By Yako and Krystal

August 20, 2015, 11:31 am

 

On Friday, July 31, 2015 a Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsblad, published an article using the N-word in the headline title and illustrating it with blackface caricatures. When a friend of mine pointed this out to me I was shocked. How insensitive and sheer offensive and hostile! I had to find out more.

A Facebook post lead me to an opinion article in The Washington Post commenting on this aberration and referencing a couple of Twitter posts and responses from the NRC Handelsblad editorial staff. I also read the full article in NRC Handelsblad to find some sort of explanation.

The article in the Dutch newspaper is a review of several books on racism in the United States and how some current thinking on the topic is radically shifting from the idea that racism is something that can be overcome to the notion that racism is an inherent aspect of society.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a leading author in this area and in his latest and bestselling book Between the World and Me, he describes how every society will always have a some form of racism or oppression. Whether it be slavery in the past or nowadays the violence against black people by police officers and institutionalized racism in our educational system (among others).

The other books being reviewed in the article are The Sellout by Paul Beatty and Loving Day by Mat Johnson. Both also addressing the illusion that the United States entered an era of post-racialism after Obama became president.

In line with these books, the title and illustrations where meant to underscore the persistent nature of racism in America and therefore intentionally pessimistic and even satirical. After all Paul Beatty’s book is one vertiginous satire on being black in America and the title used in the Dutch newspaper is from his book quoting a black conservative judge.

The illustrations depict the stereotypes that the books under review are addressing: a white man with a gun representing police violence and caricatures of black people representing persistent oppression.

Furthermore, the editorial staff of NRC Handelsblad explains that the article was meant for a Dutch audience, both black and white, for which the N-word does not have such a direct meaning as is the case for Americans.

nrcarticle2

Being a Dutchy myself, I can see how these explanations work for the Dutch. Satire and cynicism work differently in the Netherlands compared to the United States and often more confronting to force a discussion.

However, it still leaves a very bad taste. A couple of things I’d like to address. First of all, considering the title was a quote from one of the books, it should have been placed in quotation marks. This is also acknowledged by the editorial staff of NRC Handelsblad as per The Washington Post article, but why then did they not do so? They are supposed to be professionals who should not commit such an oversight.

Second, Dutch people always claim not to be racist and admittedly a lot of forward thinking on race and racism stems from The Netherlands. But at the same time they are conflicted, because the tradition of Black Peet still exists in The Netherlands — and on a large scale. If you want to know more about Black Peet, please read my first column in BK Reader: “Zwarte Piet” – A Traditional Pitfall.

Third, the N-word cannot be used by white people. I think it should not be used by anyone, but especially not by white folks. The author of the article is white and being the Washington correspondent for the Dutch newspaper in question, he should know that.

I have to add here that the use of the N-word in the Netherlands is probably more common among both black and white people than is the case in the United States. Although not with the reason to offend, but as an endearing form of greeting instead. Simply because this is how the word is widely used in popular American music that reaches European mainland (with an “a” at the end, but the Dutch won’t notice that different) — more reason to not use the word at all.

Fourth and final, publishing opinions and articles online comes with a responsibility. Even though this article was meant for a Dutch audience, the title was in English and the pictures bear more meaning for an American audience than for a Dutch. Most Dutch might not even get the meaning of the illustrations used.

Nowadays, with social media, one can expect that this type of news will travel the world in no time and reaches audiences that are severely offended by it. Initially though, only the title and pictures were tweeted without the context of the article. In this sense we also have a responsibility as a reader — not to base our opinions only on what you read on Twitter and Facebook.

But then again, in this day and age you have to expect this to happen and be prepared for responses that are based on snippets of information. However, in this case I feel that the content of the article does not justify the use of the N-word nor the illustrations.

Being provocative to stimulate discussion, yes, but being offensive, nah I don’t think so. I could further delve into the subject of provocation by comparing this situation with for example the cartoons depicting Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper in 2005, but I’m not going to do that.

I’d like to end with admitting that I am also guilty of sometimes basing my judgements on half information. To be on the safe side, I decided to read Between the World and Me. I already downloaded it on my Kindle app (see screenshot below).

Yako


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About The Author

Yako: Born on a farm in The Netherlands, Europe, I was always on quest for adventure. As a small boy, I was already interested in learning about other cultures and pretended I was fluent in American (I later learned that Americans speak English). At the age of 23, I traveled to South Africa where I lived for seven months to finalize my thesis for my master's in Business Administration. After that, I worked for eight years for a bank in Amsterdam, but I became restless and decided to quit my job and make the big leap across the ocean to New York. Studying arts and culture management at Pratt Institute helped me eradicate some of the prejudices I had of Americans. I never thought I would stay this long. But now eight years later, I'm still here. I live in Central Brooklyn and work for Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation with great satisfaction. So far, my life feels as if I’m on one big adventure. | Krystal: As a native of Michigan, I moved to New York with a limited perspective of the depth and importance of social differences. Having a passion for creativity, I accepted the various ideas behind expression and equality that poured out from this beautiful, diverse place called Brooklyn. After graduating from Pratt Institute in 2006 with a degree in Communications Design and barely surviving the effects of forced independence, I started an open relationship with the nonprofit world and began to willingly become my own person. Since then, I have been employed and freelance as a graphic designer, with tons of exposure to the things that fascinated me as a child. Living in two culturally different environments has granted me a faceted understanding of social norms and injustices that I feel compelled to speak on. Though visual art and design have been my concentrations since grade school, writing and sharing thoughts socially has been my core calling. In keeping my promise to my parents, I have finally decided to write for social impact. Standing up for my truth while seeking and discovering the truths of others is the way in which I've chosen to take that on. So far, I've discovered that the most direct route to societal improvements begins with the coupling of self-awareness and humility.

Yako: Born on a farm in The Netherlands, Europe, I was always on quest for adventure. As a small boy, I was already interested in learning about other cultures and pretended I was fluent in American (I later learned that Americans speak English). At the age of 23, I traveled to South Africa where I lived for seven months to finalize my thesis for my master's in Business Administration. After that, I worked for eight years for a bank in Amsterdam, but I became restless and decided to quit my job and make the big leap across the ocean to New York. Studying arts and culture management at Pratt Institute helped me eradicate some of the prejudices I had of Americans. I never thought I would stay this long. But now eight years later, I'm still here. I live in Central Brooklyn and work for Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation with great satisfaction. So far, my life feels as if I’m on one big adventure. | Krystal: As a native of Michigan, I moved to New York with a limited perspective of the depth and importance of social differences. Having a passion for creativity, I accepted the various ideas behind expression and equality that poured out from this beautiful, diverse place called Brooklyn. After graduating from Pratt Institute in 2006 with a degree in Communications Design and barely surviving the effects of forced independence, I started an open relationship with the nonprofit world and began to willingly become my own person. Since then, I have been employed and freelance as a graphic designer, with tons of exposure to the things that fascinated me as a child. Living in two culturally different environments has granted me a faceted understanding of social norms and injustices that I feel compelled to speak on. Though visual art and design have been my concentrations since grade school, writing and sharing thoughts socially has been my core calling. In keeping my promise to my parents, I have finally decided to write for social impact. Standing up for my truth while seeking and discovering the truths of others is the way in which I've chosen to take that on. So far, I've discovered that the most direct route to societal improvements begins with the coupling of self-awareness and humility.

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