My Beloved American Friends,
These are trying times for us and when I say us, I mean black people globally. Many of us feel like the discussion about the Oscars lacking diversity is an American Affair. It is not!
I live in Amsterdam The Netherlands. I was born in Aruba, and I am an actress. My name is Chrisje Comvalius, and I am 68 years old. I live in a predominantly white country with a fast growing non-white population. Because my Surinamese parents did not have much confidence in the Arubian school system, I was sent to study at boarding school in Holland at the age of 15.
My parents were immigrants. They left Suriname during World War II, to move to the Dutch Antilles, which were booming at that time because of the Oil Industry (Esso and Shell). Actually, they met each other in Aruba, fell in love, got married, and started a family. It might surprise you but Arubians, (descendants of The Caribe Indians and Spanish colonists), do not have a history of slavery and thus consider themselves to be white….. So in Aruba they are!!!!!
Because of the booming Oil Industry, Aruba attracted people from all over the Caribbean and former Dutch colonies of which most were black. The immigrants were workmen and intellectuals. My parents belonged to the latter group. They were arrogant and thought the Arubians to be uneducated and unsophisticated. They lived there for almost 50 years and never spoke Papiamento, the local Patois, (the way Arubians deal with discrimination). Only when I came to Holland in the early 60’s, where there were two other Antillian girls at my boarding school, did I learn to speak Papiamento properly. My parents did not allow us to speak it because they did not understand it. For a long time I resented them for not allowing me to speak the language of the island where I was born and bred. However, I did speak Sranang Tongo, (Surinamese Patois)! But in my early years in Holland I felt ARUBIAN because I was defined as such.
My father had instilled within us an attitude about education, that it was the highest goal to achieve in life, especially as a black person. “Education will empower you and enable you to conquer discrimination.” How little did he know that by far, education would not be enough!
When I first came to Holland I was treated like a princess. I was looked upon as this cute exotic little black girl that quickly integrated. They had no idea that my education was purely Dutch and that Aruba was a Dutch colony that still had not changed its school system. They had no clue that I knew more about their culture than I knew about mine because my history was not part of the curriculum.
Ooh yes, I integrated well, and that made things easy for me! That is…until I found out how that works. I would find myself in situations where Dutch people (friends) would say things like: “But you’re not black! Look at how good you adjust yourself. You speak Dutch better than we do; you have so much knowledge of our history and culture…blah blah blah.”
It did not take me long to understand that integration was a negative, false, dirty word in this context. Why… because it is a one-way street. The group that has to be integrated is always the one with the disadvantage. The moment this became clear to me I began to see the things my Daddy taught me in a different light. My standard answer to the insulting white compliments, ”You must have coo coo in your eyes; my Black is evident,” was far too easy and far too empty!
To be able to create a world, where black people won’t feel that we have to prove to ourselves and others, that WE ARE, will only come to us when we realize this: Because of their past, white people developed a gene in their collective system that convinces them that they are a superior race. Because of that same past, black people developed a gene in their collective system that convinces them they are an inferior race. As harsh and painful as this sounds and feels, we will not be free until blacks and whites admit this to themselves and work as hard as they can to replace those “bad genes” with claiming what we all deserve as Humans.
I know how often I am hurt and how that pain ignites anger, and how that anger takes away from my power, and how the powerlessness leads to defeat. Now I know that pain will not be taken away from me by my white associates, friends, and loved ones. They have to work on themselves! Work, Work, Work, until they don’t get uncomfortable when I try to explain how much harder I have to work to get a glimpse of what we ALL deserve. Every time I feel attacked, I take a deep breath and pray, “Do not let my anger come up but let me use my wisdom, patience and hope.”
Wisdom is the easiest, because the biggest part of wisdom has been given to me by Father Time. I am blessed with so many wise people around me. Because I have so many opinions to choose from, I am able to form one. Also, I come from a background that taught me to ask questions and form my own thoughts and strategies.
Patience was/is the hardest for me because of all the above and because patience is about the bigger picture. I am impatient. I feel that the way is too long and too little really happens. We make baby steps forward and giant steps backwards. Here in Europe we are in the midst of a giant step backwards. Millions of people are fleeing their country because of war, trying to find a safe haven in Western Europe, in Holland. Western Europe closes the gate and justifies that with lame excuses and see-through shameful arguments totally ignited by fear. In America, Trump shows his true colors and attracts millions. People in Western Europe do not take it seriously and laugh about it (Trump) so they don’t have to see the bulk in their own eyes!
Hope is the best part ! Hope is all about the younger generation. Chris Rock, you made an ugly thing like the Oscars, showing a blatant lack of diversity, into a strong clear statement to whites and blacks, witnessed all over the world. Bless you for that. Bless all the young black people in Holland who speak up and do not allow anyone to silence them. They educated themselves and each other. They don’t take “No” for an answer anymore. They know their history. They are proud of their heritage, not ashamed. They claim what is rightfully theirs without the inhibitions my generation had.
Holland is a very small country with a bloated ego that claims to be TOLERANT. The young generation states, “We don’t want your tolerance; we want what is rightfully ours!” I am so grateful that these beautiful young ones allow me into their lives. They talk to me about their dreams, their struggles, and they cherish what I have to give them — all that I have learned by trial and error.
Beyond her career as an educator, from 2004 to 2008 Chrisje Comvalius had a starring role in the Dutch soap Good times, bad times . For this, she stood for three years in the theater with a monologue presentation entitled “Mastella,” which she picked up again in a repeat performance after her role in the soap in 2008, now under the direction of the author’s monologue, and those in the Netherlands and Suriname staged in 2008. Chrisje currently has also nutured her soul through acting and coaching. “I just finished a pilot for a TV series; I have a role in a children’s movie, and I coach some young actors.”