Before passing judgement, ask!
I am not really sure how to start this message. Every time I think about it, I realise I am no direct victim, I live a pretty privileged life, and I have much to be grateful about.
Yet yesterday, something apparent took place. On Monday, the first of June, I felt a deep calling inside me. As someone of colour and as someone who has experienced racism in both subtle and explicit manners, there was something about this protest against black violence that hit a deeper nerve. It was about standing up for not only black lives, but about all beings that have felt some form of discrimination. And while these times are challenging ones, there is also this theme that has always needed attention. The number of people that have died because of discrimination can’t even be counted. The calling started to remind of me of all the times I have felt the negativity and have been looked at differently. The pain I felt each time I was discriminated and wondering why it is I am looked at differently than those around me? Why is it that purely because of my skin, features, beard, I am given a different look?
Before going to the protest, I felt mixed. So many people, gathering together, in a time that we should be practising safe distance. Should I go at all? Isn’t it too much? Am I not putting myself and others in harm’s way?
Yet just last Friday, I was in the Oosterpark (East park of Amsterdam), where the crowd was so jam-packed, I felt like I was at a festival. The masses were playing music, having drinks, and even an immense cheer when the police came round. There were no objections, nor was there any disdain. Then on Sunday, there was a gathering between friends, of which I was a part of too, that felt like a regular Sunday afternoon. On Monday the terraces and restaurants opened, and they were packed as well. Sure, there may have been some distance between tables. Still, on many occasions, I saw table sizes of more than twenty people shoulder to shoulder. Not only did I have no objections against this, I felt relieved that things were loosening up again. And this all because we are following national rules, the “intelligent lockdown” has indeed flattened the curve. Following the manner of spread, I keep my necessary distance and in all means try not to be a danger to those that are in the risk category.
I decided to go to the protest, as I felt that I should. I can’t rationalise it. A few friends already said something about going, and something inside me couldn’t ignore it neither. We put on masks and strolled towards the crowd. It was pretty busy, yet there was space. Space to walk and move freely. There was no jamming of people, just people standing freely amongst the area. I can’t say precisely how many people were wearing masks, but I know it was more than I saw on the terraces in terms of percentage. But this wasn’t about the safety precautions people were taking, this was more about why we gathered.
I remember walking towards the Dam square with one sign saying
“Silence is violence.”
I read these words now, and they strike me to my core. The reason is that I too often have been silent. And in my not speaking, I let happen what I know shouldn’t. When the first woman spoke, she said: “This has been going on for years, and it needs to stop”. I felt both victim and perpetrator. Victim because I could relate, perpetrator, because I often let it happen.
I remember shortly after 9–11, when I was 18 years old, walking through the city centre and the looks people would give me. People of colour may be able to relate. I remember being asked, many times over “why do you hate westerners?”. Why is that each time there is a shooting, killing or some form of violence, I am crossing my fingers hoping it is not a person of colour? As I know, I then will be looked at differently from that instant. It was only a short while ago, when I sat on a busy train next to a lady, and the first thing she did was ‘protect’ her bag from me in a way that was much too obvious. Having sat down, and noticing her lack of ease, I felt I needed to show her that I wished to do her no harm, or I am ‘not like that’. When I took out my MacBook Pro to do some work, I noticed her whole body relax. Now I can be convinced that I am being paranoid and it wasn’t so, but this wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. Now, this kind of reaction and behaviour is something I have come to accept. I know there is a mass media programming, one I am a part of, that creates the stereotype of darker skin colour to be associated with negativity.
Yesterday, one of the first words I got when people heard I went to the protest is “how could you bring everyone here in danger by doing something so reckless?” I was stumped. I wasn’t asked why I went? Or what it is was like? It wasn’t just one person, it was many. Another sentiment was “This is a fuck you to those that have died because of Covid-19”. Ouch. I do not regret my actions, I know that ‘not’ standing up for this cause, felt like a fuck you to all those that have experienced some form of discrimination, and especially have died because of it. I felt very alone, and I realised I was alienated because of what I did. At that moment I doubted too whether or not I made the right decision. Perhaps I never should have gone, and I wouldn’t be getting so much shit for it. And yet, I know I stood behind why I did go.
As I said, I don’t feel like a direct victim, yet I have been one. I am coloured, come from a different background, and live in the Netherlands. I love the people in my life and am grateful for our connection, nothing will take that away. I only want to make sure that there is some realisation of what I am going through is through a different lens than those of white heritage and background. Even now, I try using these words delicately as I don’t want to put myself down as a martyr, nor putting others down as evildoers. Awareness starts with being open to the suggestion that the truth you know may not be the same truth of someone else’s.
The only thing I invite you to do is to ask. Before passing judgement, and making things about right and wrong, or having seen pictures of a protest and putting those thousands of people aside, and seeing them as wrong do’ ers, ask. Ask why? Don’t just say “I get it, I really do”, ask! Ask what it is I feel? Ask why this effects me? Ask what happened when I was there? Ask why I went? Ask!
We are in this together, you, me and us all. And I know we will prevail from this and grow closer together. The more we are open ourselves to the dialogue, we can really see and hear each other.
I thank all those that have shown their support, those that stand up to what needs to be said. A bow to the everyday unsung heroes. My thoughts and prayers go to all those that have died or have experienced some form of violence or discrimination.
Whether it is Covid-19, Racism, Climate Change, Sexism, Cruelty to animals or any other challenge we are facing, we are in this together.
As they say in Africa “Ubuntu — I am because we are”
Original text share here on Facebook on the 3rd of June 2020: https://www.facebook.com/salmaansana/posts/10163663622330374