Dating is still a thing

Dating. Bleh. It’s not my favorite topic. So when The Black Expat asked me to write something about my dating experiences in the Netherlands, I tried to get out of it. I’d rather write about almost anything else. Well, as long as it’s a less personal topic. And preferably related to something I’m doing less wrong.

My primary defense against this proposed dating piece: I don’t have anything to write about.

My inconsistent participation in the dating game wasn’t even interesting to me – much less the jet-setting readers of The Black Expat.

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The compromise: go on three more dates, write about something, and stop being so whiny.

So I picked up the Tinder (again). Had a revelation or a few. And I wrote about one of them.

“On a deeper level, I want to be understood without explanation. On a first date, I don’t want to explain why it’s difficult to trace my ancestry beyond the United States. He could be a stranger, but he needs to understand that Prince is, and will always be the dopest. He should never question why I do or don’t feel comfortable in certain spaces or around certain people. On a shallower level, I’m attracted to brown skin, thick lips and coarse hair…”

Read Dating without Compromise over at The Black Expat.

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I forgot how to write

Yeah, I forgot how to write.

No, I never knew how to write. I used to know how to think, I think. But writing thoughts down – that never made any sense.

Words, yes. I know plenty of words. Sentences, yes. I can make those – an occasional gem among the basics. Ideas, sure. I can come up with a few. But writing, no. No.

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What do these buttons do, huh?

Even in response to basic emails, requiring little more than a simple reply and maybe a time or date confirmation, I drain myself to ponder word choice, tone, and all of my childhood insecurities. Because, quite unfortunately, everyone I email has the potential to be the one who exposes me as the phony I hope I’m not. So tread lightly, I tell myself. Take your time and choose wisely. Will it be “Best regards” or just “Best”? Delete. Delete! “Love always.” Continue reading

And so I shall speak

I’ve been wanting to break the code on what it takes to sit with the cool kids since I was 35 (didn’t matter so much before). Countless professional development books, articles, newsletters and (free) courses point a budding entrepreneur toward networking, pitching, and generally “getting out there.” Then, tossing the essential social media into the mix, blehhhh. Networking and outreach efforts are resembling talent shows and popularity contests more each day. So as I hope for Ancestors unKnown to be noticed within a sea of noticeable work, I’ve occasionally wished for a louder voice and bolder approach. And maybe some street cred?

Short of changing my personality from introvert to extrovert, and significantly upping my coolness factor, I’ve been looking for input on how to play a better entrepreneur game.

One consistent piece of advice: be a speaker. If you give talks and host workshops, you build and share expertise, gain an audience and credibility, and (appreciated bonus!) earn some money.

Speaking

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Register? Who, me?

Immigration matters? Uh, no thanks. Not interested.

Well, that’s been my approach pretty much the entire time I’ve been here. I was a student back in 2011. So when I moved from the U.S. to the Netherlands, the University handled everything with very little input from me. Aside from a bunch of fees and a delay when I first arrived, it was a pretty mindless process. From my residency status to my city registration, they had it covered. I received my registration details in the mail. I barely understood the purpose. And I just had to show up with my passport and smile (or not) to receive my residence permit card.

DSaxon NL Permit_front-001

For once, I was basking in the glow of privilege.* Continue reading

Fears, doubts, inspirations and pink Cadillacs

I may have made some mistakes. But isn’t there some sort of saying about life being about taking risks, making a mess of things, and somehow coming out on top – or happier – or wiser – or some shit like that? If not, such a saying should exist.

I was in the U.S. for a couple of months a little while ago. I traveled quite a bit while there, getting to see lots (though not all) of the important people, including my Mom. It was at my Mom’s when I started to have some doubts about returning to Amsterdam. In a safe refuge where I was fed, emotionally supported, and understood the language spoken, I wondered if it was time to close the chapter and wrap up the fantasy of living in the Netherlands.Perhaps all signs were directing me back to a stable and U.S.-based reality.

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Con: not having a home

One of the major disadvantages to this quirky lifestyle I’ve created for myself is home instability.  When everything else is up in the air, not having a stable address just might be the worst part.  It’s probably the thing that would deter most people from choosing this route.  And I don’t blame them.

Occasionally I look back on some of my former apartments and try to remember what it felt like to be at home.  Places where I could have stayed for much longer.  But they rarely kept me for more than 3 years.  There was the cute, oddly-shaped Oakland  apartment with the red door.  I had a sliver of a view of Lake Merritt, a private entrance, and a back door, all of which made me think I was doing something.  In Philadelphia I had the nicest and cheapest (in retrospect) apartment, with a huge porch, two floors, a gigantic bedroom, and a view of one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants.  Forget about everything else that may have been upsetting me at those times…they were the good ‘ole days!  I had a lease, some keys, and immediate access to all of my belongings.

Today, well, not so much.   Continue reading

Zwarte Piet: Go back to where you came from

I planned to steer clear of Zwarte Piet this year.  Not to entirely ignore the subjects of racism and white entitlement in the Netherlands – but at least I wanted to avoid encounters with the (wo)men decked out in their best blackface attire.  Between changed plans and a death in the family – not in the mood.  Not even sure what that mood would be.

So when I took my friend’s daughter to school on Wednesday morning, I was less than thrilled to walk into my nightmare.  It was the 5th of December, the big day for Sinterklaas.  And after handing out gifts to children the night before, this would be Sint’s last day in town.

“Good riddance to you and your creepy team of absurdly archaic sidekick(s),” I’d like to say.  “Go back to where you came from.”  (upward nod to Piet’s supporters for that specific phrasing)

A sint and a piet (from 2011)

A sint and a piet (from 2011)

Turning the corner into the school yard, we could see that everyone was gathered outside.  My first thought was fire drill – do they do fire drills like that here?  When everyone has to line up outside with their class? And the teacher usually stands – … “I think Sinterklaas is here, Dana!”

Oh hell no.

“Oh really? That’s exciting.  Do you think Piet is also going to be here?”

“Of course, Dana! He has to be here with Sinterklaas!”

The young one was excited.  But she knows how I feel about Zwarte Piet.  So she kept her enthusiasm for the impending events of the morning reserved.  I was uncomfortable.  Surrounded by small people, I wasn’t in a safe space to  express contempt for a Dutch tradition, initiate a political debate, or even use certain preferred curse words.  Powerless in a playground.

Several days earlier the young one and I had our first disagreement over Zwarte Piet. Although she’s Black, she’s six years-old.  So she’s probably too young to understand the complexities of racism or the impact of increased ethnic diversity during the post-colonial era of a country that prides itself on its untainted national identity.  And who am I to start these conversations with her?  That’s the godparent’s job, isn’t it?  So when she wanted to watch a “Zwarte Piet gangnam style” video on youtube, I kept it basic:

“No.”

“Oh, come on, Dana!”

“No. Sorry to disappoint you. But Zwarte Piet isn’t allowed on my computer.  Let’s find another video to watch – something that’s actually funny.”

“NO, Dana! That’s not nice what you said about Zwarte Piet. He’s very nice. You shouldn’t say that about him. He’s very funny, Dana!”

The discussion took on a familiar tone.  In fact, it was almost exactly the same argument I have heard and read from countless (grown-up) Piet supporters: he’s nice, he’s funny, and I should like him.

“I’m not a fan of Zwarte Piet. The way he behaves and the make-up he wears – it’s meant to make fun of people. I don’t find it funny at all.”

“No, Dana! You’re wrong. He’s nice. Everybody likes him!” Clearly the schools get to them early.  (Her Mom has already faced the issue of her school painting her face black during a Sinterklaas celebration.)

“We’ll just have to disagree on this one for now.  And find a different video to watch.”  It was the only way I could find out of the circular debate.  She agreed.

But as we entered the school yard, our debate re-emerged.  I flinched at the sight of every little Zwarte Piet hat that bobbed around me, as the young one contemplated my irrational dislike of the lovable character who is painted black.  A few parents were around, lingering to see the arrival of Sinterklaas, I assume.  The only Black man stood in the back, away from the crowd, holding his young daughter’s hand.  We walked toward the front to find the young one’s teacher.  I was anxious for my duties to be relinquished before things got uglier.

A little boy walked with his classmates.  Most of them paid homage to Piet with colorful costumes and those same hats.  But this little boy’s face was painted entirely black.  He walked proudly.

(from 2011)

(from 2011)

“Oh look, there’s my teacher!”  Words that brought relief.

“Goedemorgen!” I greeted the teacher.  “Dag!” I said goodbye.  Then I walked so fast out of there the children may have thought I stole Piet’s wallet.  But I didn’t do anything to Piet.  In fact, with the exception of his little disciple, I didn’t even have to see him.

Then, right on cue, all images of Piet and his bossman, Sinterklaas, were nowhere to be seen the following day, replaced by his commercial counterpart, cousin Santa Claus.

I may have escaped a direct run-in with Piet this year.  But this isn’t sustainable.  In order to have a higher quality of life in the November/December months of future years, particularly if I raise children in this country, these uncomfortable moments will need to stop.  Everyday I need to leave my house confident that I won’t see someone dressed in blackface – every single day.

Judging from what I’ve seen, heard, and read in the past couple of weeks, progress continues.  And while this argument usually feels like beating a fist against a brick wall, I think we’re starting to see some signs of cracks.

In an effort to make up for my silence on the subject throughout the season, here is just a sample of the actions and recent articles I recommend:

  • Sign this:

Petition to remove Zwarte Piet from schools

  • File a complaint here (for locals: according to the mayor of Amsterdam, it’s not an issue worth considering until they receive 300+ complaints):

https://www.discriminatie.nl/meld-discriminatie/klachtenformulier 

  • Watch this:

Ned2: Zwarte Piet en Ik

  • Read these:

The Independent: Like the Golliwog Zwarte Piet Is a Racist Relic

Wishful Thinking : Zwarte Piet and the Colonial Inheritance

Racialicious: Zwarte Piet – a Racist Caricature