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I would like to tell you a story: How to Talk Racism (part1)

blog by Pompadó Z.R. Martha – 17 March 2021
For ArtEZ Studium Generale, Pompadó writes about his personal experiences with racism within his education. These stories symbolize the many institutions where similar experiences are felt. When we have the will to change as an institute, we must also provide space for stories that can encourage change. That is why we think it is important to provide a platform for these personal stories.

Hello, My name is Pompadó Z.R. Martha, and I would like to tell you a story, do not worry, it will not take long; this was just the start… a story about: How to Talk Racism (part 1)
As you may know by now, I am doing a course of Theatre in Education at ArtEZ. I must say I do not feel connected to most of my colleagues and teachers because of the lack of representation. Within ArtEZ I experience a lack of persons of colour and black people in the staff and fellow-students, and non-white views and values are virtually non-existent. This is reflected within the curriculum, the activities, development and views of the institute. To me it seems that the institute is continuously demanding me to change my thoughts, my standards, and my opinion to what it can offer me. I should be ‘roeien met de riemen die je hebt’ as the Dutch saying goes. It is a self-disqualification of the institute in my opinion; it hindrance the point of being inclusive.
Unfortunately, during my four years at ArtEZ, I have not experienced radical changes within the policies of ArtEZ that contribute to me being entitled to have the same privileges as my white colleagues. The fact that most teachers and staff are aware of this is a considerable discomfort. And talking about how I see this education system and how it is not adjusting the norms for me to feel like I belong here, brings much discomfort. The awareness of this fact has been manifesting itself since my audition throughout the institute; at Dance in Education (although there it is less), at Creative Writing, and Theatre in Education. The commenting and questioning if I, as a person of colour, am aware that this is a pretty white institute.
Stagnating diversification within ArtEZ
My experience within this institute regarding a diversification programme is that little to no actual effort is being made. ‘The process of tackling the topic ”diversity” is a stagnated process because it has to be taken slow and pedagogical responsible, as it needs to be dosed correctly’, is what one of my teachers said to me. Tackling the topic of diversity always ends up – in my experience – being stagnated because white persons put themselves in a vulnerable, powerless, and victimized position in relation to the system, and by doing so, the conversation rebounds onto how I, as a person of colour, should know that it is something fragile that needs to be adequately addressed. As a result, too, talking about race becomes optional, and most white people flee from the responsibility of engaging and help correct the way the system is built. “Changes is slow; always was, and always will be”. (J.Cole 2018)

Lack of representation and privilege
The lack of representation within the institute is alarming to me and unfavourable for my side of the story. Most of the events that ArtEZ organizes to openly and collectively tackle and raffle the actual topic of diversification and inclusion are not mandatory, which creates an easy exit for most white people not to deal with the confrontation. People of colour do not have the luxury of skipping this confrontation. There is little to no urge to make these event mandatory to – at least – try to make its student aware of how colonized their thought-trails are. And I feel institutions, such as ArtEZ, that recognize the problems that result from a lack of diversity, tend to put the responsibility on people of colour to bring or come up with changes. And whenever this happens, it goes through a long bureaucratic process which makes us feel either un- or under-valued. And it does not give us the satisfaction and the feeling of being heard.

Tokenism instead of feeling welcome and safe
I do not have the luxury to be just a student or an average artist in progress. I don't have the luxury of just being a naïve and creative person. I must be more than that. I'm continually aware of the differences between my colleagues and me, to be mindful whether I will be seen as a threat, too angry, too outspoken, or too sensitive, for example regarding the improper use of the terms ‘DIVERSITY and INCLUSION.’ I feel like I am a token.. My school does not give me a welcome feeling, and it does not feel like a safe space. And I believe educational institutions, such as the school I am now attending, should invest more in the visibility of the terms of diversity and inclusion that is specifically design for the little people.
Diversifying the institute is of colossal importance. It is also a necessity for its credibility as an international school. Making and implementing diversification and inclusion policies should be integrated within the INSTELLINGSPLAN 2021 -2025 and serve as a tool to create within ArtEZ a more reliable and accurate reflection of the community/society we are living in.

Break the pattern
These last couple of months have been a real roller coaster for many PoC (Persons of Color), continually being confronted with the reality of how little white people know about the structural struggles they are encountering daily. Having conversations regarding uneasy topics that can cultivate an uncolonized mindset is essential because it engages people of all backgrounds to talk and be conscious of the system failures. This also makes it easier to discuss the racial wealth gap – if that is the case at all – and the inequal chances for success. This allows the oppressed to use their voice and point out where the system does them harm, offers white people the opportunity – in an empathic way – to put it into perspective. For the white people reading this, I know it is not an easy task to correct harmful actions towards others that you have caused another person without knowing. But it is – again – a necessity to righten corrupt, exclusive and unequal patterns. The exact patterns taught by the society we now live in.
Acknowledge your participation in oppressing others
I also was in a position where I, too, was discriminating a lot. When I lived in Curaçao during my childhood, I had immigrants living in my neighbourhood from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Those countries/islands had not the most resilient wealth – to put it mildly – and immigrants came to Curaçao to expand their life opportunities. They were always looking for jobs that most Curaçaoans thought were marginal jobs, and Curaçaoans had, and some still have a pretty derogatory attitude towards them. So did I.

When I was about 9 years old, I walked home from a Catholic kid group I attended every Saturday morning with a Haitian friend. And I used derogatory words against my friend based on his Haitian family background because I got annoyed by some stupid things he did. My uncle heard me and immediately spoke to me about it. The conversation escalated from zero to a hundred quick. He asked me, kind of pissed, why I bullied my friend, and I responded that ‘it is “normal” for people to call him these words and mock him’. He then replied: 'Oh, so it is normal for you to hurt people?' That touched me, the realization that my actions could hurt people. I tried to evade the question by mentioning what others also do. But my uncle kept confronting me that I should be aware that what I did hurt others, and - to take it a step further- if something like that happened to me, I would be devastated, I would have suffered a significant hit on my self-esteem. In the end, I was forced to admit he was right. That was a lesson that I carry on to this day. If that did not happen then, I would not be writing columns, poetry, and stories that have the goal to push you to fight the good cause now.

Talk about and be aware
Talking about race and decolonizing is considered one of the most challenging and complex tasks necessary to be aware of equity and equality. It also makes us aware of the social injustice that we support within our daily lives. Now, some people have the luxury to be naïve, and in doing so, they ignore the responsibility they have of being conscious of how they deprive others. It is a battle for most people of colour to have these kinds of talks being confronted with naivety or white ignorance. I know for sure that in our school we are not being taught how to talk about race while being inclusive. This institute, like many other institutes, does not have the tools to do that. You must do this yourself. And I am here to help, and so are also other members of the organization within ArtEZ, such as the students from H.A.L.T (Hungry Angry Late & Tired). This thought trail brings me to my next story in which I will introduce to you a great way to talk about, interact with, and have a meaningful understanding of race, colonial influences, and so on.
Respect for diversity
And while writing this blog, I was continually thinking of a poem by my favorite rapper Kendrick Lamar. It goes like this:

I remember you was conflicted
Misusing your influence
Sometimes I did the same
Abusing my power, full of resentment

Resentment that turned into a deep depression
Found myself screaming in the hotel room
I didn't wanna self destruct
The evils of Lucy was all around me

So I went running for answers
Until I came home
But that didn't stop survivor's guilt
Going back and forth trying to convince myself the stripes I earned

Or maybe how A-1 my foundation was
But while my loved ones was fighting the
Continuous war back in the city, I was entering a new one
A war that was based on apartheid and discrimination

Made me wanna go back to the city and tell the homies what I learned
The word was respect.
Just because you wore a different gang color than mine's
doesn't mean I can't respect you as a black man

Forgetting all the pain and hurt we caused each other in these streets
If I respect you, we unify and stop the enemy from killing us
but I don't know; I'm no mortal man,
maybe I'm just another nigga
I choose to share this poem with you because I also find myself constricted when I feel my urge to influence the world comes from resentment. That I, too, sometimes feel my voice is being caged and oppressed. This feeling becomes a considerable chunk of depression I do not know how to minimize but I refuse to self-destruct. Going back and forth to my home, Curaçao would be ideal, but that action – of 'going back home' – is more of a luxury, an expensive one, by the way. The family feeling that most people experience, especially during this pandemic, is something most people who traveled to the Netherlands to study lack.

Inside ArtEZ - not to say in this country and all of its institutions - racism lingers within the veins of the organization. It lives within the pedagogical didactic grading system, within the teachers' preferences, and within the nicking 'good' art, etcetera. And it feeds from the unawareness of its existence and the neglecting of its influences. I feel there is an immense lack of respect towards diversity, and this is reflected in the absence of initiative to procreate a new way that is not the normalized Western way. The absence of you sharing this story with others and have a dialogue to break the taboo is living proof of my statement.

I am aware that changing the system goes slow, but that doesn't mean I can cope with mental laziness any longer. We are now living in an era that is demanding from us to, at least, to acknowledge our participation in oppressing others … And the unwillingness to acknowledge that is the lack of respect I'm referring to.

I would like to tell you a story, do not worry, it will not take long, because we did not finish with this topic yet. Next time I am going to teach you how to talk about racism structurally.

By Pompadó Z.R. Martha

In his blog Pompadó is referring to the student initiative HALT: Hungry, Angry, Late & Tired. More information on the Facebook page: