Eind vorige maand ontstond er ophef over een themafeest in TivoliVredenburg, waarbij bezoekers zich onder andere verkleedden als indiaan. Schandalig, vond actiegroep De Grauwe Eeuw. Jezelf zo uitdossen is ronduit racistisch, stelden zij. Het dringende verzoek aan het Utrechtse podium was dan ook om feesten met een Wild West-thema niet langer plaats te laten vinden. De organisatie zegde dit toe, maar op sociale media reageerden anderen daar vol afschuw op – mag er dan niets meer?
Over de Muur-redacteur Darryl Barthé heeft zelf een native American-achtergrond en vindt de ophef terecht. Nederlanders die zichzelf of hun kinderen verkleden als indiaan beseffen niet wat de werkelijke implicaties daarvan zijn, stelt hij in zijn column. Hoe iets wat heel onschuldig lijkt, bij nader inzien voor iets heel naars staat.
[lees verder in het Engels]
I am writing this as a person who really appreciates the culture and history of the Netherlands and who has developed great affection for the community that I have come to know in the last few years, living here in Amsterdam. So then, what I have to say, I want you to understand and accept as the advice of a friend. I saw your flirtation with redface (costuming as Amerindian people, “playing Indian”) recently just like I saw your blackface a few weeks ago during Carnival 2018 (and last November and December) and you guys really need to stop it. You are better people than this.
Many of you have been seeing people “blacken up” since you were children and cannot understand how the object of such pleasant memories could, simultaneously, signify humiliation and degradation for anyone else. This is, in part, because many of you live in all-white communities. Many of you attended (or attend) all white schools. The vantages of people of color were never issues for you and, to the extent that you were taught “people are people, and we are all equal,” there was never any reason for you to imagine that people of color perceived the world in a qualitatively different way from you because they were people of color. The very notion that people of color and white people experienced reality in fundamentally different ways is a problematic proposition for you, who have been taught that race and color should not matter so much as the content of someone’s character. Race and color do matter though.
Race and color have, historically, determined a person’s access to basic human rights. That history informs Europeans’ images of people of color today. That history of being refused basic considerations that Europeans routinely extend to one another, in terms of human rights in particular, informs the image that people of color in the West have of Europeans as well as the image that people of color in the West have of themselves.
Images allow for the transference of meaning. We see things, we file information away for later, and we make judgement calls. This is why the way people are portrayed in images, matters. If the only images of Africans one is ever exposed to are images of African slaves, it is hard to see something besides “slave” when one sees an African. If the only images of Amerindians one is ever exposed to are 19th-century images of Sioux tribal leaders in headdresses (“Indianentooi”), this promotes the misconception that “real Indians” are relics of a bygone age, rather than a diverse people who are still, today, embroiled in an existential struggle for survival in the face of ongoing colonial violence. There are, literally, hundreds of tribal Amerindian nations within the borders of the United States and Canada. Reducing them all to a caricature is a deeply ignorant, and racist, proposition. Amerindians do not all wear tasseled buckskins. They do not all live in tipis. These representations are reductionist and unfair.
Reducing people to stereotypes is dehumanizing. It conflates actual people with a performance of humanity. It replaces peoplehood with a narrow representation that fosters unhelpful preconceptions that make it harder for people of color to be recognized as individuals. This is a deeply racist dynamic and is the reason that blackface and redface portrayals are unacceptable.
Regarding the “cowboys and indians” controversy at Tivoli-Vredenburg, a few days ago, Minister of Justice and Security, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, was quick to defend the “Wild West”-themed party as child’s play (echoing Mark Rutte’s “mooie kinderfeest” in Dokkum last November). My answer to this is that perhaps Dutch children should not be encouraged to play this way. Given the history of genocide against Amerindian people, perpetrated by Europeans (and their white American cousins), I am left to wonder at the reaction of the Dutch public if the folks at Tivoli-Vredenburg threw an “SS Guards and Jews” theme party.
Seeing little white kids run around with fake headdress diminishes this cultural symbol and transforms it into a prop. Because white people have the power to project this image of themselves to my children, it interferes with my ability to properly contextualize this symbol for them. Is it really too much to ask that you find some other costume to wear instead of this symbol of wisdom, integrity and courage?
I am an indigenous person from New Orleans, Louisiana: there are few things that I understand better than grotesque mobs of white bigots. The Dutch are not that. That’s why I live here. That’s why I am making the effort to speak to you directly, as a friend.
Cut it out. Stop it: the redface, the blackface, all of it. It’s beneath you. You are better people than this.
Darryl Barthé is een Louisiana Creole van métis (Mi’kmaq, Caddo, Chitimacha), Cajun en Afrikaans-Amerikaanse afkomst. Hij woont in Amsterdam en is universitair docent aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam.
Phil Deloria, Playing Indian (Yale University Press, 1998).
Peter Cozzens, De aarde huilt (Atheneum – Polak & Van Gennip, 2017).
Richard White, The Middle Ground (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Vine Deloria, Custer Died for Your Sins (University of Oklahoma Press, 1969).
 NU.nl “TivoliVredenburg schaft themafeesten met cowboys en indianen af,” and Zack Newmark, NLTimes.nl “‘White extremists’ stop anti-blackface rally; officials say Zwarte Piet protestors not welcome”
 Conservative estimates suggest that there were at least 10 million Amerindian people in 1500 that were reduced, through direct colonial interference including warfare and the spreading of disease (unintentionally and intentionally), to approximately 275,000 tribal people by 1900. See: National Congress of American Indians “National American Indian Holocaust Museum.”