On March 27, 2017, I wrote my last article for ‘Afro magazine’, which is a website for and by members of the Dutch black community. I have come to terms with the fact that (apparently!) I’ve failed at being a black man. I didn’t realise that in order to “be black”, I had to meet more criteria than just have a darker coloured skin. You can read the entire article, translated from Dutch to English, underneath:
“Not black enough…”
When cooking, I sometimes hear this remark on one of our special, Caribbean dishes. Our black cake (or ‘bolo pretu’ in Papiamentu) needs to be absolutely pitch black! The cake consists of fruits and nuts that have been soaked in liquors for months and months. When you try to speed up this process, you’ll end up with something like a gingerbread cake. Nice and dark, bit not really black. And then, I’m afraid, your black cake is a failure!
I’m not black enough
Still, this article isn’t about the black cake. It’s about me! Through several instances, I had to learn that -even though my skin colour implies differently- I’m not black enough. Because ‘being black’ goes much further than having a dark complexion:
I was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. My ancestors have been brought there from West Africa as slaves. Looking at both my history and my skin colour, you’d think I was entitled to call myself a “black man”. (Or was it Afro American? Or African? Which word was ok to use and which one was taboo again?)
And yet, some of my colleagues and ‘prominent members of the Afro community’ believe I don’t have the right to place myself in their group. But why?
Black people vote Artikel 1
I’ve heard it since long before the Dutch elections: a black man MUST vote for multicultural political party ‘Artikel 1’. And being from Curaçao, you absolutely HAVE to vote for your fellow countryman, who is a little further down the list than front(wo)man Simons. After the elections I heard more and more complaining: I was the reason that Artikel 1 didn’t manage to get a seat in the parliament.
“You must be an absolute traitor to vote for another political party and deny your black brothers and sisters a seat in parliament!” was the statement I had to hear over and over again. The fact that I believed to have voted socially (even socialist!) didn’t change a thing. I might be a socialist, but definitely not a black one.
Black people hold white people guilty for the crimes of their ancestors
500 years of slavery. 500 years of absolute misery. A lost (African) last name and no idea from which tribe your ancestors were stolen. A REAL black man holds the entire white population on earth guilty for these crimes. Even the white people with no connections to America. Even the white people whose ancestors lived as mere peasants in filthy, big European cities for centuries.
I personally believe that we can’t blame a random German in the 21st century for what happened during World War II. What has happened is in the past. The fact that a country’s government openly distances itself from those deeds is great. The fact that I need to blame my white neighbour for what happened centuries ago is absurd.
The opinion “all white people are devils” is constantly being whispered (no, not really whispered – but rather shouted!) to me by a part of ‘the black community’, and I’m not buying it. This is the reason why they call me clueless… in need of re-education… not awakened… and absolutely not black enough.
Black people marry other black people
I recently came across a fragment of a television show in which a young, black lady explained how she would have “great difficulties in accepting the matter”, should one of her children decide to marry a white person. A cultural clash would definitely happen, or so she claimed. Oh no! Another criterium where I’ve hopelessly failed!
Thirteen years ago, I married a white woman. We’ve got at least three different ancestries between us, but we’ve never (ever!) experienced a cultural clash.
Our children are brown and have beautiful Afro curls. I teach them that black children play with white children and vice versa. That everybody is equal. And if they should decide to bring home a black, white, yellow or red partner… I will look forward to the day that I’ll be a grandpa to a child with even more cultures in its blood than our own offspring.
The black community in Holland
I started writing articles, thinking I could conciliate cultures through our delicious ‘Soul Food’. I wanted to show people that our cuisine had many influences from Africa, but possibly even more from Spain and Holland. The way in which this came to pass was absolutely miserable, but the result is awesome.
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to execute this idea. I was too busy defending myself. Showing I was “black enough” to talk along with the others. Convincing my both colleagues and my readers that conciliating work better than polarising and segragation.
Sharing vs. exclusivity
I like sharing. I like to include people in my culture and I like to get to know other people’s cultures. I love giving people a ‘peek in our kitchen’, and I’m happy, honoured and satisfied when people of other countries decide to cook one of our dishes. Vice versa, I like learning about other cultures and implementing little pieces of them in my dishes and my life.
I do not like exclusivity. I can honestly wonder why on earth someone would choose to start a “Blacks only” business meeting, beauty peagant or talk group. Wasn’t it the mythical Martin Luther King who had a dream …”that one day, the sons of slaves and the sons of slave owners would sit together at the table as brothers”?
Unfit as a black man
“So, why do you want to write for Afro magazine?” – was a question I had to answer several times. I THOUGHT the answer was “sharing, bringing knowledge and conciliating”, but that answer turned out to be wrong. It definitely wasn’t the most black answer I could provide.
I’ve been trying for over five years to put ‘our Caribbean kitchen’ on the radar. To make our cuisine known to the public. To show people that Antilleans can be so much more than just the criminals they see on T.V. I’ve tried my best to show people that our ladies aren’t all like the charicatures they see in comedy shows (Judeska, anyone?) – I wrote two cookbooks to make people acquainted with my culture.
Apart from those, I recently published a colouring book with drawings of “coloured people”. I decided to make this as a counterpart to the top model colouring books that are so common in the shops these days. Still, all of my efforts were in vain, because I didn’t stand for segregation and exclusivity.
My answer wasn’t the answer that the black community was waiting for. Just like nobody ‘in the community’ wanted to hear about my socialist political views and voting for a white, socialist man, rather than one of the black people in Artikel 1 (all of whom I deemed uncapable of talking politics). I mean… I could vote differently if I wanted. Technically speaking. After all, it’s a free country… but the black person who does so, is getting roughly awakened by the rest: By choosing to do so, he shows that he isn’t black enough!
In that light, I will freely admit it: I’m unfit. Unfit as a writer for Afro magazine and unfit as a member of the black community. After hearing several times that “a black man who marries a white woman is really just an Uncle Tom”, I will put the matter to rest. Apparently the colour of my skin doesn’t make me a black man… and that’s fine by me.