Like every teenager, I dealt with my fair share of exam stress, wardrobe panic, gossip talk, body changes and all of the typical school insecurities. But other than that I was a very happy kid and had not much to worry about. One thing always did bother me though. And it never really faded. On the contrary, it still bothers me today and even angers me greatly from time to time. And I feel it’s time I open up and start to act on it.
I am born half Dutch, half Greek. Many of you know this because I once told you. But you wouldn’t know if I didn’t. Because apart from the brown eyes, brown hair and the amazing bronzing capabilities of my skin, I look just like my fellow white Dutchies. I now know that this ‘look’ has made my life a lot easier. Sure you work hard to reach your goals, but my life would have been very different and a lot harder if I was half African and my skin was black.
When I was still in middle school I was introduced to this dark truth. My class combined more races than a G20 summit and I had a bunch of friends whom I hung out with that didn’t share my white look. I remember we would go to the supermarket during lunch break and I would hear other people (grown-ups) whisper insults, point fingers and even swear at my classmates or deliberately push them. They didn’t do anything wrong or said a single bad word. I was 13 years old and shocked and confused.
Fast forward to University. I was conducting my graduate research at a foundation organizing Hip-hop events. I love Hip-hop and grew up rapping along with J5, Talib, KRS and Dilated Peoples. Many of the people I worked with, including the artists, were black or looked like what the media depicted as the face of a typical suicide bomber. Walking through town together I couldn’t help but notice people avoiding our paths and tightly holding their bags. My friends looked like they didn’t see it but were probably pretending. It made me feel sick and strangely ignorant.
Today. I have the amazing pleasure to still be surrounded by and work with extremely talented artists, musicians, and inspiring people. Almost all of them showing the world a beautiful dark skin color. The only difference with back in the days and now is that many of them became a public figure and are popular by demand. And somehow that changes the ‘rules’. They are praised and applauded, role models and award winners. But when the night falls and we walk to our car after a show, and security is closing down the building and doesn’t recognize the guy who just sold out the venue, we still hear the whispers: ‘maybe he doesn’t carry a guitar but there is a gun in his guitar case’.
I am privileged. And I’m fed up and angry about the fact that my friends are not and have to deal with shit like this on a daily basis. To this day I regret not standing up to those security guards. I shouldn’t have listened to my friends who were careful to not rock the boat or make a fuzz and asked me to let it go. We do not just need to acknowledge that we are privileged. If we want change we need to actively make an effort to support change. So I’m making a promise to myself that I will call out on supermarket whispers, I will confront people that show disrespect and misunderstanding and I will ask what exactly scares them and show and tell them that it’s an illusion we are maintaining ourselves through these bad behaviors.
I am not just taking a knee, I will not be silent and I will make an effort.
This piece was inspired by a powerful article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson. Read it here: My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to Explain White Privilege. I Decided to Be Honest.
Photo by Tyler Gebhart on Unsplash.com