Haunting Message in a Bottle

Much of what Black and non-Black communities of colour face in the Netherlands is the result of the haunting afterlife of slavery. “Haunting is,” as Avery Gordon puts forward, “the sociality of living with ghosts, a sociality both tangible and tactile as well as ephemeral and imaginary.” The Netherlands is embattled by the intimate ruins of imperialism, and the emotional debris that the debates on multiculturalism have left behind. Folks continue to engage, silently and reluctantly, with the deadness of a multiculturalism not-yet-dead—manifesting as spectral cosmopolitan projects.

Recent discussions on racism exposed the debris field of unacknowledged racial animus as these talks, at once, rendered invisible the groundbreaking work done by Philomena Essed, Troetje Loewenthal, Gloria Wekker. Other voices of resistance too distant to materialize, Stanley Brown, Freddy Antersijn, Astrid Roemer. It is important that we trace the emergence, and journey of race critical thought in Dutch history in order to bring into view these disappeared bodies (of work). White Dutch media, aided and abetted to a large extent by White Dutch academia, have created a “rhetorical space” (a concept by Lorraine Code) in the Netherlands in which racism is articulated disjointedly. White Dutch academia regularly invites a quizzical inquiry into the status of racism: whatever happened to racism in the Netherlands?

Continue reading “Haunting Message in a Bottle”

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African Homecoming?

Last week I attended an event called “African Homecoming” which was organized by Bamba Nazar. I was curious to see if this event would be any different from all the other Black organized events I’ve been to. The short answer is no, it wasn’t.

The focus in the event betrayed our geographical location, historical background, and class privilege. As Charl Landvreugd, one of the discussants, pointed out, these factors enable us to be “salon socialists,” who can debate a possible repatriation and “revolutionary” acts in spaces of relative comfort. Here we were talking about a possible return to Africa, whether actual or philosophical, while asylum seekers from countries in Africa are risking life and limb to get to European soil. Most of them end up languishing in State sponsored detention camps. Those who live here undocumented live under the constant threat of being rounded up and imprisoned in order to keep “us” safe.

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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?

Jazzy

Jazzy

‘I love you’, my heart resumed
in a husky voice, drenched
in a smokey perfume.

my pulse reverberated the jazzy
tune. Trumpets breezed a solid ‘Dude,
we know he loves you, too.’

I snapped my fingers. Tapped my feet.
licked my lips. The mirror answered:
‘Sweet!’

I slipped through your muggy eye
and lit a ciggie; your icy iris dropped
its hue.

‘Welcome home, baby!’, it sparked
‘It’s been quite lonely without you
in the dark.’

Gramm(e)rage

Eager to prove a dot
I drove a spade into a word
And verb, the intent made
A hole inside a noun
Of no return

I touched an adjective,
Wisps of feelings, fly &
Slither down a darkish noun.
Adverbs drowned in spaghetti.

I (verb) you anyway
Always have and always will
What thrill I’d miss
If nouns and verbs failed
(Like the dinner plate)
To deliver this
Ancient meme.

Metamorphosis

I found him in ice
Water, drenched to his sinews
When I kicked him
He wouldn’t start
And all the time he bit his thumb
For his toes were numb.

He had walked on a
Lot of winding roads and tracks
In his younger
Days when the night
Was all the excitement he got
With his feet half-thawed.

The black of his hair,
Frozen white, like when he was born
That day he went
Skipping along
Even then his thoughts were nappy
(I drove him happy)

Revising his eyes
Was hard. He needed raindrops.
That was a year
And some ago
I threw some nails together
And changed the weather.

The slot at the nape
Of his slender neck in which
I stuck the key
That made him run
The soft humming made him calm
And his harmed heart warm.

A Knife

Of course, you opted for a knife
The sharp end of which is so versatile
One can cut, sever, dissect a smile
To save, or simply end a life.

He can’t be a hero all the time.

Naturally you possessed a wicked eye
For tendons, nerves, & spines
Your tongue could carve the perfect lie
& whisper neatly between the lines:

One can’t be a whore all the time.

Fading

With the curtains drawn
I lay inside your iris
And your thoughts flutter
Like fireflies lighting a dark

I stretch my nerves & tendons
And yawn – daylight cuts
Right through the skin.
You bleed a hunger for past loves,
Memories forever fading like a dusk.

I toss. I turn. I wake. I sleep.
I dig a deeper well from which to drink.

Your skin is taut; sewn up with expert skill,
I cover myself with your thoughts:
Armies of bugs swarm around your warmth

I lie inside your iris
Lost in the forest of your memories
Your skin is taut
And I fade like the forever fading dusk.

Boys will be Boys

I love not Boys,
Or silly Men.
I love rhetorically
For lack of toys

But every now and then
I kiss them metaphysically
Just to feel the Universe
Shake with the fever

Of being born again.

The Leave

His penis lay limply between his legs like a tired old watch-dog, that had left behind him the days of chasing around every stranger that came to its door. The guardian of the gate way to his identity, his penis, which sometimes convulsed with the aftershock of residual lust, was now just one of his useless appendages. His desires were itemized and cached in a semi-dark corner of his mind.
He had been sitting in the room for a time when Valentine walked in. Valentine smiled awkwardly at him. It had been weeks since they last saw each other. ‘How’ve you been?’, he said. ‘Good’, Valentine answered while he took off his coat. He hesitated before draping it over the back of a nearby chair. ‘Been working a lot; not much going on in my life, right now. I’m working on my PhD.’ It’s OK’, Buck said ‘I haven’t much to tell either.’
‘You’re seeing someone, right?’ ‘Yes, we’ve been seeing each other for 3,5 weeks now’, Buck answered while he shifted in his seat. ‘We live together’, he added. Valentine looked shocked, but let his gaze meander. He stared out of the window. ‘That’s great. Really. You deserve to be happy. I can’t imagine what it was like… you know, after the accident.’ Buck cleared his throat. His eyes moved unsure as though they didn’t know where to rest. He smiled after a brief pause, looked at Valentine with the same hesitation with which Valentine had draped his coat over the back of the chair, drew in a breath with which he summoned some courage. He smiled again. He let his eyes drift to a somewhere left of Valentine. ‘It’s.’ A pause followed. He collected his thoughts. ‘It’s, it’s just not the same anymore.’ The listlessness stung Valentine. ‘The same?’, he said reflexively, ‘What do you mean, exactly? Is everything alright? I thought, you were OK. That everything was fine.’ Valentine shot him a quick glance.
‘Well.’ His eyes were still fixed on something left of Valentine. ‘I’m’, he broke off. He thought to himself that it was rather absurd that pins and bolts and plates kept his crushed bones together, kept him from falling apart. He was not filled with gratitude. What he felt was not gratitude. In their attempt to provide a semblance of normalcy they had robbed him of what made him human. ‘I’m sorry’, he murmured. ‘I have to leave.’ There was a silence.’ Valentine’s breath was quiet and his face was relaxed when Buck’s eyes met Valentine’s. ‘I suppose, I understand’, Valentine said after he had examined Buck’s face. ‘I suppose, I do.’

Here I am

While I confessed my sins, I waited. I was extremely anxious to see the outcome of such an unexpected action.

The thought of death came and stayed with him and lent him a sort of sluggish pleasure.

He had visited countless specialists, spent uncounted money, endured agonizing treatments, in his endeavours to be able to hear what went on about him and to have a part in it.

Whenever he settled in a new apartment, and he moved often, those photographs were the first things out of the boxes.

He liked to think of himself as one for whom the flowers would blossom, who must always have nature about him, if he would be truly happy.

They kissed, slightly, and watched with polite interest while he hung up his coat, removed his trousers, shirt, socks and underwear and offered one of his socks to them.

Echoes of the Heart

My heart doubles bits of words. I hear them fall apart. I fear the pieces  are getting smaller and smaller – until there only remains U & I. How strange it feels. These  sounds bouncing around like light in my heart. I have been abandoned & adorned with these telling sounds: U & I, a soulful wheezing, a portly sigh. The tension in my skin will never mount –
It is my simple heart’s fault for entreating wishy-washy pixies to grant it what it wants. Instead, I received dreary words of exploration: “What’s in it for me?” Me, I echoed. Me –
But by then I had already seen it reflected in your eyes : I do not excite U. A slow oscillation and U were gone again.

I .. … …… U

Music// Echo Tongues: No Expectations