its neo-colonial attitudes towards its former colonies.

I asked a local Curacaoan blogger Jermain Ostiana, about the Sinterklaas celebrations. He been quite vocal on Twitter about what he calls the “coonfest” that is the Zwarte Piet celebration here in Curacao. He told me that last year, the only form of protest against Zwarte Piet was a banner hung on the walls of Fort Amsterdam. “Nobody is going to risk sticking their necks out here, its sad but true here.”

Curacao is the same island where the controversial Dutch comedy “Only Decent People” that depicts Surinamese women, as loud, fat, oversexed, ghetto welfare queens opened to crowds. The producer of the film offered free tickets to large dark skinned women here in Curacao. And people bought in. This is also the same island where little media attention has been paid to the fact that a major motion picture about Tula, the slave who led Curacao’s biggest revolt in 1795 is currently being filmed here. This is also the same island where on the 2 year anniversary of Curacao’s autonomy from Holland on October 10th, which was a national holiday (Dia di Pais), there were basically no celebrations.

Could it be that social, political and cultural apathy has allowed the Zwarte Piet caricature to thrive here in Curacao? I hope that is not the case.

Yes, Zwarte Piet is colored black. But it is more than just the skin color. The black curly hair, oversized red lips, and goofy character is not unique to “Dutch tradition”, but rather were/are common mockingly stereotypical images for dark skinned people that have appeared in various narratives for children, from Herge’s The Adventures of TinTin comic books in Belgium in the 1930s, “Black Sambo” in Britain in the late 1800s, and Jim Crow and the various minstrel shows in the Americas. The reason why Zwarte Piet resonates with “outsiders” or alloctoons is because they have seen Zwarte Piet before. We have seen the exact same character to represent non-white people in other historical narratives. Zwarte Piet actually is nothing new. In most other places, that character has been recognized to be a relic of a racist time long gone by (or so we think) and is no longer in use in public. Why Zwarte has been fiercely guarded and protected by people living in the Kingdom of the Netherlands to this day in the name of “tradition” baffles many people.

A Zwarte Piet In Curacao. Photo by Karen Attiah

 

, I spotted this costumed bike rider around Fort Amsterdam. I couldn’t see his face, as it was covered by a mask under an elaborate headress, but he had protest flags adorning his bike. My friends tell me “he” or at least his character, has been around for years. Who is he and what is he doing? Anyone know?

My sunny rock of a new home may be hurricane free right now, but I cannot help but feel I am going through a bit of personal turbulence, both culturally and intellectually one month into my time here in Curacao.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to spend more time in Curacao was the fact that I fell in love with the mix of different nationalities and cultures here on the island. Before I came to live here, I had a rosy idea that Curacao was one big tropical United Colors of Benneton world of diversity. Realistically, I knew that the racially situation couldn’t be totally harmonious because of Curacao’s historical role in the Dutch slave trade. But hey, I thought, it looks like people are doing the best they can to co-exist.

However, the recent parliamentary elections in Curacao have brought a lot of racial and cultural tension to the surface. Long story short, Curacao’s parliamentary election gave the people of Curacao a choice to vote on the parties who either side with maintaining ties with Holland or calling for the independence of Curacao from Holland. I had the chance to report on the elections here and got the opportunity to speak with locals about their views.

Many Dutch people and other immigrants are upset with the victory of the political party Pueblo Soberano under the leadership of the controversial Helman Wiels. Wiels is largely seen to be anti-immigrant. He has been quoted in the past as saying that Dutch people should go home, and depending on who you ask, Wiels allegedly said that the Dutch should “go home in body bags”.  Conversely, ask Dutch people about what they think about Curacao, and they often say that the locals are ignorant,  are not thinking about their future and that “Curacao will become the next Haiti” without the help of Dutch people. I had one Dutch guy tell me, “I don’t know what is wrong with black people. They don’t know how to think about the future.”

I’ve heard “jokes” before here about how it would be better if local people here just went back to being slaves and the Dutch were masters again. Yeah. Really.

It is so clear that racial tensions are a real problem here in Curacao. Yet, when I have talk about racism and discrimination against people of color all over the world to Dutch people here, they are quick to blame those who are offended as “being overly sensitive”, and that there’s something “in your head to make you see a problem when there is none.”

I’m not surprised. I remember when articles came out last year about Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet (Sinterklaas is like the Dutch version of Santa Claus and Zwarte Piete, or Black Pete, is his helper who usually appears in what resembles a blackface costume), and the Dutch magazine Jackie using the word “niggabitch” to describe a sort of “ghetto style”  Dutch commenters on the internet were quick to defend the practices by accusing Americans of being overly racially sensitive and politically correct. I’ve had some people tell me, “ugh you Americans, you guys are the ones with the race problem, not us. “

I don’t know how to react in these situations. I’ve never before been in societal circles where people refuse to think critically about history or global power structures. I’ve never been before in situations where the burden of proof is on me to somehow prove racism still exists outside of my own black American head. The United States is by no means a post-racial paradise, but the times when I’ve engaged with people here on issues of racial and cultural discrimination, their responses make me think I’m back in the 1700s.

My response options are limited. I can: 1) Ignore them. 2) Engage them and hope to encourage people to think a little more critically. 3) Change the subject. 4) Get upset.  Three out of the four options usually are not particularly effective. Engaging people without getting emotionally frustrated about issues of race based power asymmetries is a tough task.

I have a friend on the island who was born in Curacao but is of Surinamese descent.  She lived in Holland for some time before returning to Curacao. We discussed these problems over drinks. “You just have to develop a thick skin,” she said.  “If you get emotional, you play into their stereotype of being the ‘emotional ethnic person’. So just try to tell them the basics…for them to try to imagine being in someone else’s shoes other than their own. You have to tell them to stop for a second and think about what they are saying and why they are saying it.”

The reason why I think Curacao is fascinating is the same reason why I think New York City is fascinating; worlds within worlds of cultures sharing a small piece of geography.

But I cannot help but feel something about this place sometimes. It feels as if Curacao is not free—emotionally, spiritually, economically, and financially—from its colonial past. As there are hidden wounds within all the communities masked by words unsaid, and dialogues avoided through socially constructed taboos on both sides about talking about race. I don’t agree with internal hierarchies and discrimination among locals based on who is Yu di Korsou, or a true Curaceleno….but that is a post for another time.

I do find myself missing the States lately, its openness, its freedoms in some senses. For now, I’ll take the edge off of my homesickness for New York by watching Sex and the City episodes.

My house was too hot and the mosquitoes too pesky for me to stay inside and work a few days ago. So I decided to take my stuff and walk to Pampus Cafe in Punda for the wi-fi, the cool breeze from the inlet bay, and a drink. But on my way, I decided to stray from my usual route. I wandered into the public library just to check it out.

It shouldn’t surprise me that Curacao has a library, I know. During my last experience living abroad in Ghana, there were few ways to get books other than going to the university, or going to the bookstore at Accra Mall. But public libraries? Not that I remember.

I’m glad I wandered into the library, because at least now I know where I can read local Dutch and Papiamento newspapers for free. My Dutch and Papiamento skills are at about -124% currently, so my definition of “read” is looking for words that look like English or Spanish and and look at the pictures. Hey, it’s better than nuthin.’

Luckily for me, I got a B in my Intermediate II graduate Spanish class last year  am more or less (slight emphasis on less) proficient in Spanish, so I was able to read the local spanish language newspaper, El Periodico.

Curacao is facing Parliamentary elections ten days from today. The battles between the political parties, individual politicians, and party supporters have been dominating the news coverage here on the island. One interview with Anthony Goddett, leader of the political party Frente Obrero (FOL) caught my attention.

Curacao is a small island that hosts around 50 different nationalities. Whereas a large percentage of Curacalenos are of African descent, significant numbers of inhabitants are migrants from, or descendants of immigrants from South America and other Spanish-speaking countries. A topic that I keep running into on the island concerns the treatment of immigrants on the island, many of whom say they are subject to discrimination here. El Periodico describes the Oct. 19th elections for immigrants to ” have in the vote the opportunity to exercise their legitimate rights and choose authorities who will take into consideration their needs.”

In response to a question about why foreigners and Latinos in general should support FOL, leader Anthony Goddett, said (translation):

Everyone who resides in Curacao deserves the same treatment. Everyone contributes to the wellbeing and economy of Curacao. Being born to parents from Curacao, or foreign parents, or immigrants, each one that resides on the island and respects its laws, the opportunities and protections should be equal for all.

Now, FOL does not appear to be one of the frontrunning parties in the elections, but I’ve heard over and over again about the fact that there is discrimination against foreign immigrants on the island. From chats with Jamaicans, Haitians and other immigrants, I’ve learned that difficulties for them include not getting work permits, low pay, and ostracism from locals. Of course this is not 100% of the locals. One of the politicians here, Helman Wiels, leader of the party Pueblo Soberano (PS), has come under fire for what is taken to be his anti-foreigner ideologies. “No, no, no, we Haitians can’t support PS”, a Haitian construction worker told me yesterday. “He doesn’t want extranjeros here in Curacao.”

For a nation that draws so much of its intrigue from its history of the intermixing of peoples, one can only hope that tolerances will prevail.

Sidenote: The library also had kiosks where people could come in and learn about the voting process and the platforms of the different parties.

This is my second week here in Curacao, and I’m glad to report that things have been going pretty well so far. This go-round is actually my fourth time to come to the island this year. In the beginning, for the first few days, I was definitely in vacation mode. Sleeping, eating, playing with my 8 year old neighbor, and some beaching were all I wanted to do in order to de-tox the New York from my system. After a few days, however, it began to set in that I needed to switch off from vacation mode and turn to “I-actually-live-here-and-need-to-get-a-job” mode. And living here has been, and will prove to be, an interesting experience.

By the Fisherman’s Wharf in Wllemstad

I come to Curacao as an outsider in so many ways. Linguistically, I don’t speak much Dutch and I don’t speak Papamiento (the local language of Curacao, which is a mix of Dutch, Spanish, English and Portuguese). I can definitely get by in English here, but my inability to speak Dutch and Papiamento makes me feel like I have to contend with a double language barrier here. Despite the assurances of both Dutch and locals that English is sufficient to survive and get a job on the island, I suppose I’m looking to do more than just “survive” here. Most Dutch people speak English, and many are kind enough to switch their conversations to English when I am around, but I do admit I’m conscious of the fact that they are switching to accommodate me. But I am lucky that my Dutch boyfriend and his circle of friends have done an amazing job of making me feel welcome and have agreed to speak “Dinglish” to me so that I can start speaking nederlands little by little.

Culturally, I admit I had never really met a Dutch person before coming to Curacao this year. My experience with the Netherlands had be limited to countless KLM layovers at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport en-route to Ghana. I have probably been to Amsterdam   Schipol near a dozen times by now, but I was never adventurous enough to go explore the city. So oddly enough, my time in Curacao has been my introduction to Dutch culture, Caribbean-style. They love potatoes, mayonnaise on their french fries, being tall, efficiency, honesty, being VERY punctual, and cheese. Not necessarily in that order, of course. It is clear though, that there is a separation between the Dutch community and the local community. More on that later.

Curacao does not have a huge diaspora to the United States, so being here is the first time that I have been introduced to their culture. This is my first time really learning about Caribbean culture in general. That week long Carnival Cruise my family and I took to the Carribean when I was about 10 or so hardly counts as real “experience” in the Caribbean. I find the Caribbean to be under-reported in America, and even more so the Dutch Caribbean.

Now, there is of course the question of how I interact with the local people here. Even the words “local” vs. “native” is tricky. There are Dutch Europeans whose families have been here for generations. There are people from Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, and Jamaica. The question of who is a yu di Korsou, (literally means a “child of Curacao” in Papamiento), or a true Curacaoan, is a bit of tricky question of identity.  Because really, the way I see it, whether they are the descendants of the African slaves brought by the Dutch, recent migrants from South America or other Caribbean islands, everyone here is from somewhere else. (The actual native Amerindian tribes that were on Curacao either migrated out, or were subdued by Europeans). For the most part, I see “local” as referring to non-white European inhabitants of the island. Despite my dark skin, people can immediately tell I’m foreign. Most people assume that I’m Jamaican. I don’t know why. It is true that not as many Americans visit the island. Maybe for people here, “English-speaking black foreigner” = Jamaican.

It’s difficult for me move between local and Dutch worlds here in Curacao. Despite the incredible diversity of peoples here in Curacao, there is a serious lack of interaction between the Dutch communities and non-white locals in my opinion. Lack of interaction contributes to a near absence of integration. The capital city of Willemstad is divided into two parts separated by the large natural harbor. One side is the Dutch side, of Punda, and Otrobanda, (which literally means “other side”) is where the locals live. There are Dutch friends of mine who have been here for years and cannot speak Papamiento, and who can count the number of local friends they have on one hand. I hear Dutch people saying that the locals are lazy, not professional, never on time, aren’t educated, and are ignorant of the world outside tiny Curacao. There is also a sentiment that anti-Dutch sentiment has increased on the island in last few years, and some say they are even afraid, as a white person, to go to certain areas. (Granted, I normally ask what they are afraid of, exactly. Well, of being attacked! “Really? Have there been reports of racially motivated attacks on Dutch people or something?” No. Not really. So then where is the fear coming from? I don’t know, that’s just what people say! The locals don’t like us and don’t want us here!) I’ve heard too many times, “They (locals) and their culture is just too different from ours. We cannot mix well, so we stay apart.”

Talking with some locals, of course there is the perspective that the Dutch people are arrogant, condescending, and racist. Locals here are accurately aware that numbers of Dutch people (as well as politicians in the Netherlands) see Curacao as a backwards banana republic headed by incompetent and corrupt politicians. Of course, not every Dutch person feels that way, and many live here and love the way of life and the culture. But locals seem to feel that the Dutch come here to make their money and live their island paradise lives without making any attempt to contribute to the long term human development of the locals on the island. There is a sense among locals that the Dutch refuse to acknowledge or recognize the economic and human exploitation of the past, and that those past exploitations and dependencies were, and still are, systemic. But there is a sense of increasing nationalism and an attempt to assert a Curacaoan identity apart from the Dutch that is here.

“Stop Dutch Apartheid” stickers in Willemstad.

Being black outsider isn’t such a bad thing.  As an outsider to both the locals and the Dutch, I suppose I take a bit of an observer role. But its almost like I can physically feel a deep rooted mistrust and tension between Dutch and local populations here. To me, it is obvious that there is a lack of cultural and physical spaces for meaningful discourse and dialogue between the Dutch and local people. It’s incredible, and a bit tragic that such hostilities and resentment can exist on such a small island, and judging from the impending elections here in Curacao, it is possible that things could get worse.

I will say, that many people find me to be interesting. Again, not many Americans come here, and I think that people, both local and Dutch, appreciate that I took such a risk to come here and learn about the island and about cultures totally different from mine. Plenty have told me that they are interested in my perspective as a non-Dutch and a non-local. I will definitely continue to share my thoughts here so, watch this space!

So far, so good in Curacao!

Ex-Curacao Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte left the government offices of Fort Amsterdam Sunday night after locking himself inside as a protest to an interim cabinet being formed 3 weeks out until elections. He and his party, the MFK, paraded around Salina area, before arriving at a press conference to address his followers.

While the international press reported Schotte’s statements that the situation in Curacao amounted to a “coup d’etat”, the streets of Willemstad were largely quiet yesterday, and this reporter would estimate that perhaps only 100 people rallied around Schotte and attended the press conference.

Former Prime Minister of Curacao Gerritt Schotte Addresses Press Conference. Photo by Karen Attiah

After a self imposed lockdown in government headquarters in Willemstad, the former Prime Minister of Curacao Gerrit Schotte of the Curacao Future Movement (MFK) party returned to his party’s offices in the Salina area to address his party supporters. Schotte has been quoted by the international media as saying that the formation of an interim government less than three weeks to the Curacao parliamentary is nothing less than a “coup d’etat”.

In an exclusive interview “As the Prime Minister of Curacao I was in the Fort {Amsterdam]  for the last two days. There was an interim cabinet that was installed on Saturday in a non-constitutional way. We were in the government palace since saturday and we left tonight.”

Schotte and other members of his party held a press conference to address their grievances against the current government, over garcinia cambogia extract tea, including alleging that members of his senate were offered bribes. Before arriving to the press conference, Schotte paraded around the Salina area with local party supporters clad in all white, complete with chants, party songs, banners and honking horns.

Schotte still believes that what the government has done amounts to a coup d’etat. “When you bend all the rules– constitutional rules that exist, to gain power, government power, that is a coup d’etat. Its twenty days before elections, there’s no reason to put an interim cabinet. That cabinet agenda is obviously to try to change the situation–the polls. Everything indicates that this government has gained more support, and more confidence”.

Despite Schotte’s claims in the media that he was the victim of a bloodless coup, the scenes at Fort Amsterdam, MFK headquarters, and in the streets of Willemstad were largely quiet Sunday afternoon into evening. Business, which is mostly tourism, was going on as usual. The MFK press conference, was attended by at most ninety people people. Local Curacaoan blogger and journalist Jermain Ostiana (@Sablikatriumph) remarked on Twitter: “Declaring “coup” to int. press but you can’t mobilize 500 supporters to protest is why ppl don’t take MFK MAN [Schotte] serious.”

On August 3rd, Schotte dissolved his cabinet and called for the early elections to be held October 19th.

Schotte says that his plans for the next two weeks include massive movements on the streets and neighborhoods and to consolidate the “sympathy” for MFK. He plans to go caravan at least two neighborhoods everyday in Curacao for the next weeks. Schotte says that social media plays a large role in his campaigning. “We are innovative, and that is the way we govern. In 2010 when I created the MFK seven weeks before the election date, social media was one of the tools I used. I think today I am one of the only politicians that is on Instagram. We have applications specially made for our Facebook fan page. We have several apps, and Tweet gadgets that are integrated in our system. The penetration of internet in Curacao is over 50% so it is a great way to reach voters.” Schotte also said that his campaign team uses BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to reach thousands of of potential voters.

MFK Supporters Parade in Curacao. Photo By Karen Attiah

Bon Dia, Curacao!

September 24, 2012 — 1 Comment

Bon dia, from Willemstad, Curaçao! After flight delays and missed connections, my overweight luggage and I arrived safe and sort of sound last Thursday night at Hato International Airport.

I’ve taken the last few days to relax and flush out the stress of the last few months years days of New York. I was treated by my boyfriend to flowers, gifts, and a surprise midnight sail with his friends around the Spanish Water near Caracasbaai as my “Welcome Home” weekend. I’m a lucky, lucky girl. 🙂

“Welcome Home” flowers 🙂

It’s going to take some time for the fact that I just moved to a new country to sink in. I thought that updating my Facebook “Current City” would speed up the process, but that didn’t quite work. I mean, if you officially register with the national immigration as a citizen of a new country update your new city on Facebook, it makes it official, right?

Its Facebook Official: I’m an Antillean!

I’m looking forward to exploring the island, and getting familiarized with the politics of the upcoming elections. I’m beginning the hunt for some gigs on the island in order to line my pockets with some Antillean guilders.

A couple things that I have gleaned from conversations over the past few days about Curaçao:

  • Curaçao is apparently entering its first elections since becoming “autonomous” from The Netherlands with €200 Million over its national budget. The speculation is that the politicians of this small, but relatively wealthy island of less than 200,000 people( I heard Curaçao actually supplies oil to neighboring countries of Aruba and Bonaire, yet gas prices are quite high here) have been stealing the country’s resources.
  • Despite being politically autonomous, Curaçao is not economically independent, as its national budget is subject to approval by the Netherlands.
  • There are populations of Haitian, Jamaican, and Dominican immigrants who move to Curaçao for low wage work. But from what I hear, life is not so easy for them, especially the ones that move here illegally.
  • Some of my Dutch friends feel that there has been a sharp rise in anti-Dutch, and anti-foreigner sentiment as the elections draw nearer in October. Of course, I’m sure that that is only half the story when it comes to the social and cultural relations on the island.

I’m looking forward to meeting and interviewing more people of different backgrounds on the island. Stay tuned!

Karen

Boy, oh boy!

Now that finals are over, maybe time for a little less international-development- grad-school-angst ridden posts and more “normal” posts.

Two days ago, the Twitterverse was aflame with reports about Jackie, a Dutch fashion magazine deciding to print an article that called U.S. hip-hop star Rihanna “The Ultimate Niggabitch” :

I don’t speak Dutch, but FashionBombDaily adds that the article goes on to call Barbados-born Rihanna “Jamaican” and that she displays her “ghetto ass” gladly, and for her that means, “whats on can come off”.

A Twitter friend of mine @DrGoddess, caught on to the article, and tweeted the name of Jackie’s editor Eva Hoeke, @Evajackie to Miss Rihanna herself. Ms. Fenty was none too pleased, and went off the top rope on the editor from her personal Twitter account with 10 million followers:

Yours truly also went on a Twitter rant on this nonsense that was picked up by the editor of Ebony, @amydbarnett among other sites such as GlobalGrind and Hollywood Reporter. Many others were upset by further by @EvaJackie’s attitude on Twitter, referring to the whole incident as “just a joke” , and loosely translated (Thank you Google Translate) as saying: “Learned two things yesterday: Dont put bad jokes on the cover page…sorry guys, my bad”.

Gee. If that isn’t a sincere apology, I don’t know what is.

Yesterday, the Jackie Magazine Facebook page issued this:

And lo and behold, today, Eva Hoeke announced her resignation from Jackie Magazine due to social media backlash. The statement says,

“Throughout the various social media there has been an emotional response to this choice of words, as published in Jackie..Through social media Hoeke was taunted and threatened in various ways.Following these events she consulted with publisher Yves Gijrath of GMG. Together they came to the following conclusion: In the interest of Jackie Magazine and all involved she will quit her job as editor-in-chief effective immediately. Hoeke states: ‘I realize that my first reaction through Twitter, in which I indicated that it was a joke, has been an incomplete misrepresentation what me, and also the author of the article, meant. The term ‘niggabitch’ came from America and all we did was describing a style of dress. Because of the enormous pressure through social media I was enticed to promise amendment regarding the linguistic usage in future issues of Jackie.( You can read the full statement and comments here).

Whew! So there is a lot to unpack in all of this.

First of all, this is an excellent case study in the field of media, globalization, and racial representation. While many people are angry, (and rightly so, I might add), plenty of comments I have seen from both Dutch users and African American users alike blame Rihanna and hip-hop music in general for this happening.  They say (in a nutshell), “Well, black people use the n-word and the word “bitch” in hip hop music! So what do they expect when other people start to use  it? From @DrGodess ‘s site:

In a global age where music and culture flow back and forth between time zones, languages, and continents via social media platforms and international record companies, it is naive to think that American content and culture will be received in the same way every where. Through my travels, I’ve come to question before if Americans at home realize the way that rap music (in particular) affects the way black women are seen around the world, as nameless sexual jezebels who “shake their Netherlands” for any Johnny Come Lately who’s got a couple of dollars (or Euros) in his pockets. Is questioning Rihanna’s lyrics amounting to “blaming the victim?” Or does this incident call for another domestic referendum on the “N-word” in hip hop? Shall I get my shovel and crusade for reburying the N word, NAACP-style?

On the other side, to many American onlookers, the Dutch response to the Jackie/Rihanna incident, as well their response US criticism of the “blackface” holiday tradition of Zwarte Piet (literally ‘Black Pete’) has been quite telling. Many responses to both incidents from users from the Netherlands has been to quickly deny that there is any hint of racism in their culture, and anyone hinting at such is ignorant of Dutch culture, or trying to impose the American context of racism onto them. (Look at the comments on the Zwarte Piet piece…many Dutch commenters are crying hypocrisy, telling the US users to go and get rid of Thanksgiving before we can say anything about Sinterklaas and his helper, Zwarte Piet).  It does not appear that there is a willingness to have a healthy discussion on race in these threads from our friends i the Netherlands.

I know the typical trajectory of these stories. 1) Person/media outlet/company says/does perceived as really racist. 2) Black folk react via social media and call for action. 3) Action taken by person/media outlet/company to rectify 4) Black folk accused of “herd mentality” and being “emotional” and “overreacting”.

Here is the deal. Yes, the editor of Jackie Magazine was basically on the receiving end of an lighting-fast Twitter take-down of epic proportions. But does that mean that all black people wanted was for heads to roll? No, it is way more than that.

This is about black women using their voices via blogs and social social media to say, “This is not how we are to be represented in 2011!” And we have every right to do so. There was a time when black women could not challenge demeaning, insensitive and oppressive characterizations.

This is not about individual bigotry. Individual bigotry is often a symptom of socially learned symbols, histories, and systems. Let’s be real. That article with the words “Niggabitch” was read through, copy edited, and checked by multiple people at Jackie Magazine. The fact that this was passed through many hands at a magazine then sent to publication says a lot about the institution and the acceptability of such language.

This is about “Clash of Civilizations”-meets-Twitter-meets Pop Culture. There is s sense of defensiveness against among many Dutch commenters I see on the sites responding to these issues. One maybe could note a reluctance to discuss race and racism publicly, in favor of a kneejerk reaction to say, “We don’t see race in Dutch culture”. We know about the Dutch’s brutal history with slavery in Africa and the Caribbean. We all know about the issues Europe is having as a whole with immigration and the failed notion of multiculturalism.

I would say, perhaps this is a good time for our friends in Netherlands to think about how they approach race in their culture. Just a suggestion. We Americans, and black Americans at that, know we have our issues too. At least we admit it, for the most part. While the rise of global media flows carries many possibilities it does not mean that we necessarily have a deeper understanding of each other’s cultures, histories, symbols and traditions. Let’s talk it out, even if it is painful!

Without the use of the word n*ggabitch, preferably.