dinsdag, juni 16, 2020

Racism in the shadows

I'm not black and I'm not white. But with all this going on I feel like everything that can be said needs to be said. This is a bit of my experience.

Being a brown person in a predominantly white land (the Netherlands/Europe), I always struggled to fit in. It wasn't easy.

My ex-girlfriend is Dutch. When I moved here with her, we met her family and I was the butt of a racist joke made by her step dad about 'let's let the Indian guy wash the dishes'. I just nervously laughed. Thankfully my ex and her brothers stood up for me and said that such a comment isn't acceptable. I don't think he really got why. I was the only Brown person in the whole village. I knew people looked at me but never made eye contact, even when I tried to smile at them.

Through her I was introduced right into the heart of Dutch culture and I cannot say that I was not welcomed well. I was and everyone tried to make me feel at home. I tried too, but something didn't click. I realised much later that for a lot of white people I was more of a symbol of fascination rather than a person to be related to. I would answer questions about the caste system and once their questions finished, so did the interaction. I struggled to develop any real connection for the longest time and I always thought that there was something wrong with me. That I wasn't doing something right.

I didn't face terrible social injustice, like not being let into places or hear about the atrocities to my people. So, I thought it's not too bad. But what I did experience was that I was treated differently because I was not white. The funny thing is I was treated quite welcomingly by black people. But as it turned out, by following my passion I would end up being surrounded by white people.

It started with Conscious Kitchen where I finally found the real connection I was seeking. The environment was so international and inclusive that I didn't feel like an artifact anymore, I felt like a person. Most people don't know this but the way I was seen in CK made me feel seen and valuable and human. If it hadn't been for CK I would have left Europe long ago. It was CK and the loving inclusive community we all created there that kept me going.

That committed me to grow it further. Soon it grew and I started networking in the 'sustainability circles' in the Hague. I was introduced to this world by a kind and gentle man who helped me a lot during the beginning of CK. He made me realise once at a networking event "Do you see that you're the only Brown guy here? It's mostly all older white males and this is why sustainability isn't really getting anywhere." I didn't see the impact of his words until much later.

I remember other events where I would try and make conversation with people to connect or find out what they do. I was snubbed sometimes but mostly people would talk to me until it was polite enough to excuse themselves to someone else. I could see they were forcing a smile. I could almost hear them thinking "what does this guy want". And what I most painfully remember are all those people whose face went from 'excited to meet you' to 'disappointment' as soon as I said I'm Indian. I could see the stereotypes of being Indian start to cloud their eyes and their perception of me.

I just wanted to be seen as a person and still do. I don't know what people thought of me but I could see that the way they treated me was not the same as they treated a white stranger. I didn't care back then because I didn't know how to feel about it. I was still trying to fit in. I was still trying to satisfy a core human need of belonging. Trying to belong to a society that wanted to push you to the sidelines.

I started to get the point when I saw janitors and sweepers who were from Suriname. It was almost everywhere. I saw a black person in the bathroom of a nightclub whose job was to give napkins to people and offer perfume. That's it. I have never and never will see a white person do such a job. I started to see how white people had designated for themselves the upper levels of what they call society.

My experience is not as terrible as that of a black person in America or even in Europe. I kept telling myself 'it’s not that bad'. There are so many little ways I was treated differently because of my skin colour but I had no idea because I didn't know how it was like to be treated equally. To be treated as if you're white.

I sometimes forget I'm brown, not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I fear that I might have fit in too well. But I know that I'll never completely fit in. I know I'll never be treated the same as a white European person. And I had just made peace with that. But now I wonder, what if I was treated as a human of equal standing from the get-go. What if my skin colour sparked a conversation rather than suspicion.

My experience is not that bad. But I post this because it points to something that is very bad and that's the idea of supremacy. Whether white or not. How can we live with the idea that 'I’am more human than you', that 'my life is worth more than yours', that my skin colour is more valuable than yours'. It's a sickening symptom of a sick society.

But now I do care. I care how I am treated and I care how others are treated much more. I care about people not acknowledging someone for being human and reducing them to the colour of their skin. I care about doing my part to heal this sickness.

People just want to be seen and loved as they are. And we need to get our asses out of the past and our heads out of our asses so we can see this truth. The world we build will be an inclusive one, we will treat each other equally by letting go of all these judgemental filters we have inherited. It will be painful; it will feel like we're fighting an uphill battle and it will not be easy. But think of it like this: our children will never experience what racism is. And that's a future worth fighting for.

Anubhav Kandpal

Anubhav KandpalBIO:
I’m Anubhav Kandpal, I work as a Consultant & Facilitator in Sustainable leadership, Systems thinking and co-founder & Director of Conscious Kitchen. Growing up in India, community has been a big part of my life and it is times like these that we need community the most. I decided Sustainability was important to me when I chose to write my Master’s thesis on Sustainability in Supply Chain Management. From there I went to working with smaller non-profits, setup a community owned packaging-free shop and then a youth led non-profit initiative – Conscious Kitchen. Each day, I try to understand how our world works a little better and it keeps me going to know that slowly we are all creating a better world together.