In my late teens, my friend Trevor was the first person in my life to tell me I shouldn’t use the word ‘negro’ anymore (in Dutch ‘neger’) . I’m not sure what we were talking about at that moment, but I do remember my first thought was: “Why shouldn’t I, they are negro’s right?” I sort of ignored his remark and went on with our conversation, but I never forgot his statement.
I learnt that the word ‘negro’ was invented by Europeans in the time where they traded African people as slaves. I don’t need to tell you about the drama and terror that accompanied slavery. ‘Negro’ is for sure a denigrating word to speak about people with an African origin.
Besides that, I learnt that the Dutch word ‘neger’ is somehow sort of generally accepted by my fellow citizens, they are just careful when and where they say it (read: if there are ‘black’ people around).
A few weeks ago, I was confronted with someone that spoke very negatively about ‘tattas’ (slang for Dutch/white people). When I pointed out that I was a ‘tatta’ too, this person answered that I wasn’t a typical tatta and that I shouldn’t feel addressed. I was confused and it made me wonder; should I be happy not to be a typical white person? What makes you a ‘tatta’ or not? I decided to jump into this subject and eventually moved me to write this post.
I discussed the ‘tatta-incident’ with my half Dutch, half Aruban friend and she then told me her former boss once complimented her on ‘not being like other negro’s’. Such a questionable ‘compliment’, she didn’t know what to say.
This same friend jokes about very dark-skinned people being ‘Ghanaian-brown’. Is that discrimination? To me, it doesn’t feel that way, but I’ll be damned to say something like that in the presence of people I don’t know. Jokes like that are definitely a very touchy subject.
Slowly I started to remember all sorts of examples where people made controversial statements. For example in high school, where a teacher once asked one of my (Surinamese) classmates whether ‘he finally fell out of the banana-tree’ when he was 10 minutes late for class. I wonder how my classmate felt after the whole classroom bursted into laughter. That same teacher once made an overweight boy from our class pick something up from the ground floor (we were at level 3) because he “could definitely use the exercise”. Was this teacher discriminating or just being really blunt?
Yesterday, I called Trevor. Even though we don’t talk on a regular base anymore, we’re still friends and I needed him to help me think straight. I released a wave of information upon him and he listened carefully. I told him I felt offended in the described particular situation by the word ‘tatta’, but that I can laugh about ‘Tatta’s be like – close the cookie jar’ (as Dutch people are known to be tight-fisted). He told me, that when he was younger, all this negative approach towards him about his skin color made him feel like as if he was a bad person. Bad as in evil. I was stunned.
According to Trevor a lot of people are embittered by the negativity around their skin color. And I understand it’s an easy trap to start picking on ‘the other color’ if you feel that ‘they are all against you’. And maybe some fear for the unknown? Luckily, Trevor didn’t go down that road and always stayed positive and open to people as long as they were ‘true’ to him.
Like Trevor said, self-mockery is important. So when my brown-skinned friend jokes about another friend being ‘Ghanaian-brown’ it’s less offensive than when I say it. Of course the intonation and body-language is also an important thing.
When I felt offended by the person that told me ‘I’m not like other tatta’s’, that feeling was right. That person is probably embittered and that’s why the negative approach was turned around. It wasn’t the word ‘tatta’ that hurt me, but the overall attitude towards Dutch and white people.
The words ‘negro’ or ‘neger’ in Dutch, are a whole other story, as that is part of a terrible history. In my opinion that word should be banned from everyone’s everyday vocabulary – although I think we shouldn’t make the word a pariah.
For me that means, I won’t stop listening to rap music where they say ‘nigger’, but I do minimize it as I find it disturbing to hear it every other second. I will still laugh about people posting funny ‘nigga’s be like’ and of course the ‘tatta’s be like’ pictures, but I most likely won’t post it myself (this post is an exception!). I will speak up when my friends use the word ‘negro’ or a variety of that word and will try to explain why I think it’s not okay to use it. I won’t let someone call me ‘tatta’ the wrong way, as I think it can discriminating in particular cases. Stereotyping is funny when it’s a joke without serious intentions to hurt someone.
And so the answer to my first question: No, ‘tatta’s be like’ isn’t racism or discrimination. But still I can’t wait for the day that it will be: ‘Humans be like….’
I don’t mean to hurt anyone by writing this post, it’s just something that has been on my mind for weeks and I wanted to share my feelings. I’m not trying to compare the long history of violence and discrimination of ‘black’ people with the few minor cases of discrimination of ‘white’ people in any way. I would be more than pleased if you share your point of view in the comments below, but any inappropriate comments will be deleted.