Racism is dead

I’m about to have my job interview for a voluntary job at the local radio station in Harderwijk. I’m excited but also a bit nervous. What to expect? Is it gonna be very professional, is it gonna take up a lot of my time and who else is gonna be in the production team I am planning to start. Then I think to myself, why worry about all of this, first lets get this job interview over with. As I arrive at the studio and about to ring the bell, i quickly fix my hair and take a look in the window. Do I look presentable? Yes, I look ready. An old man opens the door and greets me by saying: “Hi! Are you Venny?”, a surprised look on his face. I reply, a little bit taken a back, “Yes that’s me!”, quickly putting back the smile on my face. The old man then continues, “oh.. After reading your motivation letter and talking on the phone we expected you to look a little bit, uhm, different..”. I did not really know what he was aiming at, was it my hair, my clothes, was I younger than expected? Then he explained himself. “Yes, we expected you to be more, uhm.. White.”. A nervous laugh follows. The next 10 seconds I just stand there, not really knowing how to reply. The man awkwardly continues, “Well, uhm, welcome at HarderwijkFM, please come in!”.

This conversation actually took place, and it is a seemingly harmless one but if you just pay a little more attention to the things the man says it actually is very insulting, on the verge of being racist. We live in a country claiming to be very open minded, accepting of one another and tolerant. A place without racism or at least not very much. I beg to differ. As a nineteen year old black girl in a predominantly white community I can assure you that racism is still a very big problem in the Netherlands. The majority of white Dutch people don’t even realize how some things they say or do might affect their fellow colored Dutchies in a negative way.

I saw a quote online saying; “The new racism is denying that there is any racism”, and that really got to me. Because I can very much relate to this. I know that there are people giving arguments stating that, color is not a problem anymore. If you work hard you’re gonna get there, and whether you’re black, white or purple shouldn’t and doesn’t matter. At least not anymore in this time and age but that is just not true, I’ve personally experienced it. My mom always told me: “I have to work not twice, but at least three times as hard for the things I want. One, I am a woman and two, maybe even more important. I am a woman of color.” That is not just an opinion, it is something that I have experienced and lived with throughout my life. The situation I just described to you, my job interview is a good example of this. Of course, the good man never intended to hurt me with the words he said and he might even have meant it as a compliment, but saying that I don’t sound like a black girl on the phone to me feels like the complete opposite. To me this sounds as if black girls don’t speak dutch very well, they are not very articulate and definitely not intelligent enough to write a good and coherent motivation letter. What he said could in my opinion also imply that if they would have known what I looked like they would not have invited me for an interview. They only invited me for that interview because they thought I was not black.

I am mature and confident enough to not let this get to me, in the end I aced the interview and I got the job. They loved the ideas I had for my own show and gave me a lot of responsibilities. This does not mean that things like that do not hurt me and I am not at all influenced by them, I just believe in myself. I know my strenghts and weaknesses and I know how to use them and the people interviewing me saw that. However, what kind of example set situations like this to younger people? My little sister who was at the time eight years old heard the conversation I had with my parents after the interview. In this conversation I explained what had happened. What if she from that moment on always would see herself as less worthy than her fellow white classmates? What if that would hold her back from achieving the things she is able to achieve? Doesn’t that concern you? It definitely concerns me. I really feel that we should act a lot more like the tolerant and open minded country that we claim to be.

People should think a lot more about what they say, and how they say it. Even though I know how hard it is to put yourself in the shoes of someone who lives with discrimination everyday, try to think of how what you are about to say would sound like when said to a white person. As a guideline you could use, if it sounds ridiculous it is probably not the best way to put it and you should find another way to convey your message.

To finish off I just want to say, denying the existence of racism doesn’t make it go away. That’s like a toddler trying to hide from their mom by putting their hands in front of their eyes. I cannot see her, so she must not be able to see me either. If you don’t see something it doesn’t mean it is not there, it merely means that you are in the wrong position to be able to see it.

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