I would like to tell you a story: Multivocality
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 multivocality.
Multivocality is a term used to make you understand better other ethnic and cultural backgrounds based on equal chances, possibilities, and forms. And this is done only if you have an awareness of your privilege and where this privilege puts you on the social ladder. This means your naivety needs to be shackled. Those people that hold on to a eurocentric perspective, should let go of their ego and accept that there is a difference between how you perceive things and how the cruel but true reality is. Unfortunately these are two different things.
I am a black person, exercising my power to communicate my story and to articulate the systematic deficits in equal treatment within the world we live in. I am doing this because most of the international students of the ArtEZ are tired of only surviving within a world that does not validate them for who they are. This is reflected in the educational mould of ArtEZ that is mainly focused on a eurocentric view. The fact that I must identify myself as a black artist already segregates me and puts me in a different position than the others. This does happen on various levels and is caused - not self-inflicted, of course not - by a system that suggests that I, as a person of colour, am a complicated case. This stigmatization and oppression come with the eurocentric view that withholds threads of colonial heritage. Threads that suggest that I am not adequate to do a study of such high education; indicating that my work is not as worthy? as - for example – that of a French student whose heritage is far more superior, etc. These threads are hard to spot but they are the norms of white superiority. They characterise the same shared conviction that a person of colour entering a tailor shop cannot afford to buy a suit, or that a Middle Eastern woman wearing a burka is a thread, and so on.
Again, the reality we are living in offers no space for equity to take place. There is not so much room for different opinions to co-exist simultaneously within a world without equal rights. This is structural and is protected by the ideologies that were formed within the colonialism timeframe. The hierarchy, patriarchy, and ethical-moral views of colonialism have been kept alive through centuries. These are oppressing tools to guarantee the system will continue to stay up and running. It means that I, as a black person, do not have the luxury to be naïve. And that is what drives me to tell you my story, hoping it will serve you, my reader, as a tool to fight for equity.
Multivocality for me is more than just a concept; it is the acknowledgment that my story has the same right to be legitimized as a factual source of information, withholding the same value as those of my white colleagues. That I too have something to contribute to the society and that I should not have the feeling that the legitimacy of my thoughts trails and identity is being questioned for its legitimacy.
Multivocality is the realization of white people that their actions, thoughts, moral compasses, and reasoning are tainted with unequalness, starting with the concept of individualism. This concept of individualism suggests that white people's experiences are absolute measurements, neglecting the experiences and lives of people of colour. Colonialism, based on this concept of individualism; - suggests that white lives and experiences are universal while excluding all other lives as something lower and less important. It is the same belief system that values the life and opinions of men higher than the life and opinions of women; rich higher than poor. It decides what knowledge is best and how this knowledge is to be acquired; what religion is best; the definition of good and evil, success and damnation, and so on. And it is this belief system that separates us more and more.
Multivocality opens a perspective of co-creation and engagement to dialogue; to meet a norm in which no one will feel left out. This might have as side effects that people in a more privileged position will have to surrender their throne and to make sacrifices for the less privileged for their voice also to be heard. And because we live in a post-colonial era, that is based on rules of segregation which puts white people on the top of the social hierarchy, we must meet specific standards to approach equity instead of insisting and persisting on equality. I know the realization of the ‘normal’ ways you are used to put into practice are heritably bias and that this wrong is hard to swallow; but this realization is a requirement for change.
I am from Curaçao, where multivocality is praised, due of its collectiveness that is waved in their normality. We have a saying; ‘It is the neighbourhood that contributes to the wellbeing of a child, and the responsibility lays within us to all to succeed at it; together.’ As ArtEZ is a community that – indirectly – supports colonial heritages, we must be aware of this. It takes the collectiveness of the community to safeguard all of its people – including (and especially) those of colour.
Because of the lack of multivocality, people of colour have been forced to make more effort. Sometimes, even more than 400% more effort, just to keep in track with their colleagues. And this is something that is known by everybody. This is reflected during conversations where white people – unintentionally – express how easy they experience the scenario that the person of colour is struggling with. They, as in most of the people of – in this case – ArtEZ, are aware that persons of colour are struggling with social inequality. And this is reflected in the way they express their non-difficulties as either a ‘whitey’, their nativity, or their ‘innocent appearance’ of how they get away with things they know others would not, and especially a person of colour. I do confront my fellow ArtEZ colleagues about this factor, and I know their objectiveness comes from a place of empathy towards the situations and circumstances a person of colour is experiencing; I am not going to discredit their commitment, but it is my right and necessity to make them aware that the way it is being done now does not do us justice. The stereotypical ideological view within the western world of how a person of colour is, reinforces the ‘why’ of all struggles person of colour are having all the time to this day. People of colour will have to struggle hard to reach the success or recognition that white people are receiving effortless.
I, as a black person, do not have the luxury to be naïve. For white people, it is a privilege to choose which battle to fight or not, meanwhile people of colour are living in a survival mode; to be good, and (western) smart, and elevated as a white person. We need to have our temper in check, pick our outfit extra more careful, make sure we are not being seen as a ‘danger’, etc. These are some of the reasons why we – people of colour – cannot afford to be naïve. All this brings the development of damaged self-esteem into the equation.
The necessity of multivocality is of such importance and even more relevant as ArtEZ as an educational institute strives to cultivate artists with a story. This statement can be found on the ArtEZ website. (www.artez.nl/en/this-is-artez/who-are-we/vision-and-mission) My plea is that we must acknowledge the black parts of the story we are building on. Learn where the story oppresses the less fortunate and forces them to remain in the same loop; as the less fortunate. We must take a stand together for the other and try to redirect the narrative to be more co-creative, honest, decolonized, and inclusive. Only when you know your history, you can move forward. Otherwise, you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes repeatedly. This has been going on for more than 45 decades since the abolition of slavery despite the goal of equal rights for everyone. There were promises made, we have seen rebels and revolutionaries (Nelson Mandela), protesters (Rosa Parks, Black Panthers, Harriet Tubman), dreamers (Martin Luther King Jr.), demanders (Malcom X), even deaths (Ahmad Mendes Moreira, Mario Balotelli, and Romelu Lukaku) to prove it. This world is not perfect; it is not built on equality; it is not built on love; it is built on the ideology of preservation of its colonial heritage which puts people of colour second; always. To me it feels like it is a ticking time bomb, and we are running out of time.
The way I have been raised had trails of collectiveness, togetherness, and celebration of the little moments of success all over. My grandma always told us, siblings, that you first need to know for what purpose you want to plant something. If you're going to grow a bell pepper you will harvest it within a month. If you are going to grow cranberries, you need to wait a little bit longer. But if you want a mango tree not only for its fruit but also for its shadow to rest under, you better start young in the hope you will sit one day underneath it and enjoy some juicy mango. And, if your life somehow is shorter than your dreams, you better prepare and teach your kids of what it all has costed for them to appreciate it even more. She always said in the same breath to be warned that most of the trees you plant – however young you start – you will not enjoy its shades.
I came to The Netherlands while promising my grandma, I will come back to her with a diploma; that I will make her proud of her grandson having 2 credentials. She passed away a few months after I was in the Netherlands. She was someone who made a lot of sacrifices to see me and my siblings get the best education she could afford, from paying tuition for extracurricular activities, my dance-classes, performing arts utilities, and so many things more. She did not live to enjoy the accomplishments, but she enjoyed seeing me grow to become the person I am today.
Maybe I am wrong; my grandma was also all about living in the present and trying to make the best out of every situation. She always celebrated the little triumphs my family made in life. Each certificate, victory, or medal won was to be honoured with his/her favourite meal. Each milestone needed to be celebrated. She also made sure that anybody that came to her place felt like they could be themselves. That they – and their story – mattered. She had one essential rule: to respect each other; each other’s opinion, differences, understandings, and ideologies. That their truths can co-exist with hers, and that it will be fine. My story can be different than the one you now have, and that is okay.
I would like to tell you a story, do not worry, it will not take long. Next time I am going to teach you how to talk racism.
By Pompadó Z.R. Martha