The only education we had in high school on racism was some theory fitted in one paragraph

Emily Browne.

Last Sunday Emily Browne held an inspiring speech at the solidarity protest against anti-black violence in the US and EU in Wageningen. Read and listen to her powerful words.

I am not here to convince the people who already acknowledge racism; that it is a complex reality that we can only try to continue to understand and effectively change, but we will never fully comprehend.

I am standing here today to reach out to the people that still think that learning about racism is not relevant regarding The Netherlands, your community, your personal life and your education. This is relevant for everyone, every citizen, every child, every parent, brother, sister, every single student, and staff member. Racism is always relevant. But here we are today, still at a point where we have to convince people to actually listen, just listen to the voices that are trying to tell you about the inhumane reality of a racism pandemic.

I grew up in The Netherlands in a racially ignorant and white town. There was no diversity and the only education we had in school on racism was some theory fitted in only one paragraph, one paragraph, in high school. So, if you understood that single paragraph, you understood racism.. right?

A translation in Dutch. Een Nederlandse vertaling.

Since I was a child I’ve been called out by my classmates about my hair looking like a birds nest, my skin being luckily not too dark, my dad coming from some uninhabited island, monkey back because I have black body hair and not blonde, half blood. I’ve been sexualized by older men since I was 14, because I was some exotic being they weren’t used seeing around. A dermatologist burned my skin because she didn’t know how to deal with it. Whenever I came with my mom to her hair dresser all the workers came to touch my hair like I was some animal waiting to be petted – and these are just a few examples from the top of my head.

At the time I thought this was just bullying or uncomfortable, but my basic understanding of racism from that one paragraph in high school in the most obvious form being; “discriminating one by their colour, nationality or ethnicity” made me unable to identify this behaviour as being racist and part of a result of a system that is racist too.

My journey on properly educating myself on racism started a month ago. I felt so ashamed about that the fact that I have had the privilege to live in racial ignorance and not be drastically affected by it. That I could just live my life not knowing about the role I play in a racist system and not be part of the group that suffers the most from its consequences. I learned that no matter what you want to accomplish, racism plays a role, it’s patterned everywhere.

You are a feminist and want women to get equal pay and get those extra pushes to reach the top? What about those women at the bottom of the social order, women of colour, black trans women, disabled women, affected by our racist system who are so much more disadvantaged and do not even have the chance to get a proper job?  

You are a climate activist and want to save the world? Who do you think is going to be affected by climate change the most?

You want people to stop eating animal products and eat organic? Do you realise what a privileged thing that is to say and to demand from the world? Since there are a lot of people who eat what they can get to survive the conditions they are in.

I’ve learned in order to learn about anything you want to study you can not neglect the social impact factor. That includes racism and that means learning about imperialism, colonialism, the history of what our former leaders did to other countries, what they took, what they damaged. You have to understand capitalism and that it only works with inequality. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

These are some things that I learned in a couple of days, that is not basic knowledge, but should be. But it should not come down to our individual will and capability to learn all of this. It is too much to comprehend for one person. This should be part of all education and should be moulded so anyone can understand it, we can do our jobs better and have a more realistic world view.

Racism doesn’t only exist in the most obvious forms and in the Netherlands we have an attitude that we know what we’re talking about, and that racism isn’t a problem in this country and we don’t need to be educated about it. 

Racism is always relevant and we are only at the early stages of a long journey. We cannot go back to our old lives. Effective change must be followed through in all of our daily lives and responsibilities.

Thank you.

Emily Browne