Scattered chairs and order out of chaos

Daniel McElroy

Friday, 16 June 2017

It always amazes me that theatre can so consistently draw people into its arms, embrace them, and then be changed based on the encounter. And it’s not picky—theatre is always ready to be just a little bit better because of the people who make it so, regardless of their experience level.

This week, six of us have be working together to create a play of sorts, to be performed next Tuesday in front of HIA Fellows, staff, and invited guests at CREA, a beautiful performing arts center that’s part of the University of Amsterdam. The experience has been particularly special for me as I’ve seen my group members, who all have varying levels of previous engagement with theatre, create something poignant and collaborative. As someone who makes theatre whenever and wherever I can, I’m used to this sort of creative space and the modes of thinking that get us there, but the magical qualities of the theatre have been revealed to me anew this week as I see them through the eyes of my fellow players: suddenly, I’m reminded not to take for granted that this art form is so democratic. More often than in maybe any other medium, people who make theatre call the end result “our play.” It’s something we made together, and something that couldn’t have existed without all of us.

So what does happen when you put a group of people with vastly different levels of theatre experience in a room and ask them to make a play in one week? Absolute magic.

After a couple crucial workshops with David Limaverde, a Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner based in Amsterdam, our group felt ready to take on the world. We came out of David’s exercises with a newfound faith in one another, and we were prepared to listen and to build upon one another’s ideas to create one cohesive vision. In fact, I’d say my own knowledge about “what we do in theatre” has been challenged in the best way by my group-mates, who have at moments trusted me and at others questioned my assumptions, which is all for the better because their own input at these moments has been spot on.

I’m struck by the juxtaposition of all that has happened during our program this week—high tensions and an explosion of honesty—and the vulnerability that the six of us working on this play have shared. It seems that the broader environment this week, which has seen fellows organizing and attempting to put their own ideas about the program itself into action, has carried into our creative space in a really special way. From my perspective it seems that we, too, have felt the urgency of making this entire HIA experience “worth it,” but working so intimately on a project that is deeply personal for each of us and simultaneously “ours” seems to have had this effect on a smaller scale.

As we’ve tried to bring order from the chaos of the world and of this HIA cohort, perhaps our work has unconsciously been influenced by those surroundings. When you enter the theatre next week, you can expect to find chairs scattered about the room—this is not going to be the theatre experience you may have been expecting. Think of this as the chaos you’ve felt over the past few weeks. But also, let this chaos settle as you focus on the stories of five women who all have something vital to share, and then work with us as we try to climb out of the chaos together. If you give yourself over to that creative process as much as we have this past week, I hope you will find that there is more than one way to make sense of it all and to feel like you’ve obtained something from this whole experience.

Let the theatre embrace you; it and you will be better for it.

Theatre as a place of learning

 Humanity in Action 2017 Fellowship Program is coming to an end and the whole group is becoming aware of it. We are at end of our journey, currently working on our ideas that we will translate into real projects. I chose to be part of the theater group and I am so happy to have the opportunity to cooperate with such fantastic people.

“The stage is a magic circle where only the most real things happen, a neutral territory outside the jurisdiction of Fate where stars may be crossed with impunity. A truer and more real place does not exist in all the universe.”  P.S. Baber, Cassie Draws the Universe

It was so interesting to see all the group members that enjoy so much in their work, while preparing for the final presentation that will take place in a couple of days.

Darija Sesar


Complicating Revolution

Today, HIA-Netherlands 2017 fellows started a revolution.

It was not a surprise revolution; in fact, tension had been building for days among fellows about the structure of the HIA program. Today, that tension snapped. At a moment’s notice, we gathered the program leaders in a room and voiced our discontents loudly and without reservation. It was a moment of honesty, and at the same time, a moment of hurt. It was a moment whose intentions I supported, but whose methods I questioned.

In this post, I want to discuss the different methods that we use to achieve change. I hope to raise the question: when is there space for revolutions? And when are other methods – less violent, but equally radical in form – more effective?

As shown by history, there are numerous upsides to revolution. It startles our opponents. Often, they realize the gravity and immediacy of the issue at hand. And, if successful, they are shocked into quick and bold change.

At the same time, revolution is divisive. In order for a revolution to be successful, it requires an “us” and “them.” Often, “they” are inaccurately grouped in order to mark a clean divide between the revolutionaries and the opponents.  As a result, many who might have been on “our” side are alienated.

Given the high risk/high reward nature of revolutions, we need to choose carefully when we choose to revolt, and when we choose a different route of achieving change.

In my mind, three conditions deem a revolution inappropriate. If 1) people are working toward a common goal, 2) people have positive intentions (this does not mean they won’t make mistakes) and 3) people are willing to listen to minority voices and respond with change, then a revolution is not only impractical – it is counterproductive.

On the other hand, if any one of these conditions is not met, revolution is both appropriate and necessary.

Today, HIA fellows revolted against people who were working toward the same goal of human rights, people who made mistakes but had positive intentions, and people who had articulated that they were willing to listen to feedback. Our revolution was loud and memorable – yet it hurt and alienated people who were on our side in the fight for human rights.

Today, while we revolted against a human rights curriculum we didn’t like, three mass shootings happened in my country. Today, while we vocalized our discontents with the setup of an elite program, more undocumented people were shoved to the margins of society. Today, while we ranted, injustice festered.

So let’s get smart about whom we choose to fight. Let’s build coalitions across differences to fight the good fight, instead of getting caught up in disagreements that are, quite frankly, privileged compared to the challenges of the real world. When we butt heads with those who share a common goal, instead of revolting, let’s be patient, honest, and bold with our words. Patience and boldness – if used correctly – can be just as radical as revolution.

And if we do decide to revolt against a curriculum, that’s fine. Let’s not kid ourselves, though – that’s not activism, it’s privileged scholarly debate.

But if we did, in fact, come here to act – well, there’s a lot of work to be done.

So let’s start a revolution against structural racism, and the institutions that sustain it. Let’s start a revolution against pinkwashing. Let’s start a revolution against transphobia and anti-Semitism and ableism and all the hateful ideas that pervade society. Let’s start a revolution for what matters.

Put your lessons into action!

“Resistance does not start with big words but with small deeds”
(Remco Campert, Dutch writer)

In the past weeks, we have had the privilege to submerge ourselves in the latest academic debates on minority rights and social activism in the Netherlands. We read together, debated together, and grew together – individually, and as a group. Through the concept of intersectionality, we learned how to approach social issues in more productive ways by approaching humans as intersections between various identities. Through Amok(!), we learned to seize opportunities. And through microrevolutions, we learned to see the potential of cheeky everyday resistance against those in power.

But what good is learning if you do not put your lessons into action? Today marked a new stage in our fellowship. We met with four inspirational persons who all, in one way or another, translate complex social issues to an empathic language that speaks to people. Anouk Eigenraam taught us to write journalistic articles that leave enough room for readers to respectfully disagree with the contents while still understanding the logic behind the article. David Limaverde showed us how theatre techniques can be used to give a voice to those in society who usually do not speak out. Through his Theatre of the Oppressed, David promotes social change by offering his audience new imaginaries to engage with. Kim van Haaster showed us how documentaries can serve as a source of pride and inspiration for social groups that exist at the margins of society. Sometimes you need a lens to find the particularities of everyday life. And finally, Ilana Cukier provided us with ten key lessons about strategic campaigning for social change: the most important one being that we should embrace the power of the movements that we are building. Although different in medium and style, these four activists all stress the importance of promoting a vision of future possibilities that people can relate to. In a way, these persons all find ways to bring humanity in action.

It is now up to us to translate our recent insights, combined with our existing social engagement, into a series of actions: articles, plays, documentaries, and campaigns! In the upcoming days, we will focus our attention on finding new and creative ways to connect to people and strengthen the position of minority rights in everyday life. We have had all the big words that we need, and now it is time to shift our attention to small deeds. Because that is how resistance starts.

P.S. There were birthdays, we had cake, it was the best.

On Friday, June 9th, we had the honor of welcoming Narku Lorenz Laing, a HIA Senior Fellow (Berlin, 2014), member of the board of Directors of HIA Germany and freelance trainer. He gave us a workshop on ‘strategies to counter everyday racism and discrimination.’

He started by introducing himself with the help of identity markers, that we ourselves would later also use. With dual bachelor and dual master degrees and a PhD in the near foresight, one of Narku’s identity markers was obviously that he is a scholar. He expressed that his ethnicity, political engagement, HIA involvement and citizenships also formed large parts of his identity. After this short introduction, he asked three volunteers to be in charge of big sheets on which we would write our expectations for the day, the topics we would like to discuss and the potential conflicts we would be facing.

The first exercise was an awareness exercise. We were shown a video of two basketball teams and were asked to count the number of passes the white team made. While the majority of us was right in answering 13 passes, not one of us had seen the moonwalking bear that appeared in the middle of the video. As we were too focused on the question or the thing we were supposed to be looking for, we failed to see or notice anything else.

Most interestingly, Narku told us that this exercise almost always fails with 7/8th graders, as they don’t yet listen to authority and not always follow the given instructions of what to look for.

Subsequently, we did an identity exercise in which each of us had to write down 3-5 identity markers that made us “us,” such as racial ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, hobbies, familial or friend roles, etc. After each of us had written them down, we formed a circle and each put our identity markers down in the middle, either shortly describing/explaining the card or just reading them out loud and putting them down. After each of us had done so, Narku explained certain patterns he sees in every workshop he gives, such as that people with a racial minority often write down their religion and that Caucasian people are less likely to use one of their 5 markers to write down their ethnicity. With all the identity markers in the middle, Narku asked us to pick one, turn to the person next to us and tell them a positive story we’ve had with this part of our identity. It was nice to do so in smaller groups, as people felt more open to share their personal stories one-on-one. After sharing these positive stories, Narku asked us to recall a negative story with the same identity marker, concluding that every identity marker is double sided.

Then we got back into a circle and step forward with a feeling we had. All people that resonated with what the person stepping forward had said, would also take a step toward the middle. Things like “I’m tired of being the positive example,” “I wish I had a better relationship with my father,” “I always take more care of people around me than of myself,” “I have difficulties opening up,” and “I feel like I have to overcompensate because of the color of my skin” came up.

After lunch we did an anti-bias exercise: the “Ice Berg of Diversity” exercise. Narku drew an iceberg on the board in which the visibility of identity markers was underlined. This exercise functioned to show us which identity markers (such as race, gender, class, etc.) are visible “above water,” which ones float right below surface, and which ones are deep below water level.

Narku discussed theory with us, explaining the differences between diversity, group-focused enmity, and inclusion, and social justice, empowerment and representation & democratization. After this quick theory class, we put it in practice by forming two circles, an inner circle and an outer circle, in which we practiced reacting to discriminatory situations with the person standing opposite you. By way of illustration, situations included a woman with a headscarf being singled out by the police, a woman being interrupted continuously by a man at the dinner table, and a person within the family making racist remarks.

Between the different exercises, Narku showed us several videos. One of them was “Where Are You From?” The video displays a white middle aged male and an American-born woman of Korean descent in a park. The white male asks the woman where she is from. The woman answers “San Diego.” “No, but where are you really from?”, the man asks. “San Diego.” After a short interaction, she tells him her grandparents were from Korea, to which he reacts: “O my god, I love Korean food” and most inappropriately imitates a number of culturally Korean-won phenomena. As a micro-revolution she reacts by asking him: “Where are YOU from?” “Oh I’m just from the United States. San Francisco.” “No,” she asks, where are you REALLY from? “United States, born and raised.” Finally, he tells her that his grandparents were originally from England, to which she responds the exact same way he did, imitating all these inherent British things, in a slightly overdramatic way. He doesn’t get it and just says “you’re weird” and runs away.

The last exercise before reflecting was a conversational, discussion exercise. All chairs were placed in a circle with three chairs in the middle. If you wanted to participate in the conversation and say something, you had to sit in one of the chairs standing in the middle. First we discussed safe space. Then the questions “Can we ever have an honest discussion about race?” and “How limited is empathy?” were asked. We closed off by discussing anti-discrimination and identity politics.

After a in-depth reflection, we moved outside for Louis’ great fellow talk that was about belief and religion. He told us how he regained his belief in G*d after fearing to have lost it for a bit. Obviously a difficult subject to tackle/crack in 30 minutes, we had a lot to discuss even after the talk had ended. Aletta’s talk on criminalizing dissent addressed one of the largest challenges posed to parliamentary democracy, the treatment of subaltern voices and the limits of free political expression. She stressed the fact that our process of criminalization was not neutral but rather a product of intersecting social, political and legal context which results in the once demonized queer population of Greenwich village in the late 1960’s now being hailed as the modern day champions of the LGBTQIA+ community all across the world.

Entry by Tamar Guttmann.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

By Sophia Blijden

Thursday, 8th of June 2017

I’ve been asking myself why I’m still here. The last couple of days have been a rollercoaster of emotions. There are moments when I feel so inspired by the speakers; like today when Niels Schuddeboom gave us a glimpse into his live. It makes me want to do good things and change the world. Other days I am in a downwards spiral. What’s the meaning of what we’re doing? Can we really change the world or are we just fooling ourselves? All these intense emotions are constantly lingering, waiting for a way to pop out either as teardrops or laughter.

I do know why I am still here though. Because as inspiring talks from Niels Schuddeboom about ableism and Halleh Ghorashi about integration, power dynamics and exclusion have been, the topics that stick with me the most are fellow talks and the conversations ‘outside’ of the program.

Today we had four fellow talks. First Kyra made us think very critical about the line between perpetrator and victim in war crimes. What makes us do certain deeds? Our academic thoughts were put into action by Nikki, who showed us a ‘media bubble’ workshop she does with high school kids. It was nice to feel eighteen again for a short period of time. Ilia shared her story about minorities in Greece and made us rethink the concept of democracy. Finally Jalyn wrapped up the fellow talks by raising awareness for the power of language; how we should be aware of the meaning behind words we say all the time and how they can effect minorities.

I am surrounded by so many intelligent, beautiful people. I can’t wait to begin working on our own projects together, for I want to learn even more from the experiences and thoughts of my peers. But most of all, I am so curious to see where all of us are a year from now. Will we have achieved some of our goals? Will we have made the world a better place? And more importantly: will we still remember the wonderful, personal stories we shared with each other this month?

Whatever happens, I already know that in the end, these incredible speakers aren’t the most valuable to me. My fellow fellows are. That’s why I am still here: because I honestly think – to quote Casablanca – this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship (with all of you).

Humanity in Action in Rotterdam!

By Tahmina M. Ashraf

Wednesday, June 7th was reserved to visit another amazing Dutch city, Rotterdam.

Even though the weather and the train transportation were a bit disappointing, the fellows agreed that this day was one of the more interesting days up until now. I personally felt very content to hear this, because I was involved in organizing this day.

As an active citizen of Rotterdam, I got the chance to show the fellows what we do in Rotterdam in the field of human rights and women empowerment. Our first speaker was Jamila Talla, the initiator of the foundation Voice of Afghan Women (Hereinafter: VoAW). Jamila has fled the war in Afghanistan and lives in the Netherlands since 1999. Her own struggle and the struggle of many other refugee women triggered her to initiate VoAW. Jamila felt namely that these women need an address, a voice.

VoAW worked since 2010 in the field of women’s rights and delegated this responsibility in 2016 to the youth, because they are the future and they need to take their responsibility of tackling social issues. Voices foundation is therefore established in 2016, with the aim to delegate the responsibility of tackling social issues to the younger generation.

During the workshop, the ladies of VoAW and Voices had an interesting dialogue about integration in societies. The ladies from Rotterdam mentioned their interpretation of the concept of integration and they explained what the challenges are in Rotterdam. It was also interesting to hear that the fellows from USA recognized the integration issues as being almost parallel to the issues in the USA.

Then, after this workshop, we went to meet another social initiative. We met the director of the café “Heilige Boontjes” or holy beans. It was just amazing to see how young delinquents were trained to become great baristas. This café is set up to re-integrate mainly “ex-criminals” into the society by means of economic empowerment. The participants get a job, different soft and hard skill trainings, and personal coaching.

To conclude, I personally think that this day was a very refreshing day, because we showed the fellows what “humanity in action” can look like in practice. I hope that they got inspired. At least, I did!

A Day In Photos

Deniece brought to the floor in her fellow talk the topic of “colorism”. People of color tend  to mimic white people who set such standards  to get their acceptance.

Damir captured our attention when he gave a lecture on  The sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in regards to human rights. Lets not forget that the goals are closely aligned with human rights standards most targets explicitly reflects to the contents of corresponding to human needs like accessibility, quality education, and healthcare to mention but a few.

Sinan Cankaya introduced us to “micro revolution” and how to respond to small aggressions or racism.

We headed to the East of Amsterdam at vereninging Ons Suriname where we met a Senior Fellow Mitchell Esajas who runs the Black Archives. Surprisingly we saw a book that was signed by Langston Huges.
It couldn’t have been any better when we closed the summed up the day by watching the filming of “I am not your Negro”

What’s your identity? : A question that has no single answer

Ilia Chalimourda

Tuesday, 6th June 2017

“What intellectually challenging discussions are going to be engendered this day?” I thought, after waking up in the morning. It was raining heavily and I felt as if the rain had a meaning, an essence of its own. I was wondering if it was a foreshadowing for the wave of thoughts, feelings and emotions that were about to overwhelm us this day. While walking towards my destination I was contemplating about the various issues that we were going to address: Bosnia Herzegovina, LGBTQIA and Homonationalism.

The program started at 9.00 with Cihan Tekeli’s workshop about a methodology based on the roots of Deep Democracy. Cihan managed to introduce us to a way to cope with disagreement, identifying the undercurrents of each conversation and taking into account how the whole group is influenced in terms of the conscious and the subconscious. His theory of dealing with disagreement consists of three initial stages: active listening, summarizing and questioning.

The most challenging part was when we had to put this theory into practice. Cihan asked us to write down a personal narrative, a personal moment of injustice, that had an emotional impact on us, regardless of whether we had managed to respond to the interlocutor or not. We later did a role play based on our personal stories. For me this was emotionally harsh because I had to relive an incident that had traumatized me but it was also a personal moment of resolution and reconciliation with the past, instead of denial and avoidance. I realized the significance of merely asking “why” when somebody tells something really unfair or offensive to you. Feelings were later involved in the exercise as well but the first three stages for me was the most crucial part so as to be able to form an understanding of the other person’s perspective.

It was almost 11. It was time to close the curtains, turn off the lights and surrender ourselves to the screening of “My Own Private War,” a documentary directed by Lidija Zelovic. It was about the war in Bosnia Herzegovina and to me it looked like the director’s effort to disentangle the thread of the past and bring people’s buried memories into the surface. The traumatic incidents that took place in the past are not restricted to an individual memory but are shared among the members of her family. It is through the process of unburying the memories that the wound can be healed, without this meaning to be forgotten.

In her documentary I sensed that Lidija really made an effort to utter the unutterable, to express the impossible. Some emotionally strong images and a few moments of silence reverberated the unspeakable reality of the war, what cannot be restricted within the boundaries of human language, what cannot be adequately imagined and perceived by anyone, for the real witnesses of the totality of the tragedies are the ones who have actually experienced the horror of the war and most importantly, those who did not manage to survive, those whose stories will never be narrated.

Her documentary was also a motivation for me to start thinking about the conceptualization of identity.  “Where are you from?” “Where are you going to?” How can a country be part of your identity and define you as a human being? These are all open ended questions that we still need to reflect upon.

The sun appeared and we were all ready for the next speaker, Mounir Samuel, who was going to talk about the issue of gender as a social construct. Making critical questions to us about the traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, he managed to alert us on the fluidity of societal structures. In order to illustrate his points about the inherent instability of societal categories and  demonstrate the different positions of sexuality he drew the Kinsey Scale for us.


The archetypes, that have conquered the collective unconscious, serve to reproduce all the negative stereotypes that seek to enclose women and men into specific roles that eventually reduce their heterogeneity and complexity as humans. What for me is really vital to do is to follow Adrienne Rich’s method and “dive into the wreck,” meaning that we need to descend into the ocean of reality and dive among the ruins of these myths, which have violated humans’ very uniqueness and subjectivity. Only by resisting to remain in a constant state of stasis and finally, by diving into the “ocean,” as can be seen in Rich’s poem, can people become genuine citizens within a democratic society.

First having read the book of myths,

and loaded the camera,

and checked the edge of the knife-blade,

I put on

the body-armor of black rubber

the absurd flippers

the grave and awkward mask.

I am having to do this

not like Cousteau with his

assiduous team

aboard the sun-flooded schooner

but here alone.


There is a ladder.

The ladder is always there

hanging innocently

close to the side of the schooner.

Extract from “Diving into the Wreck”

Adrienne Rich

The talk about gender was an appropriate transition to our final speaker, Tugba Öztemir, who talked about the issue of homonationalism and how we construct identities. I really appreciate the fact that she shared her personal story with us and the various “micro aggressions” which she had to deal with. Tugba also described two ways of looking at cultures: the restorative and the constructive one. In the former case culture is considered to be something fixed whereas in the latter case culture is socially constructed. Our identities though are always under the process of formation and hence we should avoid dealing with identities in an essentialist manner.

With this final talk, the long day had come to an end and we all had to go. And it was raining again. But what kind of rain was it this time? Was it the rain of catharsis?  I am still wondering…






Humanity in ‘Action’

On Monday, June 5th our topics of the day were ‘Refugees’ and ‘Greece’. I could give you an elaborate overview of our program that day and tell you for example that we kicked off the day by watching the documentary ‘We Are Here’ followed by a talk of human rights lawyer Jelle Klaas, who works with the Public Interest Litigation Project (PILP). However, I am not going to do this. Don’t get me wrong, it was a day full of informing and eye-opening talks (e.g. the story of Keyya Baloch from Balochistan who told us his horrific story about the ongoing war in Balochistan) with which I could easily fill this blog.

Instead, I want to focus on what I consider a critical lesson of this day. After the talk by Sanne Mylonas, ex-entrepreneur in Greece, we were invited to the Wereldhuis (“Worldhouse”), a center of information, counseling, education, and culture for undocumented migrants. We were given the chance to experience, listen, and talk to the people that Jelle Klaas introduced us to earlier that day. At the Wereldhuis, Izzy Abu Hassan Bangura shared his story about the work they are doing:

“Approximately 15.000 undocumented people live in Amsterdam; all of them have their own story. Some of them are refugees or rejected asylum seekers. The Wereldhuis is the place where they are not dependent on others for a while. They can come here for advice and counseling. Most of the activities in the Wereldhuis are developed by undocumented migrants themselves.”

After Izzy’s introduction, he showed us a video about diversity. Now, what happened afterwards is critical. Our group took over the debate and continued our heated academic discussion without taking the people who welcomed us into account, at all.

This brings us to a crucial issue that has been occurring repeatedly over the past week. We are a group of intelligent, well-educated, international (ex-) students with a strong commitment to human rights. We have been brought together by Humanity in Action because we all feel a responsibility to put our academic knowledge into practice. However, at times, this results in reproducing our privilege as scholars. The day after our meeting at the Wereldhuis Judith Goldstein, founder of HiA reminded us of what went wrong that day: we forgot about our goals as activists, we forgot about the people who inspire us. I hope, together with the rest of the group, that during this month the program will help us to find ways to put our words into action.

Nikki Niland

P.s. tomorrow, on June 8th, a social media campaign on Twitter will be launched using the hashtag #BalochMissingPersonsDay. It brings awareness to what is happening in Balochistan, check it out.

Justice: Refusing to be a Bystander of Racism & Colonialism

By Jalyn Radziminski

On Thursday, June 1st Dr. Wayne Modest, welcomed us to the Troopeen Museum with these thought provoking questions: What is Freedom? What is Empathy? What is Justice? Is it portraying history in an accurate way? Is it the rehabilitation of the oppressed populations and/or the retribution of the oppressors? In the ever changing face of neo-colonialism and racism, this is not an ‘us vs. them’ problem. It is everyone’s duty to recognize their privilege, past, and social responsibility to support those who are oppressed.  After Dr. Modest’s talk, fellows explored the museum with the lens that had us question what was left said, unsaid, seen, and unseen.

The Troopeen museum focuses on the Netherlands history of colonialization. What stood out to me the most was the way the information was presented. Materialistically, items and cultural artifacts that the Dutch brought back from the colonized countries were displayed throughout the museum. There were also descriptions of how specific tools were used to measure skulls of the people who lived in colonized areas as well ways in which missionaries traveled and occupied space to learn about ‘the warlike’ peoples. The lack of the oppressed people’s voice and the dominance of the colonizer’s perspective was unsettling. The normalization of these atrocities and the unbalanced descriptions in this case definitely instilled the necessity of a concrete, wholistic approach in the ways histories of oppression are taught and presented. We cannot choose bits and pieces of our histories and current realities. There is no justice if racism and oppression remain unseen.  I carried this lens with me outside of the museum’s doors. The way we remember impacts our empathy; how do we get people with privilege to see? If understood the full story of colonization and slave trade, would this time period still be called, “The Golden Age” by so many citizens of Netherland?

Later that day, Humanity in Action fellows viewed the documentary, “The Colour White”, and engaged with the director Sunny Bergman and Elvin, a Black participant in the documentary. Sunny Bergman, a white woman, wanted to create a documentary that explored whiteness, what it meant to acknowledge privilege, and colorblindness all through a lens that could be relatable to white people.  Throughout the documentary, it was clear that many White Dutch citizens, similar to many White citizens in the United States, do not see White as a color, but as a standard state. Histories of racism and slave trade are often distorted in both mainstream and educational platforms, and the necessity of addressing modern issues through Black Lives Matter and speaking out against systematic to micro levels of oppression is often misunderstood.  Sunny Bergman of course acknowledges the controversy behind using film as an approach of empathy and relatability to white audiences.  She also acknowledges the fact that, “You can’t make money off of racism”. I do think this film highlights something critical: Whiteness needs to be seen as an identity, not as the absence of color. Whiteness is an experience that effects an individual’s abilities and opportunities as they navigate the world, and the privilege associated with that identity is at the expense of people of color. No one is “just” white, and it’s about time we stop looking at whiteness as the ‘standard’. It’s time people participate in dialogue and allyship (not earn the title of ‘ally’ but actually ENGAGE in allyship) without shutting down from the fear of being called ‘racist’. It’s time to allow oppressed individuals share their narratives and speak up for their rights to equality as humans without being labeled ‘radical’.

This dialogue was followed by our final speaker that day, Anousha Nzume, a Black artist and writer of the book, “Hello White People”. Her book unapologetically demands that “White Dutch people grow thicker skin”, and discussed the disregard of the racism behind ‘Black-Pete’ as well as the fact that many White Dutch citizens that do not see how privilege operates in present reality. She highlights how inequality can be seen in segregated universities, special ed classrooms, and the workplace as well as the way Black Dutch activists were brutally arrested for speaking out against the blackface tradition of Black Pete in the Netherlands. Nzume and Bergmen, women of different races and backgrounds, both had to face criticism by the general public when trying to address issues of colorblindness and racism in White communities through their work.

    The following evening, Humanity in Action fellows met Senior Fellow, Mitchell Esajas, who for his Humanity in Action follow-on project created the Netherland’s first Black Archive at the Association of Suriname. He is also an active member of the New Urban Collective. Esajas gave us a tour of the Black Archives. Then, we joined the public screening of ‘I Am Not Your Negro’. This was followed by a panel discussion featuring three Black community leaders in the Netherlands.  I was shocked by the fact that the creation of the Black archives was so recent, and how despite the differences in history, peoples of the Black diaspora in the Netherlands and the Americas share so much in common. It made me ponder, what types of coalitions can we form as an international Black community, and if it could ever be an organized possibility.  Sylvana Simons, founder of the Artikel 1, responded to my question by affirming that we need to look at Black oppression through a human rights lens and become more organized.

  I was also pleasantly surprised by the diversity in the crowd. In my experience leading similar dialogues and programs at my university as a woman of color, it is typically only people of color who show up. In contrast, Mitchell Esajas’ program had a large turnout of White, Dutch citizens of Amsterdam as well as Black. It made me think of the potential power of both the oppressed and the privileged refusing to be a bystanders and to constantly strive to learn and to take action against racism. How can we get more white peoples to engage in conversations of responsibility?  After this program, I went out with Humanity in Action senior fellows who also attended the program in support of Esajas.  After thoughtful conversations we could only conclude that White people should not allow the burden to fall on just Black peoples. It is essential that we address these issues in a joint effort.

Racism in the Netherlands

 photo IMG_20170601_112925-2_zpsuyt3ouuf.jpgAs soon as I stepped off the plane in Schiphol airport, I knew my many intersecting-visible and invisible-identities would have to be reframed in to a European context. Although Europe and the U.S. are more alike than different when it comes to “Western” values, our histories and connections to other countries are not. While in the U.S. African slaves were brought to the country to build the nation economically, the Netherlands’ colonization occurred out of the country in colonies such as Cape Town, Indonesia, and Suriname. These colonies too economically built the nation, but its distant geographic position made it easier for the Dutch to ignore the horrific violence of its exploitation. This difference, I believe, has put the two countries on different trajectories when discussing the racism that is prevalent in both nations.

Yesterday, we visited the Tropenmusuem and talked with Wayne Modest, a Professor of Material Culture and Critical Heritage Studies at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Wayne discussed how the dehumanization of slavery was a two way street, a view point often not voiced when discussing the impacts of colonization. To dehumanize entire groups of people is in itself a dehumanizing act upon one’s self. To Wayne, this view point makes it imperative for folks to understand that we are all implicated in moving toward a future of justice. Afterwards, we visited the exhibits in the museum, one of which featured the Netherlands’ colonization of Indonesia. I’ve attached various photos of the items featured in the exhibit.
I have learned a lot from the Dutch fellows in my cohort about how race is traditionally viewed in the Netherlands. Such as the fact that non-white Dutch folks are automatically assumed to be foreigners, even if they were born and raised in the Netherlands. Additionally, I have learned that the Dutch prides themselves as having a progressive and tolerant country that is above racism. From my perspective, tolerance is a far cry from acceptance, and I have learned that this ‘tolerance’ and progressive thinking is not often present when discussing issues such as immigration to the Netherlands, refugees, Black Pete, and discrimination from the police. Being African-American in the Netherlands reminds me how significant context is when it comes to identities or socially presumed identities. Additionally, it reinforces my belief tackling racism in any country must be done intersectionally.
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Intersectionality and Agency

On Tuesday, May 30 my peers and I had the immense pleasure of being invited into a discussion about Intersectionality by Dr. Adeola Enigbokan. Being a race scholar and a Black feminist, I am familiar with the theory and practice of intersectionality and how it affects people’s identities and political and social practices. However, Dr. Enigbokan presented to us a novel way of looking at and interacting with Intersectionality by presenting it to us through the lense of a successful slave mutiny that took place on a Dutch East India Company Ship in 1782.

Intersectionality as a theory implies that all aspects of a person’s identity be equally considered and acknowledged in the interpretation of their definition of self. For example: a Black, queer, cisgender woman would need to have all aspects of her identity named, acknowledged and validated. She is not only woman, she is black. She is not only a Black woman, she is a queer Black woman. The identities are all equal and cannot be separated from each other. Each piece contributes to her identity as a whole. I have only previously heard of and studied intersectionality in terms of identity, however through the story of the slave mutiny, Dr. Enigbokan challenged us to think of intersectionality as a way of a group bringing together all aspects of their identity and agency, and ripping through white or “blank” spaces. She moved intersectionality from the individual to the collective.

The men whose identities were taken and replaced with “slave” came from different geographical locations, spiritual locations, ethnic identities and racial identities. However, during the mutiny they created an intersectional collective identity that allowed for them to resist and eventually, even if momentarily, overcome their oppressors. The mutiny was successful because of the intersect of the sense of individual agency, identity, and then group action. Each slave had to create room for the other, and each individual had to agree to be a part of a collective. Dr. Enigbokan made it clear to us that without the collective acting as one, the disruption of the white or blank space is not possible.

I loved her presentation for us as activists and scholars taking part in Humanity in Action because it reminded me that we all come from different nations, racial backgrounds, sexualities, religions, gender identities, social classes and educational backgrounds. We all are coming together hoping to create change in a world that desperately needs for someone to break through white or blank spaces. Dr. Enigbokan reminded us that without a willingness to bring all of our identities together, accept each other, and learn how to use our collective, intersectional agency, revolution will only be an idea, and never a reality.

Courtney Luke

“How to Talk to Racists”

Aaron Scherf

“Wars do not start with bullets, they start with words.” This phrase is how Maja Nenadovic began her workshop on communication with our fellows cohort. A survivor and witness of the breakup of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Maja paid testimony to how critical it is for people of different identities and groups to maintain their capacity for civil discourse. The failure to communicate, she emphasized, is at the heart of all conflicts, and the most effective method of preventing violence is the preservation of meaningful conversations. While her lessons for us centered around the idea of “How to Talk to Racists”, their insights were applicable to any form of discussion between two opposing groups. The objective for the day’s programming was to arm our fellows with some practical techniques for debate and dialogue; what resulted, however, was a far more intensive conversation on the applicability of discourse in the face of systemic injustice.

The second day of the 2017 Humanity in Action Netherlands program began with a brief lesson in logical fallacies to illustrate the traps many people fall into when arguing for a position. Two of the fellows with backgrounds in law studies, Arne Muis and Louis Lainé, assisted Maja and her partner in explaining why fallacies are “logical shortcuts” that are frequently used in place of real explanations. Concepts such as “hasty generalizations” and “scapegoating” were introduced to explore how people project their own assumptions and opinions onto larger groups, while “appeals to authority” and “appeals to tradition” analyzed the ways some arguments assume authenticity simply because they are derived from a respected source. The applications of logical fallacies in social campaigns and advocacy were explored as well, through hands-on roleplay exercises in which fellows attempted to persuade someone with opposing views to support a human rights organization. Our cohort was split into two groups, with one side taking the position of an equal-rights advocate while the other was split into roles such as “homophobe” or “xenophobe”. Many fellows, myself included, had a difficult time acting out their role as someone diametrically opposed to their views, often falling back on stereotypes or fallacies during their dialogue to represent their argument. The activity illustrated how difficult it could be, even for self proclaimed empathetic activists, to really understand the motivations and reasoning behind those with differing opinions. It also showed us why public discussions on social causes such as immigration and LGBTQIA rights so often devolve into emotional shouting matches; when neither side can clearly illustrate their position with logic, it is almost impossible for them to understand each other.

After lunch our fellows took a small break from the study of rhetoric for a boat tour around the lake in Gouda. Our guide explained the history of the region, beginning with its origins as a peat and clay mining community to its current status as a protected environmental reserve and recreation area. The interaction of the local environment and human activities offered an interesting lesson in sustainability, particularly as we learned about the various efforts to preserve the lake ecosystem in the face of increasing human habitation. Our time out on the water also gave us a much needed chance to relax and enjoy the wonderful weather after the intensity of the morning’s dialogue, and allowed us time to reflect before diving back into communication training upon our return.

The afternoon was by far the most divisive discussion of the day, and for that very reason the most rewarding. The focus of the lesson was the culmination of Maja’s program on “How to Talk to Racists”, in which she explained her six step model to approaching conversations with people who hold radically opposing views. Her methodology was summarized in a simple acronym, PLEASE: Pause, Listen, Empathize, Analyze, Speak, and Evaluate Expectations. Her fundamental point was that in dealing with disagreement we all too often allow emotion to cloud our judgment, and by doing so we remove any chance of holding rational discussions on the relative merits of our positions. She explained that, by using her system, we could be better equipped to control our own emotions and instead take the time to listen and understand our counterparts. The point of our conversations are not to reach an agreement or compromise, but at least we could leave with a better understanding of “the other”, and display our own humanity to someone who may have previously vilified us. Maja emphasized that the PLEASE method could not and should not be applied universally; there are times when it is better to make an immediate stand for your beliefs rather than methodologically deconstruct the ideas of your “opponent”. The pacifistic approach of PLEASE was best used in personal interactions, she elaborated, not group settings or public forums, and its objective was to create trust and understanding, not argue for the merits of one position or another. Still, the idea of applying rational and empathetic patience to situations that are often very visceral, such as encounters with racist slurs, did not sit well with many of our fellows. This disagreement over when to use patient understanding and when to take a stand sparked the heated discussion that formed the conclusion of our day.

The conflict that our group grappled with is not a new one in the field of activism. The questions that divided our conversations would be familiar to many movements: When are strong emotions and displays justified in advocating for social change? Is passive resistance sufficient to affect the power structures in society, or are more forceful measures necessary? Why should oppressed groups be held to the double standard of submissiveness, being judged by the “angry black person” or “bitchy woman” stereotypes just for using the same assertiveness that leads people to think of white males as “strong leaders”? It is a difficult dilemma, all the more relevant in our modern struggles to bridge partisan political divides while also advancing inclusive values. Should we compromise on our strongly held beliefs to accomplish more tangible goals? Or do we risk becoming idealists without real progress? Or is the situation really one of the fallacies we explored earlier in the day, a false dichotomy in which we truly have a spectrum of different options? My personal belief falls into the final option; sometimes it is necessary to set aside differences and restrain emotions in the interest of larger goals, while in other circumstances it is vital we stand by our convictions to the last. There are no easy answers to the world’s myriad problems, as I am certain our next few weeks with Humanity in Action will show, but the practice of considering every available option, and its potential consequences, is a good habit to employ for anyone advocating for social changes. The methodology for “Talking to Racists” Maja explained to us may not be the solution to every encounter with people who hold opposing viewpoints, but it offered a valuable perspective into the importance of realizing that everyone believes what they do for a reason and in their mind it is always justified. It may be difficult to respond to offensive language with pausing and listening, and indeed sometimes it may not even be warranted, but it does give us a tool by which to explore the arguments and ideas of opposing viewpoints. If we all practice such empathy, at the very least we will gain a better picture of the issue at hand, and in the process arrive at a deeper appreciation for humanity as the complex fabric of different identities, ideas, and interactions that it is.

The Importance of Dialogue

The Importance of Dialogue

By Aletta de Savornin Lohman

After arriving in Reeuwijk, we kicked off a weekend that aimed to convey to us the importance of dialogue. In the struggle for justice we are often confronted with people whose opinion differs from ours and who hold bigoted beliefs, which triggers a strong emotional response that–and I admit myself to being guilty of this at times–leads us to ignore their reasoning. We are prompted into a rant that is not aimed at holding a constructive conversation but rather at defending ourselves from an attack on our humanity, our value and our identity. Both Lenka Adema, a self-employed senior mediation expert from the Hague, and Maja Nenadovic, a dedicated debate coach, provided us with tools to speak to and possibly educate the next person sitting opposite to me in a bar explaining to me why women’s biology makes them unfit for leadership or why we deserve sexual assault based on our wardrobe.

On Saturday, Lenka helped us identify this outrage as our ‘limbic mode’ and taught us how to channel our emotions into constructive dialogue. She provided us with useful ground rules on conversation and highlighted the importance of body language. We were introduced to Maja Nenadovic the next day whose method of ‘radical’ empathy designed to address conflict, particularly amongst vulnerable and marginalized groups in society, confronted us with the consequences of our speech: ‘I come from a country which no longer exists because people stopped talking’. I believe this sentence encapsulates the very core message of our gathering. We also addressed the implications of her method, making sure that the emphasizing of dialogue does not burden the oppressed in a way that suggests they should initiate it, but merely provides a tool in situations where they are forced to.