The elephants: yellow, pink and green

The elephant in the room: idiom / informal
an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about (Cambridge Dictionary, 2022)

Selective Inclusion – Linguistic Discrimination – Savior Syndrome 

All our elephants seem to be chained to this idea that if you vote a certain color, hashtag-condemn this or that political thug, work for this or that “charitable” organisation, attend the “correct” events, follow the “acceptable” social media pages, etc. etc. etc. (and you get my drift) that you yourself are somehow immune to discriminating, excluding, and dishing out patronising twaddle. 

Check yourself: your words, your mission, your proclaimed raison d’être … words and actions vs effect and result. 

The Coolio Connection

After months of living here not knowing a damn soul, lonely and sad, I walked into the Carrefour one day feeling especially lost in translation. While strolling down the aisles searching for nothing in particular it happened, I heard it. The legendary Coolio intro spilling slowly but surely over the airwaves, Gangster’s Paradise, epic! Now, I’m a born toe-tapper, a helpless tuner-crooner – and clearly I’m not the only one. At that moment, Mike (so totally not the name of the Carrefour stockboy) and I shared a moment of sing and song … eye contact, a smile, singing this classic hip-hop masterpiece with a complete stranger in a strange land. In that flash of a moment, I felt just how small the world is and understood the role of music in taking small and making most. Thanks “Mike” ♡

I know my Nederlands is not bad, not great – has been better, still not bad at all considering. But hearing from some nederlandstaligen about how good my heavily accented, error ridden, incorrectly stressed and sometimes questionable at best Nederlands is and then seeing those same people shred their fellow nederlandstaligen to pieces for their use of non-standard Nederlands … makes me wonder (and worry a bit) about the point at which my Nederlands will be considered really “good enough” for some.

What is this hate for dialect? What makes some people feel they and only they have the right to dictate what’s acceptable and what is not. Acceptable and “correct” are two different words for a reason.

Personally, I love, support and promote the use of dialect. Dialects are a fantastic window onto the linguistic present and link to the linguistic past of a region and its people. The key is knowing when and where you can use dialect and when you need to switch out to standard forms.

Include me out

So, let me get this straight,

I, an individual coming from a different land / culture / language / background, am not interesting enough to take part in your event showcasing different lands / cultures / languages / backgrounds, but I am absolutely interesting enough to come help clean up / sell tickets / recruit numbers for your event?

Ok. Good. Glad we’re all clear on that now.

It certainly is a rather warped ( = f’d up ) definition of diversity and inclusion that’s being employed in this city. Some but not all. And thanks in no small part to an elite team of, let’s call them “cultural gatekeepers”, we all know exactly how close we can ever hope to get to that coveted dance floor.

👉🏻 you

👉🏻 you

👉🏻 you

👎🏻 but not you

❌ and especially not you

I hear the music, I want to dance too!


Jumping hoops

I know it sounds crazy, but listen – honest and to the best of my knowledge – I have never ever done anything with my Nederlands that’s caused irreparable harm or damage to any person, place or thing. Perhaps there may have been some light to moderate offense, but that’s cultuur verschil more than language, I assure you. 

I mean, seriously (conjugation d/t/dt f-ups and word stress/ word choice scrambles aside) with my Nederlands – accent and all – I’ve somehow managed to work together with various partners and organisations, without any major difficulties, to create numerous community building opportunities in and around town. And, using this same Nederlands, I have been rather successful with a number of projects that I’ve initiated and developed, with the help of a group of like-minded enthusiasts, into popular, long standing activities where everyone feels and is welcome. That group and those participants … they’ve never once had a problem with my Nederlands. 

I’m tired of being told my Nederlands is an obstacle when I’ve jumped through all the hoops presented to make it more than good enough to thrive when surrounded by those who truly desire to understand.

So, what’s the actual deal? What’s the real problem? Is it my Nederlands or is it maybe something else … you, for instance, and your impossible profile of what makes the right fit: language, age, background, size, shape, color, look? My being vs your bias???

Anyway, I never wanted to be “just an English teacher”. I was a language and integration specialist … wait, I AM a language and integration specialist. 

Anderstaligheid in this town = a lot of frustration. 


Asking for a friend

Can anyone explain why and how it is here in this corner of the world that, with a particular set of skills, talent, training and years of hard-earned experience, one is considered indispensable as a volunteer, yet, with the very same set of skills, talent, training, and hard-earned years of experience, that very same someone is deemed a not quite up-to-snuff candidate for actual jobs (you know the kind that pay bills and put food on the table) that require that same skillset and experience to complete the same (sometimes identical) tasks, and demanding the same level of responsibility???

If one is good enough to be your volunteer, certainly they’re good enough to be your colleague, no?

Just curious, though I imagine the answer’s not buried too deep.

Anderstaligheid # … I’ve lost count

You go right ahead and read a million articles about anderstaligen: what they struggle with, how to help them, who they ‘really’ are, what some local “expert” thinks their experience is or has been like … But let’s be real honest about this, knowing how it feels, knowing what it actually means to LIVE as an ‘anderstaligen’ – to lose the ability to carry out any-old-everyday language acts without a whole lot of effort ( = without smoke billowing from the inner depths of your brain) – to try and share the simplest of ideas and thoughts while often being stared at / being interrupted for corrections / having the smallest details of your every word critiqued – to forever suspect that you’re not quite getting the whole picture – to fight to keep you you when you struggle to express you as you – etc. etc. etc Well, it’s something one simply cannot do without having done it. 

Anderstaligen. What we struggle with? What we need? How it “is” for “us”? What we experience? What we’d love for locals to do to help us? There’s so much that goes into the answers … start with the individual for one. 

Pfff, tell you what, go spend some serious time abroad – meaning you’ll have at least dealt with immigration services if not the tax office in the language of the locals (gold stars for those wading through communications coming from their kid’s school) – and get back to me … though having done this now a couple times, I can tell you that being anderstalig in Flanders provides an extra special challenge. #buddysvoorvlamingen

Change the narrative, improve the odds

It’s all fine and dandy to promote the “usefulness of migrants” for filling jobs that locals don’t want to do, but when do we get to hear about those coming to do what the locals simply cannot? Where are the stories in your posts and papers about the specialists, the field experts, the highly-trained professionals recruited from nearly every corner of the world to come do their thing, to work their magic?

And then someday, maybe, we can talk about those not recruited but coming all the same with CVs packed full of experience, knowledge and skills galore yet still finding themselves shelved.