Welcome to the 2017 Fellowship

Our first weekend will be spent at Accommodation De Rotende Turf, 60 kilometers southwest of Amsterdam near Gouda.
Our first weekend will be spent at Accommodation De Rotende Turf, 60 kilometers southwest of Amsterdam near Gouda.

This Friday our Fellows will join us from Bosnia, Greece, the United States, and other parts of the Netherlands for another exciting summer of the Humanity In Action Fellowship in Amsterdam. We will spend our first weekend at a holiday farm near Gouda getting to know each other and participating in workshops ranging from “Rhetorical Debate and Self-Defense” to a boat trip that explores some of the history of the peat industry in the area. Once we return to Amsterdam, the new Fellows will meet up with a Senior Fellow who they have been paired with for the month to begin learning about what the Humanity In Action network is all about.

Stay tuned here for daily reflections authored by Fellows. They will use this space to further digest the speakers, workshops and activities that are central to the Fellowship.


Accommodation De Rokende Turf: the first destination for the Humanity In Action Summer Fellowship in Amsterdam.

Disability rights

I was very excited for this day since I do not know a lot about disability rights. The first speaker that came was Gijs Bruggeman. He is deaf-blind. In order to communicate with us he brought two people with him. When Gijs was speaking in sign language, someone would translate that into English. When we would ask questions to Gijs, the translator would translate that into sign language. Someone else would hold Gijs hand and repeat the sign language. Sometimes to make it more clear the other translator would write on his back.


Gijs started by telling about his early life. He has the syndrome of Usher. Which means that he was born deaf and by the age of nine almost completely blind. He told us about Helen Keller (1880-1969), she was the pioneer of awareness about Deaf-Blind. She changed a lot in the world but especially in the US for Deaf-Blind people.


Gijs started at a special high school but since the level of education was very bad at that school and they actually forbid him to use sign language he went to a “normal” high school. They would forbid sign language at the special school because otherwise he would never learn to communicate with “normal” people. After he visited a high school in the Netherlands there were not really any options in the Netherlands to study. Therefore, he went to the US to study at Gallaudet university. This is the only Deaf university in the world. All the teachers and students at this high school use sign language. Gijs really enjoys being in the US because the US has way better services for deaf-blind people. But after his study he did return to the Netherlands to work on the services in the Netherlands.


Since Gijs returned to the Netherlands he has been an activist on rights for the Deaf-Blind. He became a board member of the SWDA Foundation for the Welfare of Deaf People. With this foundation he fights for equal rights for Deaf-(blind) people. Gijs also married last year in the Netherlands and he would like his children to learn both sign and the Dutch language.


The second speaker that came was Pauline Gransier, a disability rights activist. The last years she mostly worked at the ratification of the UN convention of the rights on disabilities. She is a very passionate speaker. She mostly talked about the difficulties she is facing because she is sitting in a wheelchair. Examples of that are that a lot of public transports is refusing on taking her with them. The same with a lot of university buildings, they have no special doors etc. for wheelchairs. This makes that disabled people face a lot of difficulties in their daily life. Therefore, Pauline started the campaign called “Wij staan op”, “We stand up”. They tried to influence the politics in such a way that every building in 2017 should be wheelchair proof. It passed in the first and second chamber so hopefully from next year on Pauline and everyone else having a disability will face less discrimination because of their disability. And Pauline will of course keep on fighting for her rights.


The last speaker that came was Mounir Samuel (Egyptian-Dutch political scientist, journalist and author). He was very direct and did not prepare a speech or powerpoint which was good for the change. He started talking about privileged and unprivileged things you can have. So white would be privileged and black unprivileged. Or hetero sexual as privileged and gay as unprivileged. He would put all those stereotypes against each other and confronted us with the fact that we were either quite privileged especially the white male privileged or very unprivileged. He would link that to the fact that we always think in differences instead of similarities. If we would look for a similarity when we see or meet someone instead of seeing that someone has a different skin colour, has a disability etc. look for similarities. Since this lecture, when I am on the train or anywhere I would try to look for similarities with the person I meet instead of differences.


Sahar Afzal

Plural Identity

On June 13, we had an interactive lecture with Mounir Samuel, an Egyptian-Dutch political scientist, journalist and author who is an ardent promoter of minority and LGBTQIA-rights. “Violence usually is not discriminatory but Orlando was… Love is not discriminatory but racism and sexism is…” These powerful words paid tribute to the Orlando Massacre, a disastrous shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, US, that resulted in 50 people losing their lives and 53 being injured. Some claim that the shooting was merely a radical Islamic terrorist attack, some highlight the role of loose gun regulation laws in mass shootings in the US, whereas some others emphasize the homophobic motivations of the shooter as an important factor that should be taken into account. The answer may be all of the above, or one can claim that one of the mentioned factors was more salient than the rest.


This introduction also provided a natural transition to the main theme of the lecture where we proceeded with an interactive exercise on one’s perceived identity versus self-defined identity. A group of fellows stood in front of the entire group and the rest were asked to define them based on their outlook and first impression they gave to the group. In most cases, the individual fellows were defined by others as male/female, black/white, Muslim, Arab, gay etc., mostly indicating perceived gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. These perceived identifications, however, did not always match the self-identifications of the individuals some of whom chose to define themselves as writer, singer, idealist, etc.. Each individual case provided an example for the statement that our appearances have great impact on the others’ perceptions of our identity. We as individuals have little to no influence on people’s first impressions on our identity. Moreover, consciously or unconsciously, we take part in perpetuating this system because we, too, make guesses and generalizations about others and try to identify them either as a part or as an outsider to certain groups. Mounir says this creates a one-dimensional society that is constructed by binaries. In such a society, everyone has to fit in a box regardless of what the classification is. This creates a certain degree of discrimination towards the ones who do not fit into the widely accepted norms. Further categorizations, such as being bisexual or trans in LGBTQIA communities, exist even in minority groups who are usually discriminated against. Black/white, straight/gay, native/foreign, highly educated/less educated, city person/countryside person, wealthy/poor are examples of some of the many binaries that we use to categorize people on daily bases. They do not only indicate various facets of identity but they are also related to privilege where belonging to one category of the binary implies privilege (as exemplified in the description: white, male, highly educated, Christian person who does not have any significant disabilities and who lives in a city).


Mounir relates this attitude to “difference thinking” where we look for differences and label people based on our perceptions of them. Difference thinking takes away from the human side of individuals and prevents us from noticing our commonalities with others. Instead of focusing on differences which could be inflated and presented as irreconcilable characteristics and sources of polarization, Mounir emphasizes that it is important to focus on our shared connections. Challenging difference thinking by realizing our biases and trying to focus on similarities rather than the perceived differences is also the main take away from his talk.

The interactive nature of the talk and Mounir’s energetic attitude made this talk very engaging. Furthermore, being able to reflect on our prejudices and the privileges we have in the open and genuine environment of Humanity in Action was a great experience that made me appreciate HIA and the contributions of my fellow friends once again.


Merve Mert

Betzavta Training

Betzavta Training – “challenging each person on the difference between what they say and how they behave”. Since that is a common behaviour in politics, it grabbed my attention. Tali Padan led us through the experience which taught all of us something about ourselves.

One of the first exercises was to draw in pairs, in silence, what “equality” means. I made it myself easy by communicating through typing on a smartphone instead, but some couples were communicating by what they were writing or drawing. Other couples were each drawing/writing on their own half of the sheet while tolerating what the other was doing. That was the goal of this exercise: to write or draw on an equal basis while communicating with each other.

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The next exercise was to draw in groups of five what “freedom” is. This was not as easy as it might look. “Freedom” can be approached from both a tangible and non-tangible dimension and what for one person freedom is might be different for someone else. To me, freedom is the freedom to choose: friends, relationships, work – future.

The most fundamental exercise started when everyone was writing their names on pieces of paper – each person, one piece of paper. The game that followed had only one rule: in 15 minutes whoever has the most cards can make a rule that is valid for the whole group. It took me by surprise and before I knew it, a few persons were stealing cards. Out of an impulse to protect myself, I also stole a card (power grabbing feels great) but was quickly convinced to give it back since it was against my principles. Shortly after that, I joined a majority that established the rule that every member of this majority can establish a rule to his/her own wish. So in the end, we did succeed to counteract the habit of grabbing power but it taught me that I could also be also to steal power from other people.

I found the Betzavta Training most interesting and I intend to use parts of it in other settings.


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Rick Otten

Art & Diversity

As time goes on, so does our intense program. Today’s issue was Arts & Diversity. We welcomed the well-known Dutch Artist Patricia Kaersenhout and spent with her almost two beautiful hours. Patricia lives and works in Amsterdam but also presents exhibitions and performances in other European cities such as Berlin and Copenhagen.


Throughout her work she makes a social statement against racism. Patricia uses many forms of art such as painting, photography, collage, film-making and theatre and she uses her talent to raise the social awareness and make a statement about the history of black people and the injustices they have suffered. She is an artistic storyteller presenting incidents about people who continue to be victims of political injustice. My favorite part was a beautiful video made by her, showing a black woman’s face painted white and a white woman’s painted black. She explained to us that she wanted to give the effect of a mirror’s reflection and the whole idea was inspired by a poem she once found about God being a black woman who explained all the very reasons why black people are and should feel beautiful. Patricia, passionate and outgoing as she is, has found her own voice to speak to the crowd to search and fight for an equal and fair world not only for black people but also for all of us.

She spent time with us, talking about her art, explaining to us her thoughts and intentions of a few of her meaningful projects, and engaging us in a very inspiring and fruitful conversation. At the end we had a workshop where we were the artists while she was reading to us a poem that she wrote.

All in all, I enjoyed today’s lecture and I thought it was very creative and inspiring. I hope that she will continue “speaking” and communicating with the people in her unique and beautiful way and that one day we could all make this life a beautiful and colorful place for everyone.

Maria Louiza Kalogerakou

Identity, homonationalism and queer tour

Tugba Öztemir is an educator working for Diversion, she teaches and discusses taboo topics, such as islamophobia, islamism, extremism and homosexuality. My identity, whose construction?  – is the name of the lecture she gave on the second week of our HIA program. She began with the question of how the identity politics are being portrayed in the Netherlands, explaining the issue furthermore through the examples of microaggressions in the society, deconstructing sentences and finishing hidden messages. We discussed Culturalization of Citizenship and what it actually means; we examined the idea that of assimilation to the dominant group and what are the consequences of it. There are two ways of thinking: restorative (you assume that there’s a fixed culture) and constructive (culture is made by people themselves, it changes and alters throughout the years). The conclusion was that for any specific entity there’s a set of attributes that are necessary to its identity.

After the first part of the lecture, there was a short workshop on gay rights and we were asked to answer a questions about exclusivity of human rights, we discussed how gay rights can be used as a political tool and how sexuality plays a role in European and especially in Dutch debates on multiculturalism and in Orientalist discourse in Islam. She explained how Pink Washing is used to describe marketing and political strategies aimed at promoting a product through an appeal to queer friendliness.

Tara Flach is a Dutch-Senegalese anthropology student, activist and educator. Tara held a lecture on Homonationalism going through further explanation on Dutch identity, acceptance, tolerance, origins and understandings. We discussed heteronormativity and homonormativity and how sexuality isn’t organized in the same way in different contexts. The concept of the homonationalism began in the USA, than spread across the borders, moved from focus on nationalism to neoliberalism as well as imperialism. It represents the idea of favorable association of gay, bisexual and lesbian people which serves exemplary of neoliberal democratic ethics.

Homonationalism in all case evolves regulation of sexuality and queerness. Discussion went further on how gay rights, sexuality or gender are being used for certain politics or oppression. Dutch multiculturalism and diversity are heavily organized through identity politics and this is important to understand the Dutch management of diversity: regulation of religion to private sphere, movements for women’s emancipation as well as gay and lesbian emancipation.


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At the end of the day Bear Silver gave us a queer tour through the tiny, little streets of Amsterdam. From our daily place to be, namely the Amnesty International building, we first went to the homo monument between Westermarkt and Keizersgracht. As one might be aware of, this monument stands for the struggle that homosexual men and women had to go through in order to finally be recognized as equals and stop the oppression and discrimination that they had to face for centuries. The monument consists of three triangles. One of the triangles, the one that is partially covered by water, stands for the present. It points at the National Monument at the Dam, which remembers the victims of the German occupation. The second triangle, the one that is exactly on ground level, stands for the past. It points to the Anne Frank House and does have a sentence of a poem carved into it. “Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen”, or roughly translated: “To friendship such a never-ending desire”. The third triangle, the one that is 60 cm above ground-level stands for the future and serves as a meeting spot. It points to COC, an organisation that stands up for gay rights. From there on we went to the Red Light District, or as the locals like to call it “De Wallen”. One of the amusing stories that Bear told us was about a bar called “Tussen de Aapjes”. Word goes that the men of the VOC used to visit de Wallen to do “everything that God had forbidden”, after which they went to this bar to get a nice and cold beer just before they went on their journey. In this bar they were asked to bring monkeys with them after their journey and when they finally came back after months, every man actually kept by his word and so the bar became full of monkeys (or, in Dutch: “aapjes”). These are only a few of the monuments we by or stories we have enjoyed: Bear certainly knows a good bunch of them. If this blog post has sparked your interest for this gender walk tour, Bear or just Amsterdam in general, we highly encourage you to partake in Bear’s queer walk tour!




Nejra Mulaomerovic and Ola Al Khatib

Breeding ground for sustainable innovation

When I first heard for term sustainable innovation I was puzzled, this was the first time that I saw this two word put together forming the concept which meaning I could not figure out. As a part of the program we visited New World Campus; our host, Diederik Bosscha, presented idea that is hiding behind this name.

We went inside spacious building that was refurbished recently. Everything inside was new, and it seemed bit sterile to me. Our host explained concept and mission of New World Campus. According to him, idea of creating environment that will enhance creativity of innovators is core goal of New World Campus. The idea is simple: to gather innovators from the different part of the world and hopefully they will perform better by collaborating in special design environment.


This is not the only goal and activity of New World Campus. According to our host, this organization is also creating community of different NGOs who can share working space and thus contribute to each other’s work through interaction. The whole idea is not about selling the workspace, but creating the membership of organizations that share common values. The other types of activities are the events that can also be organized for other companies. Finally, there are also programs that facilitate development in different fields of innovation. To be part of the New World Campus, network organization or individual has to pay membership fee and to meet certain standards. In case of start-ups, this fee is lower in order to get support for growing innovations.

All in all, although it is not new concept, it is refreshing to see organization that is trying to make positive impact on society and show another environment friendly way of entrepreneurship.


Sasa Buljevic



Shelter City

“Those who take risks need to be encouraged in their fight for the freedom of expression”.(Advocaat uit D.R. Congo, kandidaat Shelter City Den Haag)

Shelter City is a nationwide initiative of Justice and Peace Netherlands in cooperation with a growing number of Dutch cities and local organizations to protect human rights defenders. In the Netherlands there are eight Dutch Shelter Cities which offer international human right defenders such as journalists, community leaders, lawyers, artists and scientist temporary accommodation, training an safety.

When human rights defenders are threatened because of their work in their home country, they qualify for a stay of three months in one of the Dutch Shelter Cities: Amsterdam, Den Haag, Groningen, Maastricht, Middelburg, Nijmegen, Tilburg and Utrecht. The selection of these human right defenders is made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though there are also NGO involved in the pre selection. After three months staying in the Netherlands, the human right defenders will head back to their home country.


During our visit to the Shelter City in the Hague we met a human right defender from the Democratic Republic of Congo (for safety reasons her name will not be disclosed). She tells us about her ongoing strive to fight corruption in her country. This is especially hard since corruption happens at all levels of society in the Democrat Republic Congo. A lot of organs are not fully transparent this makes it even harder to prove corruption. Despite losing her job because of her activism against corruption and having several threats, she continues her activism. It was very inspiring for us as HIA fellows to hear of all the sacrifices that she made in order to keep to her principles and continue the fight for human rights.


Zohara Mahmoud


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International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

After passing the necessary security checks, we were able to enter the building of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). A former office of a Dutch insurance company with the smell of an old library now houses the majestic atmosphere of a legal institute where people are trying to bring justice after the commitment of the most heinous crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. Try, because as we’ve learned yesterday from our fellows from Bosnia and Herzegovina that the conflict is of such complexity and the country is still so strongly divided that bringing justice to all parties involved in an equal way is almost impossible.

Nevertheless, the ICTY has shown the international community that it is possible to convict and sentence war criminals and that the perpetrators of crimes against humanity or war crimes will not go unpunished but will in fact be brought to justice. Before the establishment of the ICTY, the first international criminal tribunal created after the Second World War with a non-military character, nobody actually believed it could be done. But here we are today, with 161 individuals indicted, 4650 witnesses heard and no remaining fugitives the Tribunal has proven its impact on international criminal law. It is due to the case law of the ICTY that acts of sexual violence can now also be considered to be war crimes for example.


We started our introduction to the ICTY with a documentary on Prijedor, a region where British media in 1992 revealed the tragedies taking place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, leading to the decision by the international community to create the Tribunal. The documentary was a great example of what turned out to be one of the most important achievements of the Tribunal besides prosecuting and sentencing (and assuring a fair trial to) war criminals: Being a platform where the people can tell their stories. This made the documentary not easier to watch but did give the administrative nature of the Tribunal a more human character. The statements from the witnesses on the beatings and the denigrating, dehumanizing treatments along with the statements from the accused war criminals that “they were only human” or were in fact suffering from “a bad temper” did crush my faith in humanity for a moment but also reiterated the importance of having a court of justice where judges can hear these stories and bring justice to those involved.


We ended our tour at courtroom 1, with a reference from our guide to Bilbo Baggins that “there is hope!” Even though not all who have committed crimes against humanity or war crimes in the former Yugoslavia could be brought to the ICTY, even though Biljana Plavsic pleaded guilty in court but laughed about it after she was released 8 years later; a statement has been made that such acts, such heinous crimes, will not go unpunished. When there is the political will, the international community will come after you and punish you for the crimes you have committed. Let’s just hope that this political will soon will arise for the crimes committed in Syria and many other troubled places in our current global community too.


Merel de Herder


Welcome to the first day of the second week of Humanity in Action, the Netherlands: a marked, collective surge of energy is palpable amongst us. Today’s agenda, a smorgasbord of presentations, sport, and debate, could have been seen as disconnected and unharmonious; what does a militant democracy have to do with street soccer? And just for kicks (no pun intended), let’s throw in some talks about gendered language, climate change, Bosnia, and the refugee crisis. How do we make sense of this day, of these topics that pull from each corner of the world and challenge us on various dimensions? To me, it all comes down to the idea of realities, namely different realities.


So let’s talk about Bosnia (Because the Western public education system seemingly does not want to.). In the morning, already armed with the electrifying images of the genocide at Srebrenica and anticipating the sobering regality of visiting the tribunal site in The Hague, Nejra and Sasha led the group through discussions and talks on the history of the former Yugoslavia and modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sasha began by giving us a history of the region, outlining the difference between identity and narrative for each of the three ethnic groups that made up the former Yugoslavia: Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. In short, throughout the few years, each group formed their own version of reality, where their respective group was deemed more superior than the other three. Tensions rose. From these narratives, people from the former Yugoslavia experienced incredible disconnect from one another, experiencing life sometimes as an outside and other times an insider.


The discussion took a more contemporary turn, with Nejra’s discussion centering more on the current modes of inclusion versus exclusion following the fall of Yugoslavia and the creation of independent nations. Her main focus addressed the question of “what does a group of people need to belong to the same community?” with possible responses including language, history, religion, and geography. Interestingly, none of these factors painted the same reality for all the people living in the region; in fact, what struck the fellows the most from this talk was the development of “Two Schools Under One Roof.” With this system, children would attend classes based on their ethnic identity: Serbs/Croats/Bosniaks in Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian classrooms taught by Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian teachers about Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian history in Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian. However, all of these experiences occur under one roof, creating animosity and adversity amongst students who can only enter the schoolhouse through certain doors and only sit or eat in certain locations. This systematic cultivation of different realities is quite dangerous.


What struck me throughout all these conversations was my lack of knowledge; my ignorance on the pain and suffering that the innocent civilians of the former Yugoslavia faced in the 1990’s and are still battling today. I felt surprised and disappointed with myself for not knowing, for living in a reality where the potency of these crimes had not crossed my mind. But I think the most important realization that I arrived at through these talks and discussions, was how easy establishing a new reality can be. We open our ears, eyes, hearts, and minds and suddenly everything changes.



Mehrgol Tiv

Ethnic Profiling

Sinyan Cankaya, a cultural anthropologist at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, talked to us about his PhD research on ethnic profiling in The Netherlands. It was the very last lecture of the first week of the HIA program, and the fellows were all exhausted, a bit hyperactive, and welcomed the charismatic Sinyan with a warm applause (which he did not expect).

Recently, a debate had been going on about the stopping of Dutch “nice” rapper Typhoo by the police because he had been driving a car that did not correspond to his “profile”. This was big in the news as the issue of ethnic profiling is a hot topic of debate in The Netherlands at the moment. At the same time, the Typhoon issue clearly illustrated the societal relevance of Sinyan’s PhD research on ethnic profiling.

For his PhD research, Sinyan observed stop and search activities of the police force of Amsterdam. Ethnic profiling by police officers, as Sinyan told us, is when a police officer stops someone based merely on their ethnicity, rather than reasonable suspicion. Sinyan spoke about the “ethnic lens” through which crime is looked at nowadays, by which criminality is reduced to merely ethnicity, while not taking into consideration underlying factors that account for criminal activity, such as socio-economic background, destructive social group, lack of future prospects, etc.).

It is interesting that there is no data available on ethnic profiling in The Netherlands. This would be highly beneficial to have solid proof on whether ethnic profiling really is a structural issue in The Netherlands, as Sinyan argues. While there is no data available on The Netherlands, data on New York shows that, next to the fact that ethnic profiling is discriminatory, it is highly ineffective, with only 12 percent of the total stoppings leading to actual arrests.

I found it inspiring that Sinyan used his PhD research to (hopefully) make a societal impact, by gaining a more thorough understanding of the issue of ethnic profiling. Having an understanding is key in order to make a change. Awareness about discrimination in The Netherlands in general is increasing, and I hope it will not take long when Dutch laws will be created in order to ban the police force from ethnic profiling.

Leah van Ees

Males’ Ego Fragility


As our group sat sprawled out on the rooftop of Benjamin Asante’s Utrecht home, the sky’s crisp blue fading as the sun cast a cognac gold over everything, Gerard van der Ree stood up to speak about the fragility of the male ego. He smirked disarmingly as we applauded him, and promptly announced that he was not here to teach us how to solve any problems relating to the fragility of the male ego or how to solve any problems at all, really. He went on to alert us that he also wasn’t really going to spend too much time dwelling on the male ego in particular; rather, he would use it as an apt metaphor for analyzing what it is to be in power and why exactly it is that power produces such dramatic defense mechanisms. Van der Ree defined power as “the ability not to have to question yourself” – a definition that gave me pause because it was so simple and yet rang so true. This conception of power was in line with Du Bois’ “double-consciousness” – that is,


“…a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.  One ever feels his two-ness— an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.


Thus, according to Gerard van der Ree, I am disempowered when I navigate the aisles of Sephora painfully aware that the guard stationed in the shop is trailing me, waiting for me to make one wrong move, to reach into my pocket suspiciously or linger at a display for too long. And I am empowered whenever I can turn off the piece of my mind that forces me to see myself as my observers see me – perhaps when I am driving through the suburbs of Indianapolis with my little sister. The car windows are down and we are blasting Chance the Rapper’s most recent album, screaming along as though the universe is contained within the confines of our ancient Ford Taurus. Power.


Van der Ree made a point that was particularly interesting to me, that “power is always about repression, both for the marginal and dominant side.” The slave is repressed due to the internalization of the gaze of the master, and the master is repressed by her own interior dialogue, her desire to make himself fit into an identity that is not fully herself. When the master doesn’t succeed in outwardly performing as she is expected to, she experiences shame, and according to Gerard van der Ree, shame is evidence that double-consciousness is in play.


So when the cool kid in middle school walks around all day with his fly undone and doesn’t realize it until 7th period, his power has been punctured. Says Van der Ree, “There is repression in the comfort of being dominant.” The cool kid is oppressed because he has to keep on acting and looking like a cool kid in order to stay cool.


Gerard’s response to all this? Get weird. Get weird as a means of engaging with the ephemeral nature of your own power and marginality. Get weird to disrupt the familiar flow of normal, because, “the moment you see something as normal is the moment in which power is at play.”


After we learned about weird things we got artistic with Lilian dam Bracia who spoke briefly about her art installation called “Limbo Citizen.” In this interactive project, she invites four visitors to simultaneously walk through a willowy white maze while listening to headphones giving orders that pertain to their assigned characters. Each character is a real “limbo citizen,” a member of Dutch society who, due to his/her nationality, does not quite fit. As you enter into a forbidden section of the maze, a voice in your headphones may insist, “Sorry you don’t have the right documents to be here. You must leave immediately.” Said Lilian dam Bracia, “We did this project to show that where you’re from defines a lot about what you’re going to do and be in your life.” “Limbo Citizen” invites one and all to engage with the dynamics of power and nationality by participating in particular narratives and occupying the strange liminal space that often overshadows the migration process.


At the end of the night, we got weird with our freshly made Brazilian drinks. And for the next month and beyond, we’ll be engaging in dozens of personal narratives as Humanity in Action fellows.


Lisa Muloma

Black Heritage Tour

On the Black Heritage Tour, Jennifer Tosh taught us about the hidden history of slavery, resistance and abolition in Amsterdam.

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 She also used this opportunity to promote her book. The focus was mostly on the 17th century, because that’s when the concept of race was constructed.

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It was a very interesting and informative tour because we do not learn a lot (if anything) about it in school.


Particularly interesting to me were the Moorkoppen and their history, because they also appear on the weapon of arms of my (steph) father’s family. Their surname is “Moore”. (It was from my grandmother’s side so she could not pass it on to my dad, my sister and me.) I cannot wait to ask my dad more about the history of the surname and coat of arms.

Oumou Vanrijen


The Color of our Humanity




“I do not consider race a social construct but rather an illusion.”

– Glenn Helberg


It is almost always a gut wrenching feeling when one witnesses a close relative experience any form of physical pain. Some take this to mean that empathy is an intrinsic characteristic that all humans have. If this were indeed true, it begs the question of why discrimination based on race does not elicit an empathic reaction of equivalent magnitude. This is what I wondered as Glenn Helberg spoke about privilege and identity. The workshop started with a series of questions that each of us had to answer. The first of these questions was: “What is your race?” Helberg, together with us the Fellows, deconstructed the concept of race. Personally, he defined it as an illusion because it produces a false impression of reality. This perspective became the basis of realizing that our differences as individuals are not simply categorizations. Instead they are dynamics, which carry far more nuanced characteristics than labels. We as individuals define these dynamics, not institutions.

The second part of the day was about delving into the African presence as represented in historical landmarks since the 16th century. Presented by Jennifer Tosch, it was a captivating insight into the history of interactions between African and Dutch people. Prior to the first documented sale of slaves in 1619, a marriage between an African and a Dutch woman had been documented. This presentation highlighted how Moor heads became symbols of power for affluent families in the 17th century. Although frequently denied by mainstream historical discourse, Holland benefited quite significantly from colonialism and slavery. Nonetheless, the most thought-provoking aspect of the entire session was the history of the legitimization of slavery. As Tosch put it, “[Slavery’s] legitimization would not have been necessary if people had not started questioning how humane it was.”

At that point in history, Europeans reached a fork in the proverbial road. Do they acknowledge that Africans are as human as they are and lose potential resources or do they dehumanize them and make money? In this case, greed won the day. Dehumanization took place through science, philosophy and religion; the three pillars of enlightenment thought. Looking at this fact makes one wonder: Do empathy and humanity have a place in policymaking? More importantly, have they ever? Perhaps our humanity is nothing but an abstraction thought up to separate us from animals. Perhaps it is something more. Whatever the case may be, it is our responsibility to pragmatically delegitimize racism. We owe it to ourselves to escape the shadow of our previous moral failings and for the first time in our history choose empathy and humanity over self-interest.


K. Ampem-Darko


World War II

A day after visiting the Anne Frank Museum, the fellows and HIA staff headed over to Westerbork Concentration Camp, in Eastern Holland, where Anne Frank and her family were interred before being sent to Bergen-Belsen. Several transfers and hours later, the group entered the memorial site and explored the museum, met a survivor, and toured the remains of the camp.


Though relatively small in comparison to many of the camps found farther East, the museum showed how Westerbork became the passage of the Netherland’s unwanted minorities (primarily the Jews, but also Sinti and Roma). As we walked through the exhibit, fellows discovered how Westerbork acted as a transit camp to other Nazi concentration camps, hence killing most of the Dutch Jews. We even discovered documents and testimonies of government bureaus and organizations like the Red Cross aiding in some of these efforts. These artifacts impressed upon us the fact that the horrors of the Second World War were not orchestrated by Nazi perpetrators alone, but coordinated with the Dutch.


Afterwards, we met Fanny Heymann, a Holocaust survivor of Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen. At the spritely age of 74, Heymann spoke about her experience during the war, the silence afterwards, and her struggle to both full understand her family’s experiences as well as her identity in the aftermath. There were two major takeaways I got from her testimony. First, that life in the concentration camps is just that: life. Too often those periods were seen as lost or blank and though they may have been in some ways, such ideas ignore the lengths people took to continue mundanely by teaching, even secretly in a camp, or praying, despite its connection to their current persecution. Life moved on because that was how they could. Second, that while the situation of the Holocaust is somewhat unique, humanity has failed to hear its message. Heymann clearly pointed out her own persecution with those of refugees coming across the Mediterranean. Heymann taught us that we must not dismiss their plight just because it is removed to Greek islands, just as the suffering of those in Westerbork were displaced to the periphery of the country. Rather, we must confront the reality that “If they were here amongst us we’d be doing more” and with that realization, do more.

Lastly, the fellows headed outside to visit the concentration camp, which now consists of forests, fields, and many re-created monuments of the site. Bas, our tour guide, spoke to us about the symbolism of the train tracks which represented the people who witnessed, who left on trains, and who died. Unlike many concentration camps, Westerbork had a positive reputation for better caring for Jews and others as Dutch commanders attempted to avoid panic and encourage cooperation for transit. Though much of the camp was destroyed, various walls, guard towers, potato cellars, and reconstructed barracks reveal the skeletal remains of a camp that housed 100,000 of Dutch minorities. Particularly of interest was seeing the art projects honoring those who perished, especially those recognizing the Sinti and Roma minorities still marginalized across European society. Here fellows grappled with ideas of which memorializations validate which legacies of persecution and how to disentangle particular narratives of genocide, all next to cows grazing on what remains of the last site for many Dutch minorities in the late 1930s and early 1940s.


Gage Garretson