Tag Archives: Peace

I can’t breathe

29 May

Sorry. Deze week geen vrolijke blog. Geen kijkje achter de schermen of gezellige foto’s.

Deze week werd de wereld voor de zoveelste keer geconfronteerd met de gruwelijke gevolgen van institutioneel racisme.


George Floyd.

Christian Cooper.

Twee verhalen met een heel andere uitkomst, maar met eenzelfde kiem.

Christian Cooper, een zwarte man, vogelliefhebber, wees een witte vrouw, die toevallig ook Cooper heette, Amy Cooper, erop dat haar hond niet was aangelijnd op een plek in Central Park waar dat verplicht was. In plaats van haar excuses aan te bieden en haar hond aan de riem te doen, pakte ze haar telefoon en belde de politie. ‘Deze zwarte man bedreigt mij en mijn hond!’ aldus een schreeuwende Amy Cooper. Christian Cooper filmde het voorval, en zo kon het gebeuren dat de wereld meekeek. En Amy Cooper inmiddels geen baan meer heeft.

Het had heel anders kunnen aflopen. Want wat als de politie er direct op af was gekomen? En Amy Cooper had geloofd, en met man en macht op Christian Cooper was gesprongen?

I can’t breathe’, riep George Floyd.

George Floyd overleed deze week in Minneapolis, nadat politie-agent Derek Chauvin (die overigens al veel vaker buiten z’n boekje was gegaan) hem minstens 7 minuten met zijn knie tegen de grond duwde.

Dezelfde politie, die inmiddels journalisten die verslag probeerden te doen van protesten tegen dit geweld zonder pardon arresteerde. Dezelfde politie die eerder Oscar Grant het leven kostte, en Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor.. de lijst is zo ongelofelijk lang.

Ik denk (en hoop) dat weinig mensen die deze blog lezen een Derek Chauvin kennen. Maar ik durf wel te stellen dat we allemaal een Amy Cooper kennen. Of op z’n minst allemaal een vriend(in), collega of familielid van een Amy Cooper kennen. Iemand die racistische ‘grapjes’ maakt. In stereotypen denkt. Mensen uitsluit.

Dus wat doen we? Is het niet de hoogste tijd dat we een serieus gesprek hebben over wat we kunnen en moeten doen om de Amy Coopers van deze wereld aan te spreken, en te confronteren met de gevolgen van hun gedrag? Is dit niet de vraag die we na een week als deze ons allemaal zouden moeten stellen: wat doen we als we racisme zien, horen of lezen?

Want dat dit soort drama’s dagelijks gebeurt (en echt niet alleen in de VS!) is geen incident, maar onderdeel van een systeem vol structurele ongelijkheid. Een systeem dat ervoor zorgt dat de belastingdienst jarenlang onderscheid maakte naar afkomst. Een systeem dat ervoor zorgt dat studenten met een migratie-achtergrond moeilijker een stageplek kunnen vinden. Dat je achternaam je kansen op de woningmarkt bepaalt. Dat je er altijd uit wordt gepikt bij de douane. Dat je een lager schooladvies krijgt.

Dingen die ik niet meemaak. Want ik ben wit.

“Systems are just collective stories we all buy into. When we change them, we write a better reality for us all to be a part of. I am asking us to use our power to choose.

Aldus de Amerikaanse schrijver, commentator en comedian Baratunde Thurston. Als je één video bekijkt deze week, laat het dan zijn indrukwekkende TED-talk zijn.

Let’s use our power to choose.

The price of freedom

3 May

I never got to meet my paternal grandfather. From what I’ve been told, he seems to have been quite an amazing man. An adventurous and accomplished technical engineer, who traveled the world (wonder where I got that from ;-)) before settling down with his wife, my grandmother. Life looked good, he had a job, they bought a house, they were starting a family.

Then WW2 started.

Now he could have just done nothing when the Germans invaded his country. He simply could have kept on working as an engineer, trying to make ends meet in those difficult years and raise his two blue-eyed baby boys. But he didn’t. Instead, he joined the resistance.

I would have loved to be able to talk to him and ask him why he did that. If he ever was afraid. If his wife ever tried to dissuade him. If he ever worried about his boys. But I can’t. Because one day, the very same evil he was trying to fight, caught him. Rumour has it he and his team were betrayed.

The Nazi’s transported him to a concentration camp. By miracle, he lived to see the early days of May 1945. Even survived the bizarre allied bombing of the very boat he and his fellow prisoners were forced to board, exactly 71 years ago today. He made it home. But it all had been too much. He passed away, only shortly upon his return to his family.

His city wanted to honour his memory by naming a street after him, but he had always said he didn’t want any of that. He’d said he had just done his duty. (I can suddenly imagine him not being too keen on me writing this blog either. Sorry Grandfather. I feel I just have to.)

I remember my father showing me his last picture, an incredibly skinny man lying in bed, more bones than body, staring into the camera with big black hollow eyes. A hero. Broken into bits.

Each year on May 4th, when the Dutch remember the victims of war, and May 5th, when we celebrate our liberation, I think of him and what he did. How his choice may have saved the lives of many – but cost him his own. How his heroism meant my dad grew up without a father. He fought for freedom. And paid the highest possible price.

Each year, around this time of year, I hear people say they don’t want to remember the dead, nor celebrate our liberation. Because it’s not about them. Not about their struggle, not about their heroes, not about their freedom. This year, the voice of those people is louder than ever.

Don’t think I don’t understand where some of that pain is coming from. I agree we need to rewrite history, and have a critical look at whose dead we commemorate and whose freedom we allow ourselves to celebrate – and at which cost. I also agree there is way too much wrong in today’s society for one moment of silence per year to make things right.

But in the name of my grandfather whom I never met, I ask of those who do not feel this is about them, to think about all those heroes and sheroes who died in the name of freedom. People who could have thought: ‘this war is not about me’ and done nothing. But they chose to stand up instead. Cause they understood freedom does not come in colors, shapes or forms. Freedom does not have a caveat. Freedom is for all, and if not, it’s not it. My grandfather understood that. And that’s why he died, together with so many others. So you and I could have the freedom to be and breathe and speak our mind. Yes, even if we don’t agree. And that’s what I’m remembering and celebrating this week.

I sincerely hope you’ll join me.

Why bother?

11 Apr

Do you know that feeling, that you’d rather not watch the news? Because all it seems to bring are tales of sorrow, suffering and shameful selfishness? Bombings, refugee crisis, Panama papers, abortion debate, US elections.. sometimes it seems like we are not moving forward at all, but rather flipping back through the darkest pages of history.

And the weird thing is: the truth is often more absurd than the most far fetched conspiricy theory. So sometimes, it seems a whole lot easier to become a pessimist or an escapist than a pro-activist. To think: ‘why bother’ and go shopping instead. Been there, done that (and have the closet to prove it). But does it change anything, really?

Fortunately, I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by lots of optimists, who, like me, believe that change does not just occur; it’s a verb: you have to just do it. Like the people behind the amazing ‘Harmony for Peace‘, whose annual concert at the Peace Palace in The Hague I will be hosting this month, with talented kids from all over the country performing together in the name of peace and cross-cultural understanding.

Or my wonderful coachee Saskia Stolz of the Power of Art House, who developed Moving People, to give refugees a face and voice, which she is presenting at Harvard, Yale and Columbia this week. You GO girl!

Or gender equality expert Jens van Tricht, founder of Emancipator, who will join us at the Gender @ The Lighthouse programme at Haagse Hogeschool for the Gender for Dummies event this week. Tell me: how often do you get the chance to hear a MAN talk about gender equality?

And speaking about gender equality, I will go back to my home town later this month, the lovely village of Bathmen, where I will join Vrouwen van Nu to talk about my book (S)hevolution and what we can do to change the world ourselves. Because isn’t that the best remedy in days of despair and devastation: being the change we want to see in this world?

And to the sceptics, who doubt whether all this will make any difference, who still say: why bother? Let me ask you this: when did doing nothing ever change anything?

Without change, no butterflies!

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