I was doing an exercise in “lawgic” for my LSAT prep course, and there was a sentence we had to translate from English to this new lawgic language we have just got the hang of. The sentence said something along the lines of, “write about a trip only after you have come back so that you can fully reflect on what happened”. So that is what I am about to do. As some of you may know, I was in the Netherlands for a week exploring the Moroccan diaspora there. We touched on issues of racism, integration, language acquisition, and what makes someone Moroccan versus Dutch. We were privileged enough to meet the Elderman of Amsterdam West, Islamic school teachers, policemen, entrepreneurs, foreign servicewomen, NGO owners and volunteers, all of Moroccan descent. It was amazing to get their input on life in the diaspora. Being a apart of the Ugandan Muslim diaspora, I could connect on many levels, balancing a different culture, learning my mother’s mother tongue, going to Islamic school on weekends, etc.
What really shocked me however is the common sentiment of how racist Dutch society is. There are issues of racial profiling, stop-and-frisk of people of darker skin, and even profiling in schools. We were told that the Dutch school system has different paths a child could be on in terms of their schooling. They could be on the college prep track or the technical track, both dependent on how well one performs in the early years of schooling. Well, apparently, there are cases were by students of foreign origin do prefectly fine on these exams, but are “advised” to take the technical school track instead of the “college” prep track….That is down right wrong.
One of our lecturers said that the Netherlands is even more institutionally racist than America. Though difficult to believe, it presents a shocking reality of inequality and unequal opportunity. Another one of our lecturers said that a white Dutchman and a Moroccan wearing the same clothes could both be stopped on one of the Moroccan areas in the Hague. The brown man will be stopped and checked for drugs, and the white man will be stopped and asked if he needs escorting out of the neighborhood.
I don’t know about you, but I am dumbfounded. _______________
As for my impressions of Amsterdam…That is another school. I liked it a lot, but at the same time, I did not like it. When we first left the airport, the view startlingly reminded me of 1984. One of my collegues said the word “sterile” to describe the perfectly clean, symmetrical, ordered streets, highways, and buildings. Things were efficient and technologically advanced. The public bus had plasma screens for God’s sake! It was impressive for sure. But one other colleague presented the question which will always remain in my consciousness: did they have to oppress so many people in the past to be able to get where they are today? Hmm? Food for thought right?
There was no trash, social order, even the “ghetto” was nice!?! But I still felt like the streets were cold. I am used to walking down American streets and smiling and saying “hi” to a “passer-by” I may not even know. But the faces in the Netherlands were like stones. Of course not all, but that is the vibe I picked up when walking, riding on public transport, and interacting with the populous. The most cheerful of faces though came from the lovely women we dined with who volunteered for “Moassat Ma3arif”. They greeted us with smiles and warm faces and fed us the best couscous prepared with caramelized onions, raisins, and slow-cooked chicken. We talked about hijab, marriage, and life in Holland for Muslim women, and I could see their struggles as a Muslim woman living in America. One of the women was very intelligent with impeccable English told us that people actually think she is dumb because she wears the khimar. I couldn’t believe my ears. I am glad I have been given ample opportunities regardless of the fact that I also cover my hair. Hopefully the ignorance surrounding the scarf/hijab will dissipate, and I hope to be one that helps break down those stereotypes.
Beware!!! Some of the photos below have graffic images of me eating stroopwafls.