By Demi de Randamie
When I was ten years old, a schoolmate didn’t want to walk with me because of my skin colour. He was afraid my blackness would rub off on him.
When I was twelve years old, my teacher complimented me on how well I knew the Dutch national anthem. She was surprised that the coloured kid would take the time and energy to learn something that was meant for Dutchies.
When I was fourteen years old, my friend and I were walking in my hometown when an old man told us ‘‘don’t hurt me.’’ Without knowing who I was, he was afraid of me.
When I was sixteen years old, I was called out in class to explain ‘the black side’ of the Black Pete discussion. My teacher could not understand the impact this tradition has on people of colour.
When I was eighteen years old and came to Middelburg for the first time, my mom asked why so many people give me weird looks on the street. In restaurants, waiters would look at me to make sure I paid for my meals.
When I was twenty years old, I was called the N-word by a group of teenagers while doing my groceries.
These are just a handful of the experiences I have had to deal with due to my skin colour. I am ‘lucky’ enough to be born with light skin in a reasonably affluent family. Yet when I walk down the street, for some I am nothing more than a threat to society. I was born and raised in the Netherlands so I am Dutch. Though how am I supposed to identify as such when I have been consistently systemically called out as something different?
The problem with racism does not only lie in what you say to someone but what it does to someone. For the better half of my life, I have felt the need to prove to society that I am more than my background. As a young kid, every night I wished that I would wake up a white girl with blonde hair. From the age of twelve on, I started chemically straightening my hair in order to fit in. I stopped wearing gold jewelry, as I was afraid I would adhere to some stereotype. I dress the way I do to reflect my wealth. If I looked wealthy enough, perhaps people could finally look past my skin colour.
For years I did not speak up on the systematic oppression I, and many others, have faced throughout our lives. I did not want to be labeled as different. All I wanted, was to be seen as everyone else. I thought that acceptance would come through assimilation. It was in recent years that I have learned that I should not need to assimilate to be accepted. I should be accepted regardless of how similar I am to the average Dutch person. My skin colour and background are not the ones at fault. It is the collective imagination of society that is at fault.
Knowing my story, I ask you to do whatever you can to support the Black Lives Matter movement. I understand that not everyone currently has the means to go to a protest or speak their mind on social media. Something as small as signing a petition could support the movement.
If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self that it is okay to embrace my heritage. As hard as I tried, I could never be ‘white enough’ to be fully accepted. And after putting in so much effort to be seen as equal, perhaps I should stop looking in the mirror and instead hold it up to others.
Demi de Randamie, Class of 2021., is a Psychology and Sociology major (minoring in Statistics) from Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Image Credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/CA0rd8nh6fd/