Month: August 2015

Empathy for Refugees

There is nothing wrong with having empathy for other people. Even more so, I encourage people to soul search and find some of their empathy because empathy is a wonderful thing. But what is also noticeable is that conversations regarding for example refugees are filled with voices that want to talk about empathy and empathy alone. This line of reasoning makes a great case for not having to think about colonialism and the numerous ways in which the Global North has destroyed areas all over the world.


If we look at the continent of Africa there have been numerous European nation states that colonized areas (which then became nation states with borders that were negotiated often by European colonizers). If one only talks about empathy for refugees, what is left is this kind of White narrative that ‘we could all be refugees’ and ‘we all want to live in peace’. While the latter is obviously true we cannot close our eyes for the fact that these countries did not suddenly became instable out of nowhere. Also, thinking that a country such as the Netherlands could suddenly be in the exact situation as for example Sudan is just intellectual dishonesty. It also borders on something like “ I am a good person for helping refugees”.  Can one use a word as ‘helping’ when discussing refugee flows that are many times a consequence of the destruction the Global North imposed? Is it not at the least odd to use a frame which is built on this idea that Whiteness is assisting these poor Black folks who can’t help themselves? As if suddenly yesterday everybody woke up in a certain area and then BAM there was something wrong and people fled and this has nothing to do with colonialism?


Problems that arise when talking about subjects like this is that it does need some knowledge about countries that were colonized, the ways White Supremacy was forced upon the population (because there can be differences in ‘approach’) and which colonizer was colonizing. Also, there is a difference between being technically and legally ‘not colonized anymore’ and actually being not colonized anymore. Frankly, my knowledge in this department is not as up to speed as I would like it to be. But we could all try make an effort to read up a little bit and listen to the people living (or used to live, if they are for example refugees now living somewhere else) in those countries. Even using Wikipedia as a starting point to examine some history about a country can help to find more articles and search terms. This has really helped me to gather more information in order to become better aware.


Absolutely missing in the mainstream narrative of refugees are actual refugees. There seems to be a not so coincidental trend to talk about refugees without even consulting refugees or better yet, them telling their own stories. Although I will say I can understand that sometimes one wants to speak about grave injustices they witness, it is important to realize that people have voices themselves. Who is better equipped to talk about what is going on in their country and what is happening to them now in Fort Europe than refugees themselves? What is this need to be the saviour who is going to say it ‘better and clearer’ than refugees themselves? (the answer to that last question would be Whiteness)


A couple of weeks ago I went to Trier (a city in Germany) with Simone. There is a refugee camp there where refugees come and are then bussed to asylum centres. The refugees there told us this can take between a week and roughly 2 months. The camp consist of an old hospital complex which consists of several buildings. There are no elevators, no flooring(well, concrete floors and that is it) and bunk beds everywhere. The camp is so full that the rooms are overcrowded thus meaning there are now bunk beds in the hall ways and people also slept on the floor. To complete everything there were racist guards telling us (me and Simone) that one just becomes racist when one works there and that that is ok. In the camp there are refugees from all over the world. What was striking was the fact that Black refugees were being taunted not only by the guards but also by other refugees. Banana’s were thrown at Black refugees, they were called the most offensive terms and I saw an Eastern European white girl calling a grown Black man a monkey. After some guards were being completely racist, we unfortunately found out that the Trier police was not willing to investigate the matter because ‘I just don’t think this is racist’ and ‘ Do you know how many of them are coming to our town’.


Anti-Blackness does not only happen to Black refugees in their own countries, when they flee they also encounter it in refugee camps from other refugees (and by local White and NBPoC European people). There seems to be no safety for Black people wherever they go.


If we only talk about empathy, all of this cannot be discussed. How can one discuss anti-Blackness if there is only a conversation regarding who is ‘the best at helping refugees’ and ‘ we could all become refugees’. Point of the matter is that White people even if there would ever happen something they would have to flee from would not be confronted with anti-Blackness or narratives that revolve around “ we helped you to become a democracy, we gave you some Enlightenment etc”. If the dikes would break in the Netherlands and Dutch people had to go to France and Germany that is absolutely not the same as what is happing with Black refugees fleeing to Europa. Are we really going to be this intellectual dishonest and pretend that White Dutch mothers would be sleeping on the floor with their babies in some old German hospital? That White Dutch men would be racially charged and battered by other refugees for being White? That there is some colonial link in which the Netherlands was occupied as a colony by France for hundreds of years? Let’s not.