By Alit Wedhantara
It was a sunny midday afternoon. I had just arrived home from the Intensive Programme in Olomouc, in Czech Republic, which happened on the last week of June 2019 and where I met new people from almost all over the world, other students of the Euroculture programme like myself.
Having just come back, I was still in the process of settling down again in Groningen. I was casually riding my bike home from the nearest Albert Heijn, where I grabbed my favourite lunch combo menu: a pack of blue-packaged paprika Ribbel chips and a warm Frikandelbroodje.
Back then, I did not know that there was a backdoor to the housing complex I lived in and I could just ride straight through, so I went the long way around, turning right. I exited the supermarket complex to the roundabout, turning left to my ex-mental-hospital-turned-student-accommodation. As I was about to make a turn left on the roundabout, I did what any cultured cyclist would do: I signalled with my left hand.
However, after realizing I actually still needed to go straight, I made another hand signal with my right hand to signify I would be staying on the road instead. It was in this moment of confusion that I became aware of the existence of a small city car, an orange Peugeot 104. As I finished the roundabout and moved on, the driver of the orange Peugeot edged a bit to my left, shouted at me, laughed and drove off. I was still in awe, a bit in shock, as my mind processed what the driver had just said to me in Dutch. There were two blonde guys in that car, which I assume were both Dutch. Thinking back on it now, I believe they shouted something like: “Dikke piet!”
At that moment, I thought: “Ah… maybe some mad incels” or “some very angry far-right people”. I’m not even sure if they knew I could understand them. I arrived home and went straight to my room. I put my groceries on the table and sat down, but then I began to think about the situation that I had just been through. In that very moment in time, I realized: “Oh… they yelled racial slurs at me. Did I just get racially harassed?” I personally never would have thought or imagined, in a million years, that in the year 2019 in Western Europe someone would still yell out-of-date racial slur at me. I don’t really care about the body shaming part, calling me fat (dikke), or anything regarding my plus-size, but it is a bit problematic when you categorize me as a “piet”. Not cool.
That’s when this issue became one of racial discrimination, crossing the racial border/boundaries. If you don’t know about the context of this slur, consider googling “Piet Netherlands” the next time you are connected to the world wide web. Did this specific incident change my mind for the worse about the Netherlands? Not even slightly. I still love Europe, and I still want to be here. But the incident really made me think about all kinds of possibilities. Possibilities about how to react when you are racially discriminated. In this article, I think I just want to try to match and link my experience of what happened to me with my general experience of colonialism.
Historically and ethnically, growing up as an Indonesian, I, myself, always studied the colonial period religiously, especially during my formative years in elementary until senior high school. We as Indonesians are consistently being brainwashed into thinking that we were colonized by the Netherlands for over 200 years. We know who the first Dutch person to arrive in the mainland East Indies was. We know who the governor-general was that build, quite possibly, the most important road in the island of Java. But if one looks deeply enough,then you would notice that around half of those two hundred years, we were actually colonized by a multi-industrial company, not a ‘single’ nation the size of our current capital, Jakarta. This is a narrative that no one dared to until recently, but it does force us to think about the cultural influence our colonizers had on us.
My opinion on this is that the Indonesians never bore the burden of that history as much as many people like to say. As we grew up, we tended to think that white Westerners were rich and educated people, and we valued their human being above that of ‘our own people.’: We thought they were higher in social caste or in the hierarchy than most of us. They are the expats. They could enjoy our full hospitality, politeness, and courteousness. After all, their ‘superior’ currency and better rates only made them seem even higher above us than they already were. A lot of Indonesians tended to think of the Westerners as some kind of economic benefit to them. We sometimes think they are better because they utilized us to enrich themselves (even though they say in their ethische politiek manifesto that it was also about enriching us). It’s a bit of a colonialist cliché, but that feeling of dependency was probably invented by the Dutch.
All of this might seem like it was totally beside the point of my original story, but I don’t think it is. Because this history is why I like to think that what happened to me was somehow my fault: that maybe as a fat, dark-skinned Asian, I should not get a proper education in Europe. Heck! Maybe my appearance in public is a pollution of the pure-skin white European ‘them’.
But most importantly, it is not Western Europeans that have to feel bad or bear the guilt of our shared, bloody past. They seem to think that clearly it is not an important matter. Because, after all, I am just some worthless, third world scum that threatens the existence of their hegemonic white world, the one they want to live in. Stealing their jobs. Turning their country into a ‘shithole’ like mine. Should I stand up? Should I shout back at them ? Should I take my revenge and hunt them, shoot them in the face, or stab them in public? I think that the best possible answer for me is no.
Maybe it is a deficiency in their healthy body that made them think differently. I should let them live. I’m not going to rationalize their act, because it is not rational. I can only rationalize their inability to think. After all, even though it might seem like another cliché, love is the answer. Spread love, not hate. Important lesson learned: I should be more careful on roundabouts. Long live free speech!
P.S.: Please take this article with a hint of salt (~and pepper). After all, that’s why Europeans colonized the Eastern world, right? Finally, you can put those ingredients to use!
P.P.S.: When I say Europeans, them, their, Western Europeans, or you, I am specifically directing myself towards the (possibly) male-like figures riding the orange Peugeot 104 that racially discriminated me several months ago. I am not talking about the entire community.
P.P.P.S.: Oh, and more recently on October 25th, 2019, when I was walking past Albert Heijn Gedempte Zuiderdiep with friends of mine, we were getting shouted at again. It was a drunk figure with a masculine voice yelling “brownie!”. We personally took it as a compliment! Obviously not racist at all.
Picture: Garry Knight, Flickr