I recently reached the sudden realization that I’d been in The Netherlands for two years. I quickly scurried through my things in a frenzied effort to retrieve my long abandoned Dutch Language course kit. After being put off following a few seconds of exercises, I resolved to cycle to my grocer for a lovely batch of stroopwafels (syrup wafers – a Dutch delicacy). This resulted in my returning home sweating and freezing simultaneously and consequently losing my appetite … well I was able to squeeze a bite in later on.
But I was struck by how it seemed no matter how much progress I seem to be making in other aspects of living in a foreign country, I still haven’t managed to become ‘ingeburgerd’. The word is a beautiful example of double consciousness and is therefore something of a misnomer. I worry this assertion may never be articulated efficiently, but bear with me. Ingeburgerd a term that’s used around these parts to describe naturalized immigrants or people who have passed a test to help them become integrated into Dutch society. It can be translated to mean ‘generally accepted’.
Upon arrival in Holland, I had been terribly optimistic about my ability to become ‘ingeburgerd’. After all I had come from a country where Afrikaans, a language similar to Dutch is widely spoken and everything else (so I thought) was a matter of experience. I soon found out that it takes a lot more to become ‘generally accepted’ and I seem to have been fighting a losing battle ever since.
On the one hand, the inburgeringcursus are helpful program to learn the language and perfect for couples that are married or have children; and people looking to stay in the Netherlands for the long term. But I find it disturbing how little information is offered about the vast world that exists outside the seemingly static Dutch norms. Turkish, Moroccan, Antilles, Surinaam and Indonesian cultures and communities are swept under the carpet and though their histories have been bound to that of Holland, there seems to have been little room made for their narrative within Dutch consciousness. There are even people who know nothing of Holland's involvement in slavery, colonialism and Apartheid. This to me is unthinkable.
There’ve certainly been many shocking aspects to Dutch culture from my point of view. Not the least of which being the apparent partialities within a society that sees itself as monumentally tolerant. My own country is ridden with ghosts from the past and plagued with bizarre contradictions as a result. But this place has its own strange issues. As a new resident I became increasingly frustrated with this cold rule that all arrivals must be ‘trained’ to fit the Dutch society, while the society in question seemed unapologetic to some of their more prominent and permanent foreign residents. With the ongoing tension between the Dutch and especially the Moroccan people and right wing politician Geert Wilders in the picture, it seems to me that this society is not interested in acceptance.
As an artist, I have resolved to test Dutch society right back. So many people who haven’t even got a basic understanding of their own country’s history cling to this naïve Dutch ideology and unfortunately continue their long history of undermining other cultures. With globalization steadily on the rise, I think it’s about time that bubble burst. There are many foreigners in Holland and there have been for many decades and even centuries. It is admittedly a haven for people who come from all parts of the world. But the stay here is binding. Conformity is the name of the game and if you are a foreigner and do not comply … you are NOT generally accepted.
I hope that my engagement with this topic ends when I leave this place because I’m still naïve enough to hope that there are places that have been able to move beyond this. But I fear disappointment. Most of the Dutch people I discuss this with just say, “Other parts of the world are much worse!” I hope my work develops in a way that challenges not only Dutch people, but all sorts of people (including myself) to look beyond what they are told to accept. Moreover, I should try and challenge how much we are willing to accept on the condition that we are not exposed for it. This groupthink phenomenon seems timeless and universal, but it should not and cannot be accepted …