Racism and prejudice: my personal encounters

Racism is a difficult and heavy subject to discuss, more so immediately after having such a beautiful holiday. My wife bears me witness, we had a lovely time in Hersonissos. Walking on the edges of the town, adjacent to the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Hersonissos is a resort town on the coast of the Greek island Crete. I am told in the peak of the holiday season the island is usually crowded with visitors from Western Europe.

Fortunately for me and my wife, the island was not crowded since May is preseason. The weather was lovely, reminding my melanin skin of Africa. Not so great a time for businesses though. There is just too much competition for the few tourists available. Thus, workers are constantly chatting up people in a bid to persuade them to come to their respective restaurants, cafes and pubs.

After a couple of days on the island my wife found this whole chatting up business quite tiring and irritating. You must bear with her, this little town has a very high concentration of restaurants, cafes and pubs. I, however, found it amusing although in the end I must admit it became a tiny bit monotonous.

Fist bumping is not the only way to greet black people
What I found most funny in Hersonissos was that most of these people who would invite us to join them in their restaurants, cafes and pubs thought that fist bumping was actually a cool way (and apparently the only way) of greeting a black person. My wife was a little bit concerned, thus, she asked if I was not offended by this behavior. I answered her, ‘ignorance does not offend me’.

I can never be offended by prejudice, even outright negative prejudice, for it is simply an expression of ignorance. In fact, we all have our own prejudices against people who do not look like us or speak our language. There is however a difference between prejudice and racism. Prejudice being preconceived opinions that are not based on reason or actual experience whereas racism is the exercise of power based on those preconceived opinions.

The Maastricht Airport encounter
Let me clarify this further by use of examples. Just as we were coming home from our holiday in Greece, I had a sobering encounter with the immigration officials at Maastricht Airport. There were no strict passport controls, since our flight was internal within the Schengen area. Thirty to forty people in front of me and my wife passed the immigration officials without being checked.

But as soon as one of the immigration officials noticed me (the only black passenger on the flight), he sped from where he was standing and asked four (white) people in front of me and three (white) people behind me and of course including me and my wife for passports. He was too ashamed to ask just for my passport. So, to hide his prejudice he had to ask eight other people for their passports. Now, this is exercising power based on prejudice. He assumed that I might not have proper documentation only because I am black. As if the Netherlands does not have black citizens.

Breda denied us a chance to have a good night out
But this is just a minor incident. Over a month ago I visited two good friends of mine in Breda. I had plans to stay for the weekend, go out and get a feel of the city as it was my first time in the city. We tried five different clubs and all them denied us entrance citing different reasons. We were left with no option but to take our dejected souls back to my friend’s apartment.

From the several reasons we received that night, two stood out for me because they help explain the psychology of the racist white person when he sees a black man. At one club, we were told to bring our own women, if we were to be allowed in. Despite the fact that, two (white) gentlemen in front of us went in unaccompanied by any ladies. It was my first time to hear this excuse but the logic and psychology behind it is simple and very common. The black man is a sexual predator and a danger to the innocent white woman. Pornographic images of the black man have not helped matters either, but have fueled anxieties and sexual insecurities in the white man.

At another club I was asked for a student card. This should be normal if everyone else is being asked for a student card. But no I was the only one asked. I know I am old, but I thought i was young looking. Maybe I am not as young looking as I thought. However, the logic behind this excuse is premised on the false notion that the black man is uneducated and uncivil. He is a barbarian so to speak and you can easily chase him away by asking him for a student card.

It seems the black man can only prove his civility by showing that he is/has attending/attended university or by moving around in the company of white people. Moving around in the company of other black men is unwise, that is if one really wants to go out. In their eyes, the three of us with our black skin were no less than a gang and had the potential to cause chaos.

Now this is blatant racism. They exercised their power, denying us entrance into their clubs based on their prejudices against black people. I have no doubt that most black men have had similar experiences across the Netherlands. I too have had similar experiences in The Hague, Utrecht, Eindhoven and Maastricht with Amsterdam and Rotterdam being the exceptions. You would think if one had money it should not be a problem to spend it, but apparently not when you are a man wearing a black skin.

African leaders’ love/hate relationship with the West
These and many other personal experiences of racism have helped me understand a paradox that has perplexed me and many other people on the African continent. I have always wondered why African leaders who studied in the West are so critical of the West. Now I think I know why. I can only imagine what they went through living in the West during the heydays of racism when it was practiced openly and even legal in most instances. They were made to feel unwelcome. Unfortunately, through these and other experiences I too occasionally feel unwelcome.

Perhaps by sharing and speaking of our personal experiences of racism we can make people realize that even though racism is now legally prohibited, there is still more work to be done.