[This story is based on a Dutch holiday called Sinterklaas]
Do you remember the moment that you put your shoe near the door, heater or even fireplace? You sing a song with your brother or sister. The feeling of not knowing what is going to happen….? You feel the tension and sensation. "What's in my shoe when I wake up?" At school everyone will ask you what was in your shoe. My parents are from Morocco, first generation. So they couldn't imagine anything with Sinterklaas. They didn't understand why that shoe was always by the heater.
But I still persisted... Every year I put my shoe near the heater. And one year, I decided to try a different approach. I'm going to sing a song. So loud that Sinterklaas cannot skip our house. And yes, it worked… I got up, ran to my shoe and…. a roll of MENTOS! Now I can laugh about it. The feeling that Sint and Piet gave me is that I felt special. Once a year, extra attention for me. Well, if I got something in my shoe.
As an adult I now experience this very differently. Sinterklaas has become the stage on which we increase differences. A time to call each other racist, or to discriminate against each other. The Netherlands is divided into supporters and opponents. In previous years, I was especially curious about the different viewpoints in order to be able to form an opinion about the whole. Now I can't and don't want to listen to it anymore. The debates about it are usually used to avoid listening to each other and to highlight the differences even more clearly. This increases the contradictions. To call each other the so called "black pete" [horse].
But what is my position actually? Am I in favor of Sinterklaas? I do have the feeling that opponents of the children's party want to take a piece of my youth away from me. It's something I have fond memories of. And I hope that many children can still experience that. The hope that I got gingerbread cookies (pepernoten) from Zwarte Piet, when he came by. I was one of the many children who excitingly waited for candy and presents and if I got something, then my day was - what am I saying? - my week, was made. Zwarte Piet, I associate it with positive feelings. It never occurred to me to think badly of or feel negatively about the black face paint he/she was wearing.
And yet, I am not completely blind to the feelings of the opponents. The feeling of being discriminated against does not only arise during the December months. This is felt all year round. We humans think in boxes all day long. If you have dark skin, people react to that. People often don't even do this consciously, but consciously or unconsciously, you will experience this every day! That does something to you. You derive your self-image from how others view you. You judge yourself through the eyes of the other. How the world treats you. When you experience it often enough, it will end up in your system. You no longer make an effort to write the cover letter. It makes no sense anyway. For the umpteenth time you will be extensively searched at Schiphol.
Embrace the differences
In my work as a diversity consultant I have become aware that I am a racist myself. Actually, we all are. Whether we have white skin, dark or light, we all have our prejudices towards each other. The whole day long. In fact, we cannot function without putting people and things in boxes. We categorize food into breakfast, lunch, dinner. We divide music into pop, rock, classical. We cannot function without categorizing the world around us. We also do this with people. Within seconds we have an opinion about someone. Which is based on our worldview gained in our youth, through the media, the environment in which we grow up.
We live in a democracy. In our society there are big differences between people and their views. I want to live in a democracy where we can all be different and have the same right to our opinion and being listened to. No opinion is more valuable than another. Because I have become more aware of my own prejudices, I can adjust my behavior accordingly. I accept my own box thinking and consciously try to shape my behavior in a different way.
Do I have a (negative) opinion about someone? Then I will start the conversation. I'm looking for contact. I am curious and eager to learn. I ask open questions. With closed questions I only confirm what I already think and I add too much color to the conversation. The more I do this, the more my prejudices fades into the background. Embrace the differences and look for the similarities between you and the other. I can promise you, it is a great voyage of discovery.