The Netherlands is known to be a free — weed loving — country, where tolerance is a virtue everyone possesses. Where gay people who get married aren’t frowned upon; the Dutch truly believe that it’s in everyone’s right to be able to celebrate his or her love. Yes, we are but a small country, though great in many ways.
However, there is a downside. Because of all the greatness there is, we seem to have lost our ability to think critically. We have celebrated our freedom of speech to such an extent, we stopped wondering whether the things we say or express are hurting others. We are so full of ourselves, being the inhabitants of such a wholehearted country, that we never stop and wonder if all things are indeed bright and beautiful. And when someone tells us they’re not, boy do we get offended.
Some of the bigger issues we have been trying to tackle in the Netherlands are racism and discrimination. The subjects somehow spark such anger with the public, that when I use the term ‘white privilege’ I know up front that the ‘white’ and ‘privileged’ will get frantic with me. When I use the term ‘sexism’ I am told that as ‘a Moroccan muslim’ — I guess those are the only to boxes I fit in — I don’t have the right to criticize our great Dutch society; surely I am much more free in the West than I would have been living in, say, Saudi-Arabia? How’s that for sexism and racism all rolled into one? I should be grateful for the lesser evil. Even though I am a Dutch citizen — born and raised — I should be grateful for the freedom my own country has given me and stop bickering.
Well, I won’t.
Racism and discrimination are still very much alive in this country. We have buried our heads in the sand for far too many years, waiting for the issues to pass over. For far too many years women have agreed to not getting equal pay for equal work, thinking that some day the big boss will acknowledge their hard work and cough up extra pay. Children of immigrants have studied harder, worked more and sent out much more résumés, hoping and wishing that maybe this time someone in human resources won’t notice that the name stated is Mohammed or Fatima. We need to address these issues, head-on. Shying away will not make them disappear. Nobody will be handing out money out of free will, nor will people stop hiring their sons and their daughters, unless we make them.
I live in a country where a petition, called ‘Black Pete should stay’, is signed by almost half a million people. Where whoever tries to question Black Pete is made perpetrator instead of victim. Standing up against the racist Blackface figure, who is slave to Sinterklaas (our own little variation of Santa Claus), guarantees so much hatred, our Dutch ancestors, who were slave traders, surely would’ve been proud men.
But if trying to address these issues head-on only sparks more hatred and racism, instead of leading to an exchange of thoughts, after which we all go home as BFF’s and braid each others hair, what else is there left to do? If demanding equal pay for equal work or demanding equal treatment only leads to a greater gap, and more inequality, how can we close the gap?
I’d like to believe in what I call the Shonda Rhimes method .
As a screenwriter Shonda Rhimes is changing — or rather: correcting — our perception of blacks and people of color, by giving them another voice. For years they have been portrayed as the help or the thug. Rhimes is correcting our perception by having Olivia Pope — a black woman — lecture the president of the United States on his use of the word ‘bitch’. Rhimes is correcting our perspective by showing diversity among hospital-staff in Grey’s Anatomy and by using recent events — such as the shooting of the black man in Ferguson — to demonstrate how racial profiling is tearing up our communities.
I use the term ‘correcting’ because basically all Rhimes is doing is holding up a mirror and making us look into it. For far too many years have we been told that all doctors are white, that calling women our bitches is okay, that black people are essentially violent. If not they’re ignorant or rappers. Or if you’re Kanye West, you’re both.
While driving her BMW through Harlem, an African American woman from Long Island was recently pulled over by the police, on the accusation of being high on marijuana. Even though no weed was ever found, they impounded her car. So far, not so good, but what happened after is even worse. When she went to pick up her car and confronted the officers with the awful way she had been treated, she was allegedly forcibly cuffed, sedated and thrown in a hospital psych ward for 8 days. They labeled her ’emotionally disturbed’, because the woman had told them of her business career, and how Barack Obama follows her on Twitter (which his account does) in an effort to establish her creditability and sanity. But nobody believed her. Surely, a black woman working at Citibank or Astoria Bank is so unbelievable, she must have been delusional, right?
Living in a society where we spend most of our time staring at a screen, be it smartphone, iPad, laptop or television, having a show that reflects on modern society, like Scandal, is especially important. It may all be fiction, but slowly and surely, Rhimes is changing our views, by correcting our perspectives.
It’s a little paradoxical that we need fiction to learn to see the truth, but hell, if this is what it takes to change the worlds’ perspective on racism, discrimination and sexism, I’ll watch a dozen more episodes of Scandal.
Dit artikel verscheen eerder op The Huffington Post