People, not projects

If you’re planning to use “kwetsbare mensen” as your project doelgroep, it goes without saying that you are also planning to implement all the necessary ethical checks and safeguards to ensure your “kwetsbare” participants’ well-being and best-interests (fundamental rights) are protected … right? And I’m sure everyone’s considered what it actually means to get legitimate informed consent from anderstaligen … right? Social Science and Humanities Research Ethics 101, though I imagine the rules transfer easily to socio-cultural projects, no?

Just sayin’ … what if?

What if … what if, what if, what if???

What if people considered “different” (read that as: don’t look – sound – worship – eat – dance – dress – whatever like you … ) were viewed more often as the individuals that they are rather than project potential, targets and performances for enhancing the diversity of an organisation (read that as: to solve a widespread lack of diversity problem being reinforced daily by archaic and inherently discriminatory organisational systems and structures)?

Though perhaps well-intended, there is a:

1) troubling trend of reducing the intricate and complex make up of a person’s existence as a “newcomer” to nothing more than language proficiency and work status, eliminating the other, far more defined facets of their experience – the focus being on correcting a deficiency rather than tapping existing potential.

2) misguided, only slightly veiled “hoe meer exotisch, hoe beter” box-ticking principle being applied to so many things diversity these days, which puts us at risk of actually dividing further and excluding more. It overlooks the simple fact that unique individuals are just that – all individuals and all unique, the world over.

Diversity includes but is not limited to nationality, language, color, religion, music, food, etc. However, diversity is, by pure definition, absolutely inclusive. Every single one of us adds to the wonders of our diverse world, each in their own way. We all know this truth. Yet, with all our best intentions, we’re still failing to implement it. We need to make diversity as everyday as it already is right outside our doors – every single day. We need to seriously start considering what effect pointing out every chance we get just how “other” people are has on the individual and the greater community. What is the (true) focus and why? Who (really) benefits and how? What are the unintended consequences for those being “showcased”?

I agree, there’s a fine balance. But, it really doesn’t feel like we’ve found it yet.

A second “what if”, what if we also stopped thinking we were somehow in a position to judge another’s (read this as: often times a complete stranger’s) “cultural-worth”? I mean, it’s kind of arrogant to make oneself judge and jury of another’s interesting-factor or their potential?

So, anyway, just a few of the great challenges we face: How do we get people who have been and continue to be kept out IN without forever pointing out just how “out” they were and how “other” they are???  … and without asking them to be grateful that they’re now being let in by those who have been instrumental in keeping them out??? How do we celebrate the stunning beauty and rich delights of world culture and heritage without creating the sfeer of a modern day zoo humain??? How do we make sure everyone’s story has a place at our ever growing table – not just those who fit the project-funding-specs du jour??? How can we ensure and encourage people to tell the stories they want and need to tell, not just the ones we want to hear (read this as: feel comfortable hearing)???

Be kind, we’re all in this together ♡

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 by now, right?

Because I’m white, oftentimes fellow-foreigners assume that:

  • I am from here
  • I am Nederlandstalig

When they find out that I am American they assume that:

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

Because I’m white, oftentimes locals assume that:

  • I am from here
  • I am Nederlandstalig

When they find out that I am American they assume that:

  • I don’t really speak Nederlands and have no interest in doing so (despite having just spoken to them in … Nederlands)
  • I’m rich (not just well-off but FILTHY rich, just like a real-life Dallas JR)
  • I have a gun
  • 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 could possibly 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 (because it’s frozen pizza and burgers everywhere and that gets old, you know)
  • 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 innocent misconceptions. Often times they can be easily remedied with a little humor and some well plotted story telling. Ohhhh, trust me, I have a lot of faulty 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 make with my “new” hometown. They prevent me from taking part as the complete person that I am and from having a real 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 over-sensitive,” is often the retort. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m one of the “luckier” ones. But, I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it a million more: If the pasty-white, English speaking, married to a Vlaming, privileged American is struggling with these and many more absurd assumptions, imagine (if you can but we can’t) for one moment what it must be like for those who can’t simply hide behind their silence.

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 narrative.

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 real 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 same book you’ve always read 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.