Inadequate opposition – NRC


Question of conscience: if I had my say, would I rather be white, so blond or ruddy and nice and pale? There seem to be many benefits to it, see white privilege. But I don’t remember ever having that desire. I would have liked a bit more brown, just to be clear, in all respects.

I’ll get to it through the program Backlight, broadcast on Sunday evening by the NPO. Program maker Ikenna Azuike is of British-Nigerian descent: white mother, dark father. That has resulted in a brownish man. He starts a conversation with his own family about racism: his white girlfriend, two children, one lighter and more blond than the other. That looks vulnerable, especially if the son says he is ‘brown’, just like his father, while the sister is ‘white’. “I’m not that white,” she says in defense.

My heart breaks a little. Grown up in a family in which father and mother were called ‘native Dutch’ at one point, and sister and I were ‘immigrant’. Seemed sheer madness to me.

Azuike and girlfriend Mette’s idea is to arm the children against racism, but also to offer them a view of a ‘post-racist planet.’

And so the experts come into the picture, the poet / word artist, the computer scientist who believes that it will only work with Artificial Intelligence. And there is the ‘trauma midwife’ Camille Barton, who locates racism not only in language or actions, but especially in the body. Discomfort, sadness, anger, it’s not so much in the ears, but in the bones and muscles. She summarizes her approach resolutely: “For black people there is always the pain, and for white people it is about guilt and shame.”

These are stern strokes that paint the picture of racial discomfort. Especially the reduction from black to pain sounds plausible given the (pre) history of colonialism, slavery and racism, but after all it is just as crude a stereotype as the always happy, tap-dancing black.

It is an export image, intended for the ‘white’ outside world. It’s neat to say so. But who really believes that colored and black people only exchange ‘pain’ with each other. As if there is not the resilience, the inventiveness, the recognition and the fun. As if Jews were only crying.

Fifty years ago, the American ‘brown-skinned’ writer Albert Murray (his own words) put it this way: “There must be someone who explains what American ‘negroes’ like about being black, like about being American. ”

That dissent now sounds just about inappropriate.

Stephan Sanders writes a column at this place every Monday. This is his first contribution.

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