One year on from George Floyd’s murder by US police officer Derek Chauvin I reflect on my own (white) experiences of white supremacy, imperialism and racism, and the research I have done over this last year regarding my own family and country’s conduct.
Read about your history
After watching the world erupt in protest of his killing, and the thousands before and after him, I felt compelled to take a long hard look in the mirror. What is my role in all this? What can I do to change the narrative, to change the relationship between white people and everybody else? What have I done, and what do I know about my own family, my own country’s conduct regarding colonialism, imperialism, racism and white supremacy? And what can I do differently to improve?
These are some of the questions I had when I watched all the riots, protests and demands for change over the summer of 2020. I started off by buying 3 books called ‘We, slaves of Surinam‘ by the black communist Anton de Kom, which became a best seller after 86 years of being published and ‘Poet in the jungle‘ by Roelof Van Gelder about J.G. Stedman, a Dutch/British army officer in Surinam in the 18th century. The third book ‘Roofstaat‘ by Ewald Vanvugt is about the atrocities committed by the Dutch state across the world since the first colonising voyages took place 4-5 centuries ago until the present day. None of the information I read about in these books I had ever heard at school or anywhere else. To be honest, I was in complete shock when I finished them. I had never heard of Anton De Kom, who is in my eyes the Martin Luther King of the Netherlands. I only came across these books after a friend posted about them on Facebook. I am 47 years old and I had never heard of this man, who played such a big role in fighting for equality for black people in my country. I felt ashamed. I felt embarrassment. I felt guilt. And I was starting to wonder what my role is in this horrific history of white supremacy, racism and plunder, and what I can do to change it.
Racism in the family
As I have written about in past posts, my younger sister is adopted from India. She is one-and-a-half year younger than me, and she was 5 months old when she arrived. At 5 months old she had already been past around several carers. First her birth mother, who walked 200 miles from a rural village in Bihar to New Delhi whilst pregnant. Then the Mother Theresa children’s home. Then an American lady and her millionaire Indian husband, and then my parents. My parents have treated her like a Cinderella, second class, and subjected her to the most horrific physical and emotional abuse, as well as neglect. In the first year that she arrived, she was in a bad way through malnutrition and scabies, but on top of that she cried 24/7 for a year. She physically rejected my parents attention and showed clear signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder. Off course this disorder was not known back in the 70’s, let alone availability of support and help.
So my question is: is this trend of adopting children from poor countries the new imperialism, the new colonialism, the new racism? I mean my parents’ intention was to help a child who, in their eyes, had very poor prospects of survival let alone development of talents and a career, and to give her a good life.
They never anticipated she would come with a whole host of issues that they were not equipped to deal with, nor had the knowledge of or background for. They never thought about what the consequences are for a baby, a child, a person, who is ripped from their natural environment, her family, her culture, her history at a time she should be physically and emotionally bonding with her mother and father. This child, who is in every possible way so very different from their own, her smell, her cry, her skin colour. How can they keep telling themselves and us children, that she is equal to me and that she will be treated as their child as if she was their own, and then abuse her, neglect her and treat her like dirt?
Towards a socialist system
Why did they not put their efforts and their money into trying to get this country India to the state it should be in, before the British, and I have now found out before them, the Dutch plundered and enslaved its people? If they would have done that, my sister would possibly have been living happily with her family, or at least been adopted by an Indian family. Well, the answer is off course that they did not have the insight, the understanding and the education to think in that direction. We all have been completely brainwashed and conditioned into thinking that we, white people of the West, are superior to everyone else, and we know what civilisation and education is, because look at the state of Western countries. Aren’t we doing great? We have (well, once upon a time) a welfare state, trade unions, holidays and minimum wages and 40 hour working weeks. We have wealth and strong economies.
Racism in the familyYes, we do. Or we did. But where does this wealth come from? From hard work off course! That is what we learn at school, from TV and advertising, from the news even. Generation upon generation is being told this. But it is all a big fat lie. All that wealth comes from plundering, looting and stealing the wealth and enslaving people in the rest of the world and, let’s not forget at home. Because the working classes in the Western world were and are sometimes still treated worse than slaves. Here’s a passage from Friedrich Engels’ (1885) book ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’, in which he says about the bourgeoisie:
“They are slave-masters in effect. The factory system ends all freedom in law and in fact. The operative must be in the mill at half-past five in the morning; if he comes a couple of minutes too late, he is fined; if he comes ten minutes too late, he is not let in until breakfast is over, and a quarter of the day’s wages is withheld, though he loses only two and one-half hours’ work out of twelve. He must eat, drink, and sleep at command.”
Engels makes the comparison with chattel slavery in the US specific when he says,
“They are worse slaves than the Negroes in America, for they are more sharply watched, and yet it is demanded of them that they shall live like human beings, shall think and feel like men! Verily, this they can do only under glowing hatred towards their oppressors, and towards that order of things which places them in such a position, which degrades them as machines.”
Wage slavery today
This account really rings true to me today, when we hear about Amazon drivers pissing in bottles, or in a Sports Direct warehouse a pregnant woman delivering on the warehouse floor, extreme surveillance on workers and union busting, de-skilling and fire-and-rehire techniques. My Tesco delivery guy has to hold down 3 jobs to be able to look after his family of a wife and 2 kids. So I think we can safely conclude that racism, white supremacy and imperialism are ways in which this economic system of capitalism uses to still its indomitable lust for profit.
So what I am trying to say is, that only by fighting for a different system, that is not based on the exploitation of natural resources, people and competition, but aims to build on what people need to flourish, only then can we get rid of racism, imperialism and slavery. To start this process, we white people need to start taking a long hard look in the mirror, and see how we contribute to the continuation of these inequalities and exploitations.
Yes we need to pay reparations, yes we need to apologise for the deeds of our ancestors, yes we need to give back all the art, objects, gold and diamonds. Yes we need to tear down those statues and replace them with true heroes of equality. Yes we need to examine our society today and get rid of everything that contributes to exploitation and racism today. That is a massive task. But it has to be done and it is long overdue. And for me and my family, yes, we do need to do what we can to stop the cycle of abuse, and try to build our relationship as sisters in pain. How? I don’t know, I make it up as I go along, but I do know that learning about my country’s past is helping me in this process.