Be my new hero

This was a guest lecture at Wageningen University, to close off the course on Social Justice Technology & Development, on Monday March 4 2024. “The course Social Justice Technology & Development introduces key concepts of social justice theories and contains exercises to work with these concepts, how development studies can be framed in social justice terms. The technologies that are used as cases include both social engineering technologies (such as land reform or standards) as well as new, complex artefacts, such as transgenic crops. Later parts of the course address political ecology, Indigenous rights, and the practical prospects of governing science and technology on a global scale.”

Any time I get to speak with young people, I consider that a special kind of privilege.

So thank you for having me.

… let us get straight into it.

Most of everything you have learned so far in your life, is total nonsense. A system that was specifically designed to keep a certain group of people dominant, while the rest is tagging along subservient, unless they realign themselves and become part of that system.

Let me quickly add that this does not include this class and everything ms. Boogaard is teaching you. (And that’s only partially a joke 😉  

Either way, to explain my point, I’m gonna try to give you an insight into the lives and minds of people of color and particularly people of African descent.

So let’s go!

I will tell you that we’re sick and tired of always having to be code switching. Do you even know what code switching is?

Did you know that people of color do this?

Can you imagine how exhausting it is to always have to be someone else? If you think about it, we’re being racist against ourselves.

The world is designed for white people and specifically white men to thrive. I am not saying that only white people subjugated, enslaved and oppressed others, but white people, as the dominant group on earth, did perfect it like a science. All of this formed the basis for capitalism, which has its roots in greed. And unrelenting greed makes you not care about others. It makes you find reasons to treat others differently, simply because they look different from you.

People have even misused Christianity for instance to justify slavery; in the US, British missionaries removed passages from the bible to convince Africans that they were lesser humans than white people.

It’s called the Slave Bible. In this book, about 90 percent of the Old Testament is missing and 50 percent of the New Testament. There are 1,189 chapters in a standard Bible. The slave Bible only has 232 chapters.

Passages that spoke of all humans being one under god were removed, but those that reinforced the institution of slavery were left in: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”

Often when people speak of white privilege, they have no idea how far down the rabbit hole goes. Cunning tactics that were used to instill that belief of superiority, are still being used today.

Look at the movie industry for instance; most heroes in movies are white. Even when the origin of the story is non white. Shall I mention Christianity again? The hero in the most important book of the leading religion in the world, is white! His omnipresent, all knowing father, the god that Black people were convinced to believe in, is white!

To make it more concise: the media calls Black people a minority.

But while we are IN THE MINORITY here, we are not A MINORITY. What we are, is marginalized.

There are 1.2 billion people in Africa, about 18% of the world’s population. And that doesn’t even include the 200 million Black people outside of Africa. That is a huge economic market.

The same goes for other large economic markets, like India and China, both with 1.4 billion people. I often marvel at how the west has been able to marginalize such massive communities. It has to do with fear of not being the leader.

And meanwhile, there are only about 1.3 billion white people on earth? The estimated percentage is anywhere between 8 and 15 percent of the world population. That is not the majority you would think it is!

But somehow white men have convinced the world that I am the minority?

Capitalism rests on white supremacy, and it is all designed to keep the west dominant. And rich.

And at the same time they want to keep migrants out. They rather keep the riches that they stole from these migrants’ countries to themselves.

Now some of you may be tempted to remind me that I also live here. That I am also part of the system that was created for the success of a certain group of people. That I am now part of the group that I speak against.

And nothing holds more truth. I did move here; people of color did move here because things are better here. But why did we move here? Why are things better here? And are things indeed better when we face discrimination and racism and marginalization everywhere we go?  

Remember that zwarte Piet still exists. Something that hurts Black people is still portrayed every year, simply because white people enjoy it.

Black children still get study advice that is below their level, while white children get a pass even when it’s clear that they can’t handle it.

At my son’s primary school, the teacher bragged that my son was always helping everybody with their computerproblems; but my son was still sent to Mavo, below his level. Meanwhile his friend, who clearly had ADHD and all sorts of behavioral problems, got sent to VWO. Today my son does an HBO program and the other boy has crashed down to the lowest level of vmbo; and he was happy there. The system that was designed for him to thrive set him up for something he could not achieve, but at the same time it wasted precious years of my son’s life. And of his friend’s life.

That’s what the system does. It wastes human potential. Racism is not effective.

That’s another point that I wanted to make about me being here. Am I not here because colonialism saw to it that my country of birth didn’t develop properly? What if colonialism didn’t drain the resources of marginalized countries? What if Congo got to reap all the benefits from its cobalt?

Let’s take it to my country of birth.

In Suriname the education system is Eurocentric, meaning that it teaches from a European perspective. It’s full of terms like “Columbus discovering countries” and “slaves” and “Gouden Eeuw”. (was the 18th century golden for Black people?)

Anyway, the best schools in Suriname are Dutch. Surinamese children can go to Dutch school in Suriname. These schools are private, and they’re expensive!

So rich children go to those schools, where they are educated for the future. These rich children will get the better jobs later, which maintains the inbalance of power.

They can easily fit in if they choose to move here. And why wouldn’t they? They went to Dutch schools, where they were trained to become Dutch people!

Meanwhile the public school system is also Eurocentric, but it’s broken and it’s outdated.

Poor people (mostly Black people) send their children to public schools, where they are not educated for the jobs of the future. They are educated to fail, even when they’re brilliant. And they can’t leave, because their lives didn’t prepare them for that.

That’s how the system works.

Another example

St. Maarten, which is part of the Netherlands deals with hurricanes every year, that cause severe flooding. Meanwhile, here in the Netherlands, we have the best flood management systems. We literally live below sea-level!

So why didn’t they put similar systems in place in Dutch overseas territories?

In 2017, hurricane Irma ripped through St. Maarten; thousands of people’s houses were demolished. When they came here they were called refugees. How the hell can you be a refugee here when you have a Dutch passport?

Back to Suriname

Suriname has no secondary schools and universities outside of the capital; so children in the hinterland are undereducated. Meanwhile, the Netherlands built unis and secondary schools in every remote village here!

The systems that were put in place here for people here to thrive, were not put in place there by the colonizers when they were draining these countries. And then we blame these countries for not advancing!

Anotrher one

In 1804 Haiti became the first independent state in the western Hemisphere. But then out of spite the French government demanded that Haiti paid them for becoming independent. Over a period of about seventy years, Haiti had to pay billions to France. Money that Haiti desperately needed for its development!

Today Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

It’s called having moral responsibility, but no; the party that won the last elections said this about the Antilles

Wilders wants to put the Antilles on Marktplaats!

Instead of fixing the problem you created, you want to get rid of the problem you created.

The system is not effective. It wastes human potential.

And what makes me cringe is that people there often don’t see it. They have accepted mediocrity as norm.

Because of colonialism, former colonies maintain a system that was created when everything in place there was in service of the colonizer.

The colonizer is no longer there, but the system they created to keep the rich rich and the poor poor, is still in place.

I always say “in a room with only people of color, with no white people present, white people are still present.” That’s how invading this dominance is.

Remember that I mentioned that Black children here in Holland get lower study advice than white children. It’s the same thing!

And that brings me to you.

The good thing about accepting nonsense as the norm, is that it does not have to be difficult to bring change. All you have to do is have some sense and bring change.

Your generation can be the hero in this story.

Because you’re perfectly situated in time and space to bring that change.

I mean when I was growing up, people could tell Black people to know their place and to act according to their skin color. People were killed because they dared to demand humane treatment for themselves. And it was normal.

Comic books that I read, had Black people with BLACKBLACK skin and red lips and bones through their hair. And that was normal! I used to devour these books! Nobody told us that those people with big lips represented us.

Nobody knew any better. Ignorance is bliss.

We know better now.

People cried when Barack Obama was elected because nobody ever dared to dream that a Black man would be President of the US.

You have grown up with him in your rearview.

There is a woman Vice President of the US now.


White people having Black friends was unheard of back in the day. It’s normal now and your generation is making it even more normal.

I am less worried about your future because I know that many GenZ do not know the world any different. But we should not take it for granted. A lot of work has been done by previous generations to get us here, but there is also a lot of push back.

White superiority wants me to give up and accept my place. Either under their rule or with a measure of success that they allow. It wants me to accept that I am here. It wants me to forget that I came here because of a messed-up history that it caused. It wants me to relinquish my culture and my identity. But what about the rest of the world?

That western mold does not fit everybody, but they keep forcing it, on all of us. 

How many more wars are going to erupt because of greed? What do you think caused climate change?

So do not take the things for granted that are now normal.

I know many of you are social justice warriors. I know that like my son, many young people don’t buy new clothing, because second hand saves the world.

That’s good. But take it further.

This world was designed for you to thrive, but don’t thrive alone. Dare to take a stand.  

Nobody is good until everybody is good

When white supremacy offers you that seat on that board, recommend your Black friend who is better qualified than you.

A lot of white women are now Diversity and Inclusion managers and that is because of the Black Life Matters demonstrations that were started by Black people. I could not get a job in D&I because I was supposedly too close to the subject.

Don’t miss the point.

Instead of Albert Heijn, also shop at that Black owned supermarket because by doing that you’re strengthening a business that supports a family in a disadvantaged community. When you go on holiday, don’t just stay in that all-inclusive, but venture out and shop at the local grocery store. You’re sending a child to better schools. Instead of donating to the big organizations like UNICEF and WARCHILD, seek out the organizations that work in the disadvantaged communities and help them.

But also invest in relationships with people of color. Do you know people of color? Do you hang out with them? Ask them about their experiences with racism; learn from it.

I always say that people of color hold the moral compass to the world. We knew that we were not supposed to be nobody’s slave, that’s why we ran away from the plantations, even when we were being called sick for running. They literally had a term for that!

Martin Luther King fought against segregation and for Black rights. So did Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. And they were massacred even while their beliefs were righteous.

When Black people complained about being shot by the police, white people were asking “but what did you do to get shot?” Seriously! It took another Black man to be murdered in broad daylight by a cop, for the world to finally take notice.

Again a Black person had to die to be the moral compass.

I’ll take it even further: In 1833, Britain used 40% of its national budget to compensate slave owners for freeing the people they enslaved. To do this, Britain borrowed a large sum of money. And here it comes: this loan wasn’t paid off until 2015!

So imagine this: people who paid taxes in England from 1833 till 2015, helped to pay back this money for freeing enslaved Africans.

Think about it: Black people who paid taxes in England; Black people who were the descendants of enslaved Africans, helped to pay rich racists for freeing their ancestors.

When I think of that story, I always wonder if Holland also took a loan to compensate slave owners. Where have my taxes gone?

It took the Netherlands till 2023 to finally give a weak apology for slavery. And white people did not believe it was necessary and now they are resisting the notion of reparations.  

While all we’re doing is fitting ourselves in a system that is based on nonsense, a system that is not really built for people of color to thrive.

And what I know about your generation is that this is not how you want to continue.

My grandparents’ generation were the children of slaves and their owners. They couldn’t change much. They raised the generation of my parents, who started planting some seeds. My generation took it a bit further …

And the millennials … yeah well 🤣

but your generation …

Your generation is growing up in this age, with access to the internet, an unlimited resource of knowledge. You have unlimited power to change the future!

So listen to people of color. 

You know what I do? I have started an institute where you will be able to study and look at the world from an Afrocentric perspective, not just a European perspective. My institute is called Broos Institute. Come take our classes.

I also run the only magazine in the Netherlands that is dedicated to Black stories. It’s called Afro Magazine (dot NL in Dutch and dot EU in English). On our platform Black people are not a minority. Journalism educates a community, so we’re teaching the community a new narrative.

Make an effort to read media from disadvantaged communities and get new perspectives.

When you’re able to look at things from different perspectives, you see more.  

And fix your language. When people say “minorities”, tell them that the correct term is “marginalized people.” When Dutch people call themselves “Blank”, explain to them why they are WIT (white).

(When people call themselves Blank, I love to tell them “oh yes, Blank like me … I’m also pure and unblemished. And then I just sit and watch their brains wrestle with it)

Even when it’s Black people that use incorrect language. I know Black people who call themselves NEGER.

There’s Black people who support zwarte Piet.

When you meet them, correct them.

Explain to them that they are being racist against themselves.

A lot of the work has already been done.

My great great great grandfather was Broos, the only slavery resistance fighter from Suriname of whom a picture exists. He literally won wars against Dutch soldiers in the 1800s, but white supremacy made sure that his story didn’t make it into the schoolbooks. I only learned about my ancestor who survived, when I was about 35.

Because they only taught me about the freedom fighters who didn’t survive.

Teaching oppressed people that their heroes all died, is also a tactic to make them believe that their fight is futile …

Anyway: Broos is my personal hero, because he stood for something.

He wrote a new story

He created a legacy; and I believe that it is my task to continue the legacy.

You are now perfectly situated to also be today’s heroes. 

To write a new story

To zig when everybody zags

And be my new hero

Thank you