Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Problem

Most Dutch people are nice, friendly, open-minded, tolerant, well-educated, etc etc etc.  But as with any large group of people, you have exceptions, and the less-nice, less-friendly, close-minded, intolerant subtype of Dutch person is featured in the clip above. You don't really need to know that much Dutch to figure out that the people the guy is interviewing hate foreigners, by which they mean Moroccans and Muslim people.  But the one woman who protests that she's not a racist, she's never had a problem with [people], except for [same people as listed earlier] is the one that caught my attention and really made me think:

If you're not a racist or a homophobe, why would you ever use words like...well, you can watch the clip.  For me, and it might just be a personal thing, that's like calling someone a n*****.  It's just not something you do.  You may think I'm being a PC-doesn't-get-the-big-picture-American, but I do get it.  Believe me, do I get it--all those wonderful names I've been called in the US, not to mention people still asking me, "But where are you from?"  None of the latter were racist, but it still stung.  

The Problem:  if you're not trying to insult someone, using these words gives them legitimacy.  It means that the very categories you're trying to break down and abolish still exist.  You can qualify it all you want--"Oh, I don't mean him," or "I wasn't really talking about them"--but the fact is every time you use the words you are reinforcing the idea that "we" are on this side of the line and "they" are on that side of the line.  Social science is not my forte; I don't pretend to understand any more of this than what personally affects me.  But it just seems stupid to say that you're not a [whatever]-ist and then insult someone by calling them a [whatever].  If you truly didn't believe that [whatever] people were bad, then why would you use the words to insult someone?  Who usually happens to look like [whatever]?   

Most people just don't understand the power words have--the immigrants the people refer to in the clip invariably mean people like me--visibly different--and not the white person with blonde hair and blue eyes (unless she's got a headscarf), even if they've been living here for 20 years and still can't speak a lick of Dutch. Even if I, or people like me, are not included in the group that has been deemed "other", there lingers the inescapable possibility that one day the tables might turn, the wheel might spin, and one day it will no longer be acceptable to be Asian. It doesn't have to make sense, and there doesn't even have to be a reason why--the Balkan War and the Rwandan massacres show how easy it is for neighbor to turn on neighbor, friend to become foe.  "But it could never happen here!" people say. I am not one to indulge in paranoid fantasies about the end of the world--that's what Karel is for--but I do know that that these wars and purges do not just happen overnight.  They are built on fear and misunderstanding--which is granted legitimacy, in part, because the words are still being used.  

Words have power.  Use them wisely.  

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