Uncle Tom

Dutch People

Could there be something really wrong with Dutch people?

Don’t get me wrong, I generally like people in Holland. Whenever I visit my niece Ingrid in Amsterdam, I am always pleasantly surprised at the helpful pedestrians on the streets. The greengrocer steadfastly explains the names of all his fruits to me and worries about my likes and dislikes. It takes time, but it is meant well, and I appreciate it.

But there are Dutch people that puzzle me a lot. Like my niece Ingrid’s husband, Henk, who has a PR job and a congenial demeanour. He comes across as a fun guy, pleasant and handsome. Maybe that is what attracted her to him. But his jokes are just not funny. He always asks me if he can call his wife and me ‘niggers’, because ‘you people call each other niggers too’? When there is a family gathering he invites me, ‘the old African native,’ to talk of lions and cannibalism and cooking missionaries in a big pot. To do them credit, most of his own relatives cringe, too, when he talks like that and so does Ingrid, even though she tries to smile through the jokes about her yummy big African ass. I don’t think she will stay with him much longer.

But I discovered that it isn’t just Henk. I wasn’t going to mention Henk and Ingrid at all, if it wasn’t for the ‘Linda’ magazine that I saw in Henk’s study. It was when he had invited me in there to show me some Power point promos he had made for a moisturising cream. As he was fiddling with the beamer I looked around and asked myself why this macho guy had a woman’s magazine on his desk. The answer came quickly when I paged through it: ‘Linda’ featured several full-page pictures of ‘delicious’ bottoms of black women.

I found this puzzling. Why would a woman’s magazine show female bottoms? And then I realised that this issue was not about pin-ups titillating men, but about a whole array of things black and African. They had put all these ‘black’ things together in a special ‘Safari’ issue. There were also ‘drooling giraffes’ and ‘horny zebras’. And an advert that promised that ‘you can look African without sowing a saucer into your lower lip.’ And then there were full-page sad faces of African women who had been raped, five times, or twelve times, in the Congo. I asked Ingrid who in heaven’s name would read a magazine like that, except Henk of course, and she said that the circulation of Linda in the Netherlands would be around 200 000, or even higher.

I grew up in Mississippi; I have an uncle and aunt in Soweto and journalist friends in Ferguson. Practically all my family members have experienced physical unpleasantness, insults and unfair treatment in the street and at work. But I have never come across another Henk, let alone anything like Linda, anywhere else in the entire world.

I always ask for patience and tolerance when Dutch people are criticised with regard to their bizarre ‘Black Pete’ tradition. I defend them, because so many are really nice people and I want to believe they really mean well. But after reading Linda, I am not so sure.