Caught between two countries, and then there was the inauguration

I live in a country hailed by UNICEF as the best country for (white) children and teenagers to grow up in, a curious nomination as I traverse the halls of its educational systems every day. I live in a country where recently the government stepped down because they had to admit that for years the tax department targeted and labeled low income families with foreign sounding names and/or immigrant backgrounds as fraudulent and gave them unfair harsh treatment, with incredible results. Some lost homes, families broke up, some even had their children removed. We are talking about 26000 parents.

There was a “scathing” report in which there was admission of having targeted ‘groups of people’, but they refrained from using the term ‘racism’, because well… So the government stepped down, while leaving the perpetrators on their jobs, well, stepped down…. It is Corona after all, so they will continue to keep working and receive a paycheck. Oh, and in two months there are new elections, so you can vote for them again. The main guy in charge, publicly cried mea culpa but stays on as leader of the party and hopes people will vote for him again in two months to become leader of the country, again. He feels bad about the whole affair, but it all wasn’t really his fault, and he will learn his lesson. This is the same guy who in 2008 was convicted, then secretary of state, of ethnic profiling Somalian families. He is still learning his lesson apparently. But the Dutch government has promised to do a study on institutional racism. Perhaps they are better served with a study on integrity and accountability. And those families? They now have a better leg to stand on if they choose to sue the government. Because that’s how it works in the happiest place to grow up.

I have worked in the city of The Hague, the international city of peace and justice, where recently a new conglomerate came to a fall. A partnership between private and public companies came together to start a program for unemployed and young people to help them gain access to employment. That same guy opened the program with much fanfare. Two years in the money is gone, mostly into the pockets of the organizers and the service deliverers. Hardly anybody has found a job, and nobody can explain why the money never reached the people it was supposed to help. Another mea culpa and oh well. This new model of working, this public-private partnerships ‘so we can have broader impact’ is also the new model in higher education and one of the main reasons why I left, exactly because of what happened here.

I hail from a country where not all Republicans are racist, but many racists and white supremacists have used the Republican party to live out their angst and fragility about…. about what really? And between these two countries, where white supremacy reigns, poor and brown people remain engaged in an ever ongoing fight to be more than an ‘oh, well’ side note, and inclusion seems an ever illusive ideal, it is hard not to get discouraged at times. And then there was the inauguration. It really started the day before with a memorial for those who lost their lives to the pandemic and honoring those on the front lines. It started with a moment of silence and some respect.

The inauguration itself was opened by a performer who has always used her art to touch many and speak her truth. There was the black female brigadier who used sign language, because you know, it matters. There was the Puerto Rican singer, justice Sotomayor, Biden, Harris, Garth Brooks, and more, and it mattered. We were treated to vision and purpose, and some much needed first steps in healing. But the biggest medicine came from a 22 year old, dressed like the sunshine and with the grace of a ballerina. Her words brought much needed medicine. She was a reminder of why we need to uphold our young people, of their promise. About how we need to work to make our countries be places for real to be legitimate places where they can be happy to grow up. I cannot speak for others, but for me a little bit of the cynicism was lifted, I became a little more hopeful, and can dust myself to go at it again.

Let me be clear

What I do do is pro-human work…

Aminata cairo

Let me be clear… I don’t do anti-racism work. I also don’t do anti-sexism, anti-agism, anti-LGBTQ+-phobia work, or any other anti-ism work. What I do do is pro-human work and try to engage and reach and stir that what makes us human and hope to inspire us to be the best and most decent human beings we can be. And IF I do my work right, it will inherently be anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-etcetera. That does not mean that I am not affected by these isms, just like anybody else. On the contrary, I have lost count of the number of people that have come and shared stories of marginalization and dehumanization over the past 5 years here in the Netherlands, students as well as staff, and not only from my own institutions. Each and everyone of them painful, heartbreaking stories. Because dehumanization is not limited to encounters with the police, but is inherent in our health, work, education, financial, recreation, and any other aspect of our lives. As it is normalized, it is also relentless everywhere, every day, year in, year out, generation in, generation out. And it is not just limited to the United States. There is not one person across the globe who does not know what I am talking about. We might be sad, hurt, and angry, but we are not surprised, because these structural systems have a centuries long global legacy. And if you don’t get the outrage or the violence, that just means the systems were effective, because you were not meant to notice. But for those of us feeling it every day we knew, we know, and we feel. There are a lot of ways to respond. I myself have been to the point of wanting to put my fist to somebody’s throat, my foot up their a** or do some physical damage, especially if it was concerning any of my human babies (ask my former students, momma don’t play). It was my dance, my singing, my education, my ancestors, or dear ones who pulled me of that ledge. So I get the outrage, I have been there. All this to say to all those humans who have spoken out about what is going on, I see you, and I thank you. And to all those humans who are still in shock or silent, educate yourself. We are not invested in your guilt, but waiting on your courage to step up and do something, anything to join the human fold so we can effectively dismantle these systems once and for all and create a different story, a new normal.


My Heart Weeps

My heart weeps for what is going on here in Saint Louis, but it equally weeps for people in Gaza, Israeli’s in Israel so afraid of a few that they feel they have to resort to bombing the many, a million of Iraqi’s fleeing for their lives, for people in Liberia and Sierra Leone who are fighting an incurable disease and out of fear attack relief workers, for a plane full of travelers that gets shot down over the Ukraine because… well nobody knows exactly why.And it weeps equally for the loss of Robin Williams, because for me all those things are connected. And I have heard people say that there are bigger things at play here, and indeed the injustice, structural inequality, and racism experienced on a daily basis seem incongruent to the death of a comedian… And yet, for me what they all have in common is the fact that after thousands of years of ‘civilization’ we still struggle with our humanity.

People who value humanity don’t blow innocent people out of the sky, they don’t kill you because you believe differently than they do, they don’t shoot you because your difference represents an automatic threat, they don’t switch from ‘protect and serve’ to ‘waging war’ at the first sign of trouble. And I know it sounds simple, but to me that’s what it boils down to. We are struggling to affirm our humanity and fall back on easy excuses to deny others theirs. And when even a person so gifted and brilliant to spread joy to millions of people all over the world is unable to affirm his own humanity, then where are we? It is theorized that the Ebola virus comes from bats, whose habitats have been so encroached by humans, and that these bats who are normally human shy are forced to come in contact with us because of our own doing. It is a theory and there are many variations, but the bottomline here is that our disregard to humanity is not limited to our human neighbors but to our co-planet inhabitants as well, and it is kicking us in the butt. We have been looting, rioting, killing, raping, trespassing, encroaching for thousands of years. When are we going to do better? When do we stop using exuses like “well he/she looked different, sounded different, believed different, acted different…” as a justification to harm someone or something or some species? Newsflash, there is no them, there is only us and some of us. We are all in this together from mountaintops in KY, to fruit bats in Guinee, to the streets in Saint Louis. And so I disagree that it is about the big things, I think it is about the small things, about affirming our humanity every minute of every day. How do you speak, think, treat your neighbor as well as your self. What do you stand for? Do your actions represent what you know in your heart to be right, or are there more excuses? We know enough, we’ve been around enough. Let’s do something different.