Friday, March 18, 2016

Race My Brain On Race in the Netherlands

The card lay on the countertop. “Who is that for?”

“The French girl who fell last week.” I hadn’t been to the stables for months. I couldn’t place her.  That wasn’t the dark girl, was it then, because I had seen her at the lunch in December but she wasn’t French. Wait what was I going to ask? Something about the dark girl?

My brain on racism: I had seen the dark girl, fluffy hair, and thought - how nice a new rider, and a dark girl, and….uh, why is this important her skin color?  Does this really matter?  Why am I thinking about this? Why is it so exceptional that a dark woman is riding a horse?  It’s not, lots of riders all over the world with different skin colors, but somehow I have been conditioned to think that this is “special” and I must be generous and kind….and condescending.  I hate myself this way. I am sure she does not get up in the morning saying, “I am going to take my deep skin pigment to the stables and ride a horse along with some white people.”

Of course, we have all seen the slogan, “Black Lives Matter” but then the reverse, a photo of a very dark man wearing a tee shirt with the words written on it “White Lies Matter” suddenly showed up on my FB scroll. How often have I listened to acquaintances, friends, and family remark, joke, talk about black people.  Even my non-Caucasian friends make comments about fundamental differences in human appearances.

My step grandfather told me a joke once.  “You don’t find it funny,” he said kindly looking over to me, understanding that my generation did not find it funny.  My generation, humph, I am moving into the old and nearing older.  

“White Lies Matter” reminds me of the time I was hired in Paris by the president of a major cosmetic concern to nanny his daughter.  I was one of a series of British, Irish and American nannies.  When I left, I recommended a friend to replace me. “She’s half Japanese,” I said.  My employer literally recoiled. “But she’s also upper class British and has aristocratic ties.” Well, that was all right then.  Pedigree helps.

Recently I was informed that some years previously a person of color had applied for a position in an office where I have worked.  He was categorically refused an interview by upper management despite his qualifications. “But I would have not minded,” the human resource manager stated with a bright smile.

“Pepper spray,” a new expat mentioned to me a month ago after his spouse related her metro ride to her first day at work in Amsterdam, “She was the only white person in the metro. I think I will get her a bottle of pepper spray. Every woman had one on her person in South Africa.”

But not in Holland.  After he made this statement, the entire company present did that polite Dutch thing.  Non-confrontational tolerance. There was a silence, then a polite query, “Pepper spray? No, that’s not something typical here.”

White Lies Matter.

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