Image source: Daum Blog
Caption: Choose the wrong option. (the artist is mocking the idea of racism by using a multiple-choice question format popular in Korean education)
Last Friday, I was leaving a supermarket when a group of young, white, mostly male, Dutch people ran up to me, took a photo of me, then ran away laughing. I froze, ran into MediaMarkt, the electronics store next door, which I was headed to originally, and stayed there for a good fifteen minutes before I went outside, looked around and made sure they were gone, got on my bike and pedaled back home.
I asked myself if what had happened had really just happened. Yes. I saw the flash. I heard them laugh. I was sure.
Back home, I sat down and wrote an angry and descriptive post along the lines of: “To the white, male, Dutch youth who just took a picture of me in front of the supermarket on this street, go fuck yourselves, go get cancer, go crash into a train. Same to the people who have yelled “ching chong” at me and even tried to pet my head as I was walking by them. Also, if this happens again, do I tell the store about it or the police?”. Then I had the Internet thread moment of my life.
First, people immediately jumped on my use of the word “cancer”. [For people unfamiliar with the Netherlands, “go get cancer” is one of the worst profanities you can use on someone here because, well, you’re telling them to go get a horrible, often incurable, disease]
I do think these guys are assholes, but with a statement like that you dissipate sympathy. (Schul***)
After this comment I explained that I chose the word “cancer” because it was a serious swearword in the Netherlands, that I fully understood the usage of the word, and that this was exactly how I felt when those people violated me. I also told them that it was my first time using this word on anyone.
I was with you up until the cancer statement.. (Siebe***)
I explained again my choice of words.
You lost my sympathy when talking like that, thinking well bitch then just open up your mouth if you are so disturbed and hurt by it. (Man)
Fuck you for wishing cancer on anyone bitch! Do you even know what its like to lose someone to cancer. Stupid twat. (Kleinenb***)
As a cancer survivor, seeing you wish it upon people for such a tiny little slight, you have shown me you are deserving of it.
You are trash. (Humphr***)
People who never experienced racism said they understood it:
I have never been confronted with racism myself yet I can understand the anger it evokes when one would be (Xav***)
Again, I have never been confronted with extreme racism myself yet I can understand the anger it evokes when one would be. However, it needs to made clear that things like wishing People cancer is NEVER the way to go and may not be permitted in a society that exists largely of educated people.(Lecla***)
Ive never encountered this in all he years ive been here. I have no clue what the others are talking about, perhaps the wrong neighbourhood, wrong attitude or whatsoever. (van Boga***)
Which was met with: “Wrong attitude” -van Boga*** Like what, there’s a wrong attitude to have when being racially targeted? Or is there a wrong attitude to have to make you deserve racial targeting? (Abh***)
To which: with encountered i meant, non of my indian, pakistani, chinese, russian, morrocan and blabla friends ever came with a story like this (van Boga***)
Then, people claimed it wasn’t a racist attack Or that it wasn’t an attack at all.
Btw they are not really racist….they are just drunk and childish. Everyone makes “racial” jokes and Clichè comments et cetera. Humans are born the way, it happens everywhere by every so called race (Arnol***)
To me its sounds very rational to say that ‘ching chong’ is a stupid hateless joke, and ‘get cancer’ is a hatefull statement. (van Boga***)
Someone got #triggered.
My opinion is not inflated, and please stop trying to pull the “race” card and “gender” card. It’s retarded. (Humphr***)
Drunk students who say ching chong. Do you really think its hate racism? Theyre fcking drunk! Maybe you’ll sleep better if u recognize the difference between hate-racism and ethnical-related jokes/laughs. (van Bogae***)
There was some victim-blaming:
Even now, the way she’s replying. It doesn’t sound like an innocent, helpless person. The whole discussion is pointless because it’s very wrong to bully people and it’s again very wrong to wish someone to die in horrible pain. Sorry, [my name] but your reactions are mean, and aggressive. you work in [my field of work], you should know better! (Popi***)
Which was met with: Tell me, what does a ”victim’ look like? Should she cower in fear and just sit back and accept this with tears in her eyes? Why don’t you give the same ‘lecture’ to Bram van Galen, who has clearly expressed an intent of violence to to her? Or is HIS reaction okay because cancer […] offended him and his feelings should be put above hers? (T***)
And one user threatened to physically attack me. A van Galen who has his own investment firm under his own name and whose information is all available through the most basic Google search. He clearly did not think this through.
Fack off. (van Galen)
Can I order soms bami [‘Can I order some bami’, a fried noodle dish typically served at Chinese restaurants here] – he quickly deleted this comment so I let readers know what it said. To which he replied:
Number 45 please
Please tell me your adres
Then he claimed I had deleted all his posts. To which I told him they were right above his last comment. Then he said this:
After the word cancer you lost all your credits. You can try to downplay it. But I truely believe you are such a cunt. Crying that someone took a picture of you. […] When I walk into you in Maastricht i will show you cancer. Fcking cunt
When other users chipped in and told him they were drafting a police complaint and we knew the name of his company he quickly attempted to justify himself and even apologize. (Unfortunately I don’t have records of this because he deleted them)
After I and other users told him we had screencaps of his comments, his Facebook profile (in which he listed his workplace and position, including the address), and that we were taking the matter to the police, he deleted all his comments and disappeared.
A couple of male users left comments which, I think, should have gotten as much attention:
See the bad thing about this place is you don’t get to carry a gun everywhere you go #murica (Gold)
Dude, we totally owned Egypt man.
I feel bad for any people that have ever been enslaved.
The blacks were enslaved for a few centuries, but even our thousands of years of slavery ain’t close.
Cuz we “white” mate (Humphr***)
– If I remember correctly, this person also described himself as of Jewish heritage.
I’m done on this thread, the arrogance and sexism towards white males is just unbelievable (Humphr***)
People told me to “rise above”.
I can understand that you are upset after being confronted with racism on multiple occasions but if there’s one group of People I respect less than racist People, it’s People who wish other People to get cancer. (Lecla***)
Give me a break, I’ve been discriminated against a lot, and still you don’t see me post this kinda things. (Meš**)
I think I read all the comments to this post and I want to point out that not anger resolves things. No matter the skin colour, high, gender, there are always going to be bullies and unfair people. But you can’t ask the world to change for the better, you are a part of it and you’re not willing to change only a small bit and admit you were wrong to wish those guys cancer. Than, how do you ask others to be better for you? I get the frustration, but you’re no better than them if you react like this. Look closely and you’ll see that you’ll eventually be fine but them, they are always going to be arrogant clowns. (Popi***)
The forum’s moderator had some opinions. He later disabled the “comment” function without asking me.
Complains about racism, continues calling other people ‘white boys’. Go somewhere else, please you are making a fool out of yourself. (E. Scheeren)
PIty for all the yellows blacks and brownies, right? (E. Scheeren)
I guess its time to close this discussion, if you want to spread your experiences like this again, please don’t respond to hatred by hate (E. Scheeren)
Some people had…interesting opinions:
Isn’t calling them “white men” similar to racism? So responding to racism with racism would not solve your problem […] (Caru**)
Which was met with: How is calling someone ‘white’ the same thing as someone yelling an obviously racist slur at you? […] Should she have said Caucasian men? (Yus***)
And: Yeah don’t you hate it when you go to the shops and random strangers in the street come up to you to take pictures and make fun of you and white stereotypes just because you’re white (Will***)
I’m done on this thread, the arrogance and sexism towards white males is just unbelievable (Humphr***)
The X-marker is a legal way to spray harmless paint in someones face, making them a noticable target for at least 3 days (very hard to wash of) If the “terrible racist” is blue all over, then calling police will probably help. (van Boga***)
Then came the ad hominem attacks on other users:
It’s sad that you don’t have a life and you print screen convo’s. I deleted it because I felt tired of people like you.
So…why are you even commenting? It’s not even your post… (Meš**)
If you do, why da fuck do you have time at 2:34 am to make all these comments? (Meš**)
To which the person she was attacking replied: I’m sorry, are you not doing the same thing? Lol (Len***)
A couple of readers thought it was funny to call their friends out and see if they were the ones who attacked me:
[Rik***, why man? (Ase***)
I bet that was you! (Rik***)
Yeah, came to maasi for one night just to take some pictures of internationals. It’s my number 2 young-white-male hobby, number 1 being building a fence in Hungary. Peace, billa*** out ✌️ (Bil***)
But many people were encouraging. Here’s the legal advice I got:
you should report it to the police. They may not be able to do much for you but if you just let shit like this slide nobody will ever even know that there is a problem (van G***)
Always report instances of racism to the police (Will***)
Some shared their insight on what was going on the thread itself:
Let’s simply say: People in this FB group who saw this post and are Europeans, are most likely not supporting what you said here. But to be honest no one can really feel how you have felt when you encountered that situation. (Zh***)
If you fail to see the irony in exclaiming that first hand experience is paramount whilst talking about racism as a white male I do actually believe you need to revise 1+1=2 level of logic. (Will***)
Some people fought for me:
Congratulations to the people who have never experienced bigotry to the point of feeling unsafe, but policing the language of someone who has recently been in a stressful situation is EVEN LESS helpful than wishing disease upon others. (Len***)
By telling people to keep calm, you’re revoking their right to anger and hurt. They should be angry. Change demands strong feelings be felt, expressed, and addressed. Not silenced. (Len***)
Ignore racism and go on with your life? Do you even understand what it’s like to experience racism? Clearly not, because if you did, you wouldn’t write that. It is difficult to ignore being completely dehumanised and made feel guilty for just existing. Please don’t say ignore something that you are clueless about. (La***)
if I had a 5 cents for every time someone told me to just “simply ignore it”, “be the better person”, and all those empty sentiments, I’d be so rich I could pay back my student loans 8 times over and pay for the student loans of the whole group here (T***)
Are you seriously going to preach about her wishing cancer on someone. Seriously? And then continue on and say it’s not permitted in a ‘society of educated people’ when she is facing racism in this so called ‘educated society’ of individuals who treat her badly.Walk in her shoes before you start preaching the etiquette of how she should have vented her anger. (Go***)
I think you fail to see that trying to impose your ideas of what racism is onto someone who is actually a minority and experiences actual racism is inappropriate, as you are someone who is not a minority and do not experience this racism (de H***)
to be told by a white male that I should abide by HIS standards of what constitutes “tiny little” discriminatory actions because you somehow have inflated your own ego to presume you have a valid opinion in a space that you do not occupy, namely racism. (T***)
And many shared their own stories of experience with racism:
Sadly this is not the first I’ve heard of people in Maastricht being racist towards Asians. Which I find really weird since I never encountered any of this while with Asian friends, but they had and told me about it. One even decided to change his regular cycling route because of harassment like this. (van G***)
I am white European and have received racism in Maastricht /Netherlands . They are a bit backwards SOME people here (El***)
This doesn’t just happen in Maastricht unfortunately, experienced it myself. Tried to ignore it, but that won’t work. (Tomo***)
I’ve also experienced racism in Maastricht, on multiple occasions. It comes mostly from local people with lower education, rather than university students. Once me and a non-white friend were even refused entrance to a bar, as a person on the door said it was only for Dutch people, while just letting every white person inside. We were really upset by this and went to an anti-discrimination agency who managed to squeeze a lame apology from this bar. Also, I often hear some teenagers groups shouting something like “nihao” at me and even throwing stuff at me when I pass by (**)
I’m sorry you had to go through this, I had to watch a friend from Somalia being attacked by 6 Dutch duchebags for no reason last year in Maas and the police can’t do much without evidence usually. So I’m sorry and I think it’s great that you shared it, I think it’s important to speak out for any change to ever happen (Had***)
White privilege be like (KM)
as someone who’s had cancer, i think that wishing them to get hit by a train might be more effective… and also probably slightly more painful (though marginally less nauseating… i dont know ive never been hit by a train). im sorry you had to go through that! your reaction is 100% justified. (Kenn***)
Someone call the waaaaaaaambulance! (T***)
There was a very, very long discussion on the Dutch swearword ‘cancer’:
Why is everyone getting so butthurt over something that Dutch people swear with all the time? (van G***)
whatever these people tell you, it is actually very common to swear with diseases in the Netherlands and I’m sure many people that have commented on this threat would have probably also used the cancer word had they been in your terrible situation… [link] (Will***)
I explained, more than once: “The reason I used the word “cancer” is precisely because my Dutch friends sat me down one day and told me to NEVER, EVER use that word unless somebody had really harmed me. So I did that and used it once. Today. In my head. Well, actually I typed it out after saying it in my head.”
Even though it is true that it is more common to swear with diseases in Dutch than in most other languages, I want to stress that cancer is totally unacceptable nowadays. Unfortunately, it is sometimes used by not very educated people in order to exaggerate a description (e.g. kankerlekker: unbelievably good/tasteful). Maybe they’re the same lads who thought racism would be funny. Utterly disgraceful. (van Sche***)
So if a Dutch person swears upon another something related to getting cancer people laugh and say it’s Dutch culture… but if a person who is harassed does so nobody appreciates how well integrated she is after only two weeks. 😉 (Pe***)
Secondly for the people who start crying with the fact that she used the word cancer, good luck surviving here in the Netherlands because it’s the same then using the word, fuck. The problem is you ignorant prick, there is a girl walking on the street. Who is get bullied and she maybe doesn’t even want to go on the streets anymore… Because that’s okay but first let’s solve the problem that somebody used that one word… (Schn***)
One user cited a helpful resource on Tone Policing:
It sure entertained some people:
boah dude, check out some of these replies.. (Chi***)
Lol so many butthurt people (C***)
dis better than Netflix (Bil***)
14 people wrote me private messages to tell me that they were sorry I had experienced in their city, their country, that they and the city were behind my back. That racism was not okay. That they hoped something like this never happened again.
10 people told me they would meet me and talk if I needed it.
1 person was concerned I might be suicidal after all those comments.
Another left their phone number to call if I need an ear.
A non-Dutch student confessed he didn’t know what to say when he heard racial slurs because he couldn’t find any words that would hurt them as deeply as they did him.
I went to sleep feeling pretty good. There were a bunch of people who didn’t have a slight idea to what racism was (even if they claimed to), but there were so many good people who understood what I had felt, who spent their Saturday evening defending me, and reporting violent behaviour.
Then I woke up to this, when a friend messaged me saying “some shit is going down, again”:
That first comment got about 50 “likes” before the comments were deleted one by one by the OP, who then deleted his post entirely within a day.
I talked about this online incident, and about the attack itself to a few people I personally know or regularly have contact with. Surprisingly, the kindest, sweetest people had the same reaction:
- Are you sure they took a photo of you? Are you sure it happened?
- They weren’t racists, they were just youth being stupid.
I couldn’t help but notice that all these people were white – they just did not understand. Why was this racism? They targeted me because I was there, not because I was Asian (to which I replied: “Yes, there were other Dutch people walking around the carpark and I was the only one they took a picture of”). Somehow it did not naturally cross their mind that when “stupid people” bully others, they may choose to do so to individuals who belong to specific groups, and that just because this choice is often made implicitly does not make it less racist. If I had been a white female, and told my white friends that Chinese people kept taking photos of me just because of my blonde hair, what would they say?
And somehow, I had to explain, step by step, why this was racist. This surprised me. A few times, they simply failed to “see it”. Even after I told them why this was hurtful and why this was, indeed, selective targeting. It was just a bad guy on a bad day and you happened to be there.
AsI did this a few times, I understood racism. All those times in Seoul when my Kenyan, Indian, Moroccan, Pakistani, Irish, German, Finnish people told me Korea was racist, I said “I understood it”. But to feel it on your own skin is an entirely different matter. When a black friend told me a Korean woman came up to her in the subway and started rubbing her skin to see “if it came off”, I thought it was offensive and morally incorrect, but I oversaw the humiliation and ignorance.
When I recounted both stories to people of colour, the consensus was clear:
- That really happened? That is some racist bullshit.
- I’m sorry this happened to you.
Overall, this whole story made me debate internally, and with several friends, whether it was impossible to understand and be compassionate about a cause that did not affect oneself. It reminded me of a conversation I had in London this May, where a group of British (and continental European) feminists were discussing whether men could be feminists. A man who identified himself as feminist said: “I don’t know, am I allowed to be feminist, I mean, is it possible for me to be a feminist?” and a hot debate rose. Yes, if he fought for our cause. No, not really. He doesn’t get it. He can’t.
One person of colour told me:
They ain’t white. They ain’t gettin’ it honey. They don’t know what racism is and they never will, unless they go and live in India for a year where nobody looks like them.
However, this wasn’t the end – this story happened nearly two months ago. Last Friday was many Fridays ago. And it hasn’t stopped. On the following Monday, I was stopping at a red light on my bicycle when a truck driver (again, white male) yelled “Ching chong! Ching chong!”. And I thought: Seriously? Did I just hear that? When I told this story to a friend, she advised I wear headphones. Because that shit just ruins your day.
This week, I was again at a crossroads (this time with headphones) when a (this is becoming repetitive, but again) white, male twenty-something stated yelling at me. So I turned my head to him, because maybe he was asking me whether I had pressed the crossings button (you have to press a button to get the green light here). Then he started pulling faces. Thankfully, I was listening to Nicki Minaj in full throttle. Fucking arsehole. Again. Then I drove off. The guy drove faster to overtake me, then spent the next three minutes-worth driving time constantly turning back towards me, pulling faces and yelling very the now-becoming-familiar “Ching chong! Ching chong!”. Thank you Nicki, thank you headphones.
When I got home and told my German flatmate (again, white male) what had happened, he said:
What is it with you and those people? (He and my other roommate had already heard all the other accounts of racism)
In which I unfortunately heard a tinge of “What are you doing wrong that these people are targeting you?“. And which made me think for a moment: Should I move out?
I also had to remind people when recounting the negative feedback I got online – the ones which said my problem was “so slight and I was blowing it out of proportion since I technically didn’t get ‘attacked'” – and the listener said “Yeah, but it is true that you didn’t really get attacked. They just took a photo of you”. I had to tell them “Yes, and murder and rape here in Europe are not big problems since there’s war in Syria every day, right?”. Then they got it.
But I did get a lot of support for people in my degree programme, the student community, and from my professor. The professor encouraged me strongly to report this to the university, since such instances “simply had to be known”. He also remarked that “the Netherlands is unfortunately, very racist, and it’s been swept under the rug”. Most people in my degree were outraged at what happened at the supermarket. One Belgian/French student remembered being bullied in his own country because he was French-speaking but studied in the Flemish-speaking part of the country. One student told me he had been spat on because he came out – as a white male living in Germany. The only other Asian student in my cohort told me she now “goes to take out the trash with headphones because I don’t want to bump into fuckheads who will ruin my day regardless of how wrong they are because that shit gets you down no matter what”.
Overall, I am surprised by how divided we humans are, and how we seem to fail to understand problems that do not directly impact us – which further alienate causes behind which specific groups rally. Indeed, the personal is political.