At Homeless

For me, this blog serves mostly as a memory space – a topography of my mind. It’s a mapping out of my thoughts and ideas, of the things that interest me, and how certain realities affect me on a deeply personal level.

Issues like the constructions of the Black female and male body (and, subsequently, Black masculinity and femininity) in the Dutch national imagination are very important to me; they affect me personally. Some recent events/interactions have caused me to think critically about “belonging,” and the notion of “being at home.” Writing and thinking about the constructions of the Black female and male body in the Dutch national imagination made the question of belonging more acute. As a Black man, my body – my physical appearance – is often considered “exotic,” “Other” and thus “out of place.” As a same gender loving person of colour, I am ever aware of the politics embedded in the Black male body and “queerness” itself. I am ever aware of the political presence and relevance of cultural, sexual, gendered and racial identities. I am also fully aware that colourblind rhetoric and the language of racism are consistently trying to conceal my racial and cultural difference by denying the materiality of my raced and racialized body. I am aware of every aspect of what I call my body. My consciousness permeates every space and dimension of my body. I am my body. By erasing the colour of my skin, the surface of my body, you are denying an important aspect that informs my identity. You don’t fully see me. You only perceive me in a way that makes you feel comfortable. Your rhetoric of colourblindness buries me within discourse. Through everyday racism, racial micro-aggressions, repeated racial slights you render me “psychologically invisible.” You erase me and make me unseen in an Ellisonian way. I become a mere outline. Ironically, my invisibility is premised precisely on the visibility of that which you so vehemently deny: my racialized and raced body. I see myself. I see you. When will you see me? You and I can trace my invisibility to issues of unresolved meaning, to edited histories and conflicts over memory and space. I am willing to remember. I am willing to remember my ancestors who were kidnapped and worked to death. I am willing to remember how they survived and thrived and gave me the food that I associate with home and the language in which I tell my parents I love them. I am willing to remember. Are you?

History and voice. History is voice. History to us – the unseen – has always been about leaving a record and finding and giving voice to those whose voices you have silenced, whose voices you and I have forgotten. To me history is not a place you retreat to in a bout of nostalgia, or escapism. It is not a warm blanket, nor an open window. To me history is yesterday, today, tomorrow. It is in our memories, in the weight of the words that escape our mouth and fall immediately towards the past. It is in the designs we make – each separated by the smallest amount of time – for they are the incipient past, the dawning future in the here and now. To speak Truth is to speak from your experience of the world, from your relationship to history. Your perspective is a product of your identity. Your identity is your perspective.

As a same gender loving person of colour, I am ever aware of the histories embedded in the Black male body and “queerness” itself. You cannot begin to comprehend the nuances in the embodiment of the Black female and male body that have so distinctively defined the complex “Black” identity – see, to you, I am just a body at once seen and unseen. You see, people of colour have been strategically placed in that race-effacing category “non-Western Allochtoon” where we are at once seen and yet not seen. This category, which contains peoples from the geographical fictions “Asia,” “South and Central America” and “Africa,” renders the opposition between “White” and “Black” too simplistic – see, to you, we are just bodies at once seen and unseen. Some or other story you and I made up. This story suggests an exchangeability of the “non-Western Allochtoon” body. We are all alike, “exotic,” “Other” and “out of place.”

The philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote that “Race disables us.” It makes us seen and yet not seen. Race erases us. Just like Hoggart’s working class we are only noticed if we behave in pre-appointed or romantic ways, which usually means – to you – in stereotypical coonery ways. My face is real. It is not painted on. My culture is real. It is not an act. But to you, “Blackness,” some surface element that you’re still trying to scrub off me, is coded in terms of a spectacle. To you “Blackness” is a collection of various performances scripted on my body. Who are you? The audience? The clean consumer? The norm?

Our national conversation is currently an echo chamber that reproduces the voices and opinions of a very narrow slice of society.”

The Netherlands, as an idea, is a naturalized geographical White Autochtoon Dutch space, which is kept White Autochtoon Dutch through legislation and the policing and regulation of performative acts and modes of dress. The manner in which White Autochtoon Dutchness is constructed, i.e. through the discourses of normalcy, of desire, of belonging, of value, of nationhood (geography and history) in the national imagination, posits the White body, and by extension Whiteness, as the norm, as desirable, as belonging, as valuable, as representing the Dutch nation. Do you see? Where in that little fantasy does my “Black” body fit? This systemic and systematic privileging of dominant identities and experiences, White upon soil upon blood upon gender upon sexuality upon class upon nation upon vision, serves the main political concern of keeping the “enemy without” at bay while managing the “enemy within” the borders of this space, this place, we call the Netherlands. As a result, our raced and racialized bodies have higher levels of functional limitations relative to the naturalized bodies of White Autochtoon Dutch men and women. There is at the moment not a space for Othered bodies to address the personal within the political. The spatial and visual aspects of “integration” are inseparable from the social, cultural, political, economic and THE PERSONAL. Exile is both a state of mind and a physical space.

My parents never really left the cloistered existence of a life on the island. When they arrived in the Netherlands in 1983 they had brought with them the languorous climate; to this day you can hear the soft lapping of the ocean in their speech. They had soaked up the topical warmth of Curaçao and in the Netherlands, their cold new setting, released that cordial energy with a jubilant enthusiasm. I grew up in this anomalous household. A piece of Caribbean volcanic rock in a vast European sea. My parents often had conversations about the good old times that somehow to me never seemed good and not far enough in the past to be considered old. They had fights and expressed their affections for us and each other in their native tongue Papiamentu. Their emotions as fierce as the torrential rains that turned the red earth of their island into crimson mud. They had gone from one place to another, from good old times to seemingly better new times. My parents went from a downpour of words at home where they joked and told stories to a drought of words when dealing with Dutch people. All these different phases seemed to coexist at the same time. They were at once at home and at homeless. Things had changed for them without ever really changing. Events that were set in motion kept rolling from the same starting point to whatever destination over and over – like a flag that is tethered to a flagpole and driven by the wind ripples from the same point onward.

We take all the bits and pieces of ourselves that are at once different and yet so familiar, and create an intervention – a disruption, a segue – based on all these different and yet so familiar aspects of ourselves in the spaces around us. Self-reflection is an act of self-definition.

Racism affects all those different and yet so familiar aspects of a “non-Western Allochtoon’s” life. Racism places  a lot of stress on our families. Do you really think on the possible impact of racial discrimination on us and our families? How it may compound our economic concerns? How it can make us feel less safe? How our psychological well-being can be affected by prejudice and discrimination? Are you in any way concerned about the long-term effects of systemic racism on us who are at homeless?

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