Cognitive dissonance

When you’ve been asked on more than one occasion to consider (and by consider I mean kowtow to) the “political sensitivities” of a select few in your planning of activities geared towards making this city a more welcome place for everyone and at the same time being confronted time and time again with the actions of those same select few that give the impression (and by impression I mean alarmingly clear sign) that some of us are anything but welcome here.

Samenleven? Inclusion? Where? How? What is the plan? Because this “only when it suits some” business is never going to work for all.

P.S. If you weren’t awake before, now would be a good time to open your eyes … and better yet, stand up against what you know is not right.

Ass + u + me

Ass + u + me we all know the saying

Because I’m white a lot of fellow-foreigners assume that:

  • I am from here
  • I am Nederlandstalig

And when they find out that I am American they assume that:

  • I don’t need to speak Nederlands
  • I have a gun
  • My passport works some kind of magic
  • I’ve been to the small village in Minnesota where their fourth cousin twice removed lives

Because I’m white and American a lot of locals assume that:

  • I don’t speak Nederlands and have no interest in doing so
  • I have a gun
  • I’m rich (not just well-off but FILTHY rich, just like a real-life Dallas JR)
  • I’m not very bright, my education and professional experience but a fluke of my privilege
  • I have no culture or story of my own to bring to the table because everything you need to know about America and Americans is to be found on the quality television programs on offer here
  • I know their family in Michigan and I’ve been to that café in Florida where they actually had good food for once in America (because we only eat frozen pizza and burgers)
  • I have no needs or troubles here, it’s all blue skies
  • They can say things to me about my person, my homeland, my language that they wouldn’t DREAM of saying to a “real foreigner” …

You wouldn’t believe some of the shizz I have heard, still hear, might always have to hear … 7 years and counting.

What’s another word for assumptions about a person’s character, ability, situation, etc. based on one part of their identity??????

Stereotypes are assumptions. Assumptions are stereotypes. 

Some of these are funny and I never tire of the crazy conversations born of the innocent assumptions. Often times thesemisconceptions can be easily remedied with a little humor and some well plotted story telling. Ohhhh, trust me, I have a lot of ideas of my own that are constantly being corrected for me. We are the product of our upbringing, environment and education … an ever curious and open mind is the only cure for that facet of being human.

Some of these assumptions, however, are extremely hurtful and harmful. These assumptions, based on sometimes I don’t know what and flowing freely from the mouths of those in a position of really needing to know better, limit the connection I am able to have with my “new” hometown. They prevent me from taking part as a complete person and from ever having a chance to use what I DO have to do MY thing. I do have a thing, you know – and I’m pretty good at it.

“Oh, it’s not that bad, you’re just oversensitive,” is often the retort. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m one of the luckier ones. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it a million more: If the pasty-white, English speaking, married to a Vlaaming, privileged American is struggling against these and many more absurd and offensive assumptions, imagine (if you can but you can’t) for one moment what it must be like for those who can’t hide behind their color and a shut mouth.

I am sensitive to this topic. It affects my life and impacts the lives of my friends and framily.

I feel emotionally drained by it. Wouldn’t you?

I remain 100% committed to changing the conversation.

The time was yesterday, the chance is now.

P.S. “But it must be easy for you since America is so much like here” … another winner. Hmmm,  I’ll take the “Hell yeah!” mentality of Philadelphia any day over the “Ja, maar” of Kortrijk. And if that means my invitation gets lost in the mail, so be it. Change doesn’t come by dressing the exact same thing you’ve always done in a different jacket.

Mensen met migratieachtergrond, mensen met migratieroots, buitenlanders, immigranten, nieuwkomers, vreemdelingen, allochtonen … expats … to name but a few.

These words, these labels, your words, your labels, carry a weight in a shade barely discernible, yet ever present, ever pressing.

Since when do we allow others to classify and categorise us under designations of their convenience? This obsessive compulsion to label and box individuals – so often seen here in attempts to fulfil the latest project subsidy requirements – is not only offensive but detrimental too in our quest for a society of diverse equals.

Sorry, but I’ve never carried “show up and shut up” in my box of tricks. So, how about I tell you who, what, why, and how I am? And how about you sit back and listen?

What about now???

Another day, another #, another temporary profile frame in support of the resistance. Temporary …. nothing different, nothing changed.

So, I wonder out of all these screen activists, who in Kortrijk is actually and seriously prepared to have those really difficult discussions we’ve been sweeping under the rug, open and honest, removed from the project box-ticking process? The city and those bound by its “politically sensitive” rules, so often blind to their own contributions??? The local organisations and charities fearful of their bottom-line and what might happen were they to take an “unwelcome” stand??? Or maybe the saviour-souls hell bent on “helping” the doelgroep du jour while inadvertently drowning out the very voices they claim to champion??? Who can we count on now that push is coming to shove?

Yes, I’m angry, frustrated, disappointed, and sad. No, I’m not sorry and no, it’s definitely not ok. Radical change is what we need here, empty promises and press-pretty tokens are what we’ve gotten. I’m supposed to be owning my privilege, using it wherever and whenever I can to open eyes and help push change … I am struggling, really struggling,  and I’ve failed to find a way to do that in a town where a passport seals your story and an accent steals your voice. I failed.


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet