Social issues in the Netherlands, discrimination being one of them
Monday, May 27th- The last weeks of this school year has officially started. That also means that I have been teaching for almost 1 school year, how crazy is that? I remember it like yesterday how it felt to start teaching. Do you want me to refresh your memory? Check out my first blog. (This is Renate from the future: While writing this blog I realised that the previous blog I wrote was also about the social issues in the Netherlands, but this one will have a slightly different input. Keep on reading to find out what I mean with slightly different.)
Monday’s class was about social issues in the Netherlands. Just a recap of what those are: social issues are problems that effect big groups of individuals within society. There are different opinions about these problems and the governments or municipality gets involved to try to solve these problems. There are tons of socials issues in this country, such as: discrimination, suitable education, poverty, climate changes and population aging. During this class I limited my presentation to three problems, which then became the starting point of new business ideas and improved business models. After my presentation, which gave the students a better understanding of what these problems are; what different facets each problem has and what rules and policies the government comes up with, the students then worked in groups to try to solve these problems. After that the students were asked to improve their business models by responding to these issues.
One of the issues I talked about was discrimination - distinguishing, treating differently, subordinating or excluding people based on their personal characteristics. This is something that happens way to often and even in the Netherlands this is a problem. The tricky thing about discrimination is that everyone experiences it differently. Personally I feel like I don’t get discriminated against really, I’m not sure if that is really the case or that I just don’t give it too much attention. A lot of people do experience it often and one thing is for sure, discrimination is very much real.
The only thing I often have to deal with -and which technically can be seen as discrimination- is that people mock my accent. I was born and raised in Curaçao and moved to the Netherlands to study (and stayed ever since). I happen to have an accent -so people say- and for some reason people think it’s funny to imitate it. It recently happend again and I decided to ask that person (to get an better understanding) why he keeps doing it (since it wasn’t the first time). He thought it was funny. What people seem to forget is that everybody has an accent, it doesn’t matter where you come from, but everybody has one. The beauty of an accent is that it distinguishes you from the rest of the people and it makes you stand out. People also often forget that having an accent means that that person speaks more than one language and tries his/ her hardest to speak in the same language as you do. Making fun of that person or dismissing them can make people really insecure about that.
I was talking to my cousin the other day and we were discussing accents and the effects it can have on people. The thing that gets said often, when people hear I’m from Curaçao, is that my dutch is so good for someone that is from the islands. Let’s get one thing straight, I was raised in dutch and my parents always made sure that my sister and I spoke properly. But what I found out when moving to Holland is that the dutch I spoke in Curaçao was completely different from the dutch here in the Netherlands. The main difference is that they really speak dutch here, while I was so used to talking 4 different languages in one sentence (yes, I’m not even exaggerating). Once it annoyed my father so bad that he seriously asked me if I could just speak one language instead. And when you’re so used to speaking 4 different languages it can be a challenge to limit yourself to one language. And that is where me, my cousin and so many other people their insecurities lie. What truly broke my heart is that my cousin said that she often chooses not to ask questions in class out of fear of making a mistake and people making fun of her. So instead she goes home and tries to figure out the answer to her questions. I completely understand, because people are always so quick to judge and often unforgiven. But it sucks to see that people younger than me also have to deal with this problem. I want to make one thing clear: people with accents are not stupid, they are not dumb, they are completely able to deliver the same quality of work that a native (dutch) person does. And when I heard that a colleague -who finished her bachelor and masters at one of the dutch universities- of that same cousin still can’t get a job because of her accent, it made my cousin even more scared. And that just makes me so mad and sad at the same time. I also had a similar situation that happened a few years ago. I was looking for an internship in the event branche, so I wrote an application letter to an agency. After haven spoken to them on the phone they said that they didn’t think my voice would be fit for talking on the phone. Mind you I wasn’t looking for a job as a phone operator, so why would my voice not be fit? Fast forward to now, I can’t help to think that it had to do with my accent, why else wouldn’t my voice be fit? And what does it even mean that my voice is not fit for phone conversations?
One of the biggest insecurities I had before I started teaching is that my students wouldn’t take me seriously. That they would think that I was “dumb” because I had a accent or that they would get annoyed if I made a mistake. So I was even thinking about addressing it in the first class. Basically excusing myself for all the mistakes I’m about to make and the accent I have while speaking Dutch. No, of course I didn’t do that. Addressing the -maybe not so -obvious will make people pay more attention to something they otherwise wouldn’t have paid attention to. Instead I try to make sure that I speak properly and try not to use too many english words while teaching. Why english you might ask? I speak a lot of english…on a daily basis, every day all day to be exact.
One thing I’ve realised while going to Spain a few times and what I truly love about the Spanish people is that, they will correct your mistakes. When I make a grammar or vocabulary mistakes while speaking Spanish, they will correct me in the nicest way possible. It’s like they want to help you get better at their language and they’re already happy you’re making an effort. It never felt like they were making fun of me for making a mistake. Unfortunately, it is not the same feeling I get when making a grammar mistake here in the Netherlands. Here they will correct your mistakes in a way that it almost comes across like you’re very dumb. Often they will also talk back in English, when they have a feeling when you’re struggling (this is not the case with me), which doesn’t help the person from getting better at a language. And it would be so much nicer if you indeed correct someone’s mistakes without making the other person feel shitty or saying it in a way that comes across as a mockery.
While writing this I want to try to make people aware of something. I don’t (always) blame people for acting the way they do, because I truly believe it often has to do with ignorance. Instead, I try to get a better understanding of what their intentions are and try to give them a better understanding of my feelings and where I’m coming from. It can seem funny to you, but it can completely destroy the other person. This blog might not change a lot and is certainly not a way of blaming other people, making people mad or portraying myself as a victim. Not at all, instead I would love to make people aware of this issue a lot of people are dealing with (I know this because I have been discussing this with my friends and family) and make people think that their comments can have a massive effect on other people.
What could you do differently next time you talk to someone who is not a native dutch person?