07 sep / TedX “Let’s bake a chocolate chip crumble cookie”
This is the most important speech I have given so far, this is also the most passionate story I have ever shared, this is my ted talk – at TedX Ede September 7, 2013
I will never forget that one night…
I was sitting next to my dad watching TV.
We had been waiting for hours and hours.
I felt I was slowly dozing off, but forced my eyes to stay open for this heroic moment.
When Barack Obama as freshly elected president rose the stage tears started falling down my eyes.
My father sighted: “this is it, finally, finally” and started dancing.
My mother woke up, my sister rose from her bed and together as a family we listened to the speech of the first black president of the United States of America.
But much more than Obama’s emotional speech I remember the words of my dad.
“This is It, this is it! If America can elect a black, half-blooded Kenian, than you as a half-foreign colored woman can become prime-minister of this country.” And he looked me deeply into the eyes and said: “You can become anything! This is a new time.”
And it felt like my dad was passing on something of his aspirations to me that night.
Perhaps he was already too old for this new time, but I was young enough to live it.
Historic words in a historic moment. Words repeated by millions of blacks, colored, migrants, Muslims and Christians, Asians and Latinos worldwide. Words felt by hundreds and thousands here in the Netherlands, from the small Turkish shop owner in Maastricht to the newly arrived exchange student in Groningen, from the Iraqi barber in Rotterdam to the Suriname business man at the Zuidas.
Yet looking at the Dutch government right now there is no such thing as a female prime-minister. Let’s stand a colored one. We have no minister with Arab roots or Turkish grandparents. Nor did we witness any Minister with ex-colonial ties, even though we have hosted a huge Indo and Suriname community in the Netherlands for over fifty years now.
The Dutch media landscape might be a bit more diverse, yet if the talk shows and entertainment programs would be a reflection of Dutch society anno 2013 one would still think that our society is white liberal secular with strong right-wing tendencies. Same goes for the adds, popular magazines, and newspaper editorials, the same people everywhere, Hilversum, Wassenaar, Laren and the Amsterdamse grachtengordel are all over the place.
Meanwhile I see the streets changing. Growing more and more diverse. Just go check the playground of any random primary school during the break and you will find the full rainbow in colors and backgrounds running around, playing with each other, laughing like there is no such thing as xenophobia in this country, like islamophobia doesn’t exist and there is not even the slightest awareness of the polarization and group think this country is struggling with. But there is.
Go visit the same kids when they move up and change their little primary school for secondary education. You will find the rich kids standing with the rich kids, the Mocroflavor not mixing with Turkish delight, the blacks standing apart, each group listening to its own music, its own music stations, drinking coke but not pepsi or the other way around, preferring Adidas over Nike or hardly able to afford any brand at all.
As a child of a Dutch mother and Egyptian father I grew up on a daily diet of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, Ghandi and Gamel Abdel Nasser. I lost count of how many times I heard the “I have a dream” speech. My father raised me with the hope of a migrant who worked hard to provide his two girls with a better future. A future in which they would not be judged by their skin color or the illiteracy of their grandmother but be valued for who they are and the qualities they possess. Out of fear for discrimination or popular bias my parents would chose not to use my real name: Mounira but the more easy-gowing Monique (Samuel) as nickname instead. Now I was no longer Egyptian but slightly Jewish and sounded more Dutch than anything else.
My parents moved to better neighborhoods and I started attending middle class schools. When it was time for me to hit secondary education I enrolled at a Dutch Free reformed all white, all orthodox Christian school. From one day to another I was the first and only “allochtoon” of all the existing students (except for one or two adopted perhaps).
Yet back home my father would keep teaching me on the boxing skills of Mohammed Ali, kept talking about his youth in Egypt, the dreams of Anwar Sadat and the voice of Radio Cairo. My fellow students didn’t understand my passion for Egypt, and my love for everything “foreign” in their eyes.
Most of the time they got annoyed when I tried to share something about Egypt. I didn’t understand, for me Egypt and the Netherlands existed alongside each other, inside me I felt the two different countries fighting each other yet passionately dancing in the same time. My Egyptian side learned from my Dutch side and the other way around. I cherished my two cultures and wished my fellow students could share them too. I wish the whole country could start cherishing its many cultural and social identities, but I witnessed the opposite instead.
And then 9/11 happened.
Yes I’m a post-9/11 kid, grew up in the middle of it all. Suddenly I could have been the daughter of Mohammed Atta, that Egyptian terrorist. Muslims and Christians were fighting in the yard of my school. Boys named Mohammed and Mehmet angrily asked me why I was with “them” – those crusaders at my school. Meanwhile students at my school started bullying me calling me Indian, mummy, or simply Moor or terrorist.
“Monique don’t try to show off… you are one of us,” people kept on telling me. “You are not part of them.”
Until this very day I don’t know what this us and they means. I do know that I keep on hearing it however.
I have never belonged to a group and I still don’t do. I’m a migrant-kid yet my mother was born in Schiedam. I’m an Arab yet I don’t consider Mohammed my prophet. I’m a Christian yet gay. I’ve a visual disability and only see ten percent with both my eyes yet I have no wheel chair and try not to look nerdy so people hardly know and don’t understand. I have been a minority within the oh so many minorities. And I got confused: I got seriously confused. Because for me they were all we, you and me, the same, equal, even more than that: belonging to no single group at all, I could relate to all of them. I find it as great to eat Gouda as I do like Feta cheese. I find the Egyptian dress as uncomfortable as wooden shoes. And I love Egyptian belly dance music as much I like Armin van Buuren’s latest dance smash. I pray to God every day calling Her “Onze Vader” but also “Allah”.
Yet I saw a flight to one single identity all around me. You were no longer either but or. Or Muslim or Christian. Or Maroccon or Dutch. With the populist parties rising and the media radically shifting to the right, the Netherlands grew more and more polarized, uncomfortable with the new reality: this country can and will be never the same. We are no longer living in the fifties and you know what? We are probably better off this way.
Somehow there is this thing that I feel constantly pushed to choose. To choose one identity over another. This not only counts for my cultural background.
I feel the either/or question also emerging when I share my sexual orientation.
How can you be Christian and gay? Both my Christian and gay friends ask – and many other people as well. How can you call yourself Arab without being a Muslim? –my Muslim and non-religious friends ask? Why do you put so much emphasis on your skin color if you could be perfectly white? Go back to your own country – but what would that be? Go forget your own country – but how could I do that if I love them both as much?
Groups, groups, groups. I go to the birthday party of one friend and they all look alike, I go to a birthday party of the other friend and they all pray the same prayer. It’s like every person in this country is a group, and they do the things according to the group. The groups are based on one identity no matter if it’s someone profession, daily work, ethnic background, sexual orientation or religion. But it’s hardly if ever based on its many identities. Yet we all have at least seven of them.
I’m a daughter, a friend, a political scientist, a Christian, a writer, a partner, a journalist, Dutch, Egyptian, a new Amsterdam-inhabitant sine three months or so. I’m a woman and I’m proud of it. I’m gay and I’m out with it.
We look at the other as the stranger, as the alien of the two of us. We are so used to emphasize the differences that we are hardly able to see how much we share in common. This process already starts with our education which teaches us that a theory can only be just if falsified. And so we look at that one black swan between all the white swans as Karl Popper taught us, whereas in fact we are all swans no matter our color, no matter what we do.
You might not have much in common with that fifty year old shop owner who has a small grocery store with strange species and flavors who migrated to this country out of the Rif Mountain area in Morocco over thirty-five years ago. Yes, you might despise his religious views, or disapprove of his wife’s veil, you might not like the food (although I promise you it’s great), and you might be a bit scared when you meet his son hanging with some gang at the street at night. Nonetheless you might both be a parent struggling with raising a kid in this hybrid times. You are both a citizen of the same country which you love, to some extent, even if you hardly admit you do. You might both live in the same city, the same neighborhood perhaps, reading he same newspaper and watching the same eight o’clock news, you might both be a huge fan of Shakespeare, or admire the Chinese wall, you might actually have the same perspective on the duties and responsibilities of a man, a husband, a father, a friend. Yes you might share all that and much more if you both would simply talk, not think in he and me, or me and she, but in we and what we share together out of our many different flexible identities.
It’s time for us to break through the many lines and walls, the squares and boxes in which we try to fit everything and everyone. It’s time to lead our politicians out of the vicious circle they have trapped themselves into, simply because they failed to be the leaders we need and couldn’t bring together those who they have so fiercely divided.
It’s time for us to break the oh so many phobias. Enough with the homophobia, islamophobia, xenophobia, sexism and I don’t know what else. Enough I say! The only phobia we should have is the fear to let our thoughts, emotions and feelings once more be hijacked by those phobias!
I’m more than the color of one flag, the national anthem of another, I’m more than simply a woman or a spokesperson for a new generation that has been pushed aside till now, and kept voiceless.
I’ll no longer accept to be called half-blood, because there is no such a thing as a half-blooded human-being. I’m full-blooded, passionately full-blooded, I’ll never embrace something with less than a 100% of my blood, my bones, my nerves and all that I am.
We should not be pushed to be one thing, to embrace one identity and neglect the other. As the great Martin Luther King once said: “I will never be who I am, if you are not who you ought to be.”
I have a dream…. That a young boy called Mohammed can grow up in this nation one day and think of himself as a leader, as the next prime-minister perhaps, that he’s encouraged at school to be a role model, that he feels loved and respected, that he won’t feel pushed to think in color or culture and never value himself as a kutmarokkaan, that he will grow up being able to have a blond girlfriend or has no fear of openly being gay, I have a dream that this boy can become whatever he wants with no fear of stigmas or prejudice, that he can happily play with my daughter raised by two mums of different color and different origin and that he can drink a coke with his name boldly printed on a coke bottle and no Mattias or Mark instead.
I have a dream that Latisha, this little girl growing up in de Bijlmer doesn’t feel like she is an exotic attraction when she once decides to visit a village in one of the many provinces, that she can become a successful actress although she has a little bit of a nice Suriname swaga tongue, that she can be the doctor in a play and doesn’t have to be the nurse, that she can play the next Minister of Sports or a successful business woman in popular TV-series and isn’t forced to take on the role of a junkie in the street, that her boyfriend stays legitimate and she doesn’t need to get a baby on early age just to prove her womanhood, that her best friend can be called Ana-Christine of Maria-Sofia and her parents don’t mind her taking Latisha to their home, that this Latisha can become anything she wants to be and doesn’t have to think of her color one single day of her life yet can proudly show her brown skin.
We are a small country, full of little crumbs, tasteful yet small. I have a dream, this dream, in which I share a coke with this Mohammed and Latisha and we together bake a chocolate chip crumble cookie out of this many little crumbs – zero calories please. Thank you. Peace!
Photo: by Johan van Walsem (C)