Keti Koti Lecture 2019: Keynote Wayne Modest, Another Future is Possible (longread)
“Another future is possible.”
Which other future is possible? What other future do we need to sketch, to create – and how can we do that together? Today I am going to talk a little about: ik wil mezelf kwetsbaar stellen… aan jullie. Ik wil mezelf kwetsbaar stellen, as a – een Jamaicaan, die hier kwam, acht jaar geleden, alleen. Maar ook als een Nederlander, een nieuwe Nederlander, die probeerde om Nederlands te leren. Which is best wel moeilijk, – voor mij. Ja, mensen zoals ik, die Engels spreken, we zijn heel arrogant. ‘Engels is de beste taal in de wereld, en we willen niets anders leren.’ Dus, best wel moeilijk, maar – ik moet zeggen, dankjewel, aan die – ook omdat, om Nederlands te leren, ik vind Nederlands ook als een taal leuk. En er zijn twee woorden, maar één wil ik in de zaal gooien, nu – en die woord voor mij is: ‘samenwerken’. Ik vind het een heel mooie woord.
Ik vind ook een andere soort woord: society – ‘samenleving’. Ik vind dat ook mooi, en een heel belangrijk woord. Als ik samen-leven, het is wat anders dan ‘society’. En ik vraag aan jullie: hoe kunnen wij samen-leven? En wat betekent dit, om samen te leven, in een omstandigheden, where there is no optimism. Where the possibility of optimism, is so hard sometimes. Eigenlijk, mijn standpunt van deze lezing is een heel stomme saying van mij, is dat ik heb geen optimism. Ik vind de idee van the glass half full, glass half empty, een beetje vreemd. Cause voor mij is the glass half, anyway. Dus, het doet niks voor mij. Maar, the optimism dat is iets dat ik vind moeilijk. Maar ik wil een verschil maken tussen optimism – en hope. And what I want to leave with you here today, is the possibility for hoping for another world. Another future is possible.
So at the end of the lecture, all I want you to leave with, nothing more than that, is not just another future, is possible, let us hope for it, but – hoe kunnen wij, samen, die future creëren. So it is, eigenlijk, om jullie mede-plichtig… om een toekomst te creëren.”
“In addition to hope, I want to invite you to a different – hope. Not as a facile, useless idea of hugging each other, which it can be. But what I call hope as a radical impatience. A radical impatience with the world as it is today; with the idea, that you might say to me: ‘I do not see race’ but then say in the next sentence: ‘maar waar kom je vandaan?’
A radical hope that is impatient with the idea that inclusion is something that YOU’ve given to ME. A radical hope that wants to sketch another world, which does not put in question, whether or not I belong here. Vandaag, we gaan praten over radical hope.
And the radical hope, at the end of my lecture, that I will sketch, is one to suggest, that if you look at the lives of the enslaved – people who, no matter how much they could try, the idea was that they would die. Death was the horizon that they would see. And my forefathers, your forefathers, said: ‘I can still hope. There is no optimism for tomorrow. But there is hope, that another future is possible, for my child, and for your child.’
First, I want to thank the organizers for inviting me this afternoon and for the opportunity to speak to you today. Ik wil in Engels praten omdat mijn Nederlands heel slecht is, maar ik probeer soms om in Nederlands en Engels te spreken. En, daarna, we’re going to do the discussion in Nederlands en Engels.
What I want to tell you today, has also to do with my learning Dutch. I hope that you will allow me to be an academic. Dat, ik ga heel ingewikkeld concept gebruiken. Maar ook kwetsbaar, as an individual. Somebody that, as an academic, still gets asked, all the time: ‘do you belong here?’ – ‘Are you the musician?’
Ik wil ook mijn…. – die gevoel van: ‘oke, hou op man, stop. Ik heb een PhD, zoals andere mensen. Heel lang gestudeerd. Ik kan, ik kan…’ Ik wil dat ook doen. Kwetsbaarheid.
On August 29, 2010, I arrived here in the Netherlands. Before this, I was working in London, at another ethnographic museum. And before that in Kingston. I had also lived in New York. My arrival in the Netherlands was one filled with optimism – and that’s when I lost it. I was moving for my family – my wife was at the time working at the University of Leiden, at the Anthropology Department. But more importantly, not for her – cause she keeps telling me: ‘don’t come here for me, cause if it goes bad, you’re going to blame me’ – true. I came for work.
I was moving to a job I looked forward to, at the Tropenmuseum. Within the field, where I worked, in ethnographic museums, where I had been working for some time, I had long heard of the Tropenmuseum, which had developed a reputation internationally, as a critical museum. It was one of the few museums, actually, across Europe, volkenkunde-museum, that actually would use the word ‘colonialism’. So I thought: ‘yes, I’m going to that cutting-edge place. To be a part of that team. To think through the future of the colonial past.’
Little did I know then, that less a month after joining the Tropenmuseum, I would learn a Dutch word that would haunt me for the next three years of my working life in the Netherlands. This was my first important Dutch word. A big word, for me at the time. ‘Bezuinigingen’.
As many of you know, between 2010 and 2013, the Tropenmuseum struggled for its existence. There was one politician who mentioned: ‘we would prefer to close this institution. Only way we can keep it, is if it were to go back to celebrating the colonial past, rather than being,’ what he called, ‘a museum of self-hate.’ For him, criticality meant self-hate.
The Tropenmuseum was saved in 2014 through the merger with the Museum Volkenkunde Leiden, Afrika Museum Berg-en-Dal, to create the National Museum of World Cultures, and today we work with the World-museum here in Rotterdam, very close, to try and think through: what do you do with a museum like this in the present? How can we talk about the diversity, the plurality of cultural expressions in the world, celebrate them, criticize them? How can we speak about the colonial past in the present? And how can we do this in order to create a better future, that is possible?
My reasoning for open with this is not to return to that moment, or to celebrate the merger of the institutions, rather, I’m interested in the rollercoaster-ride that everybody feels when we talk about colonialism and emancipation and its afterlives.
As you all know, 2013, and our host mentioned that earlier – was a year of celebration. It was a year of commemoration, of the 150th anniversary of de afschaffing van de slavernij. It was a moment when, the Amsterdam Museum, the Scheepvaart Museum, the Bijzondere Collectie, and the Tropenmuseum – in one city alone, did four major exhibitions, to commemorate this historic event. But the reason – on the one hand, this gives me hope, it makes me even feel a little bit optimistic, but on the other hand, it was also the moment, a burst of commemoration, that would see the Keti Koti celebrations in Oosterpark that year, with almost everybody thinking: ‘there is going to be an apology. The apology is coming.’ It was palpable, in the air. Yet, the apology didn’t come. What came, was regret and remorse.
We know the reasons for that. We don’t have to state them. My interest is not only in that moment, because, here as well, in 2013, you also had a monument. So, one could suggest, that it was a moment of bursting to think, about the importance of commemorating, emancipation, and thinking about what it means to live in the afterlife of colonialism. Yet, it was the same time, when NiNsee almost closed. Could say ‘closed’. It was the same time, when the Suriname Huis in Den Haag closed. It was the same that the Molukkenmuseum closed. It was the same time, as well, that Nusantara, in Delft, closed.
My question to you, then, is: what does it mean, when, on the one hand, we commemorate, we celebrate, we lay monuments down, but on the other hand, we close all of the institutions, structurally, thinking about slavery and its afterlives in the present? At that moment, only three years after coming to the Netherlands, I must tell you, I wasn’t optimistic. I was thinking: ‘o, this is, yeah, interesting.’
When I did my sollicitatie-gesprek… (…) Ik had – there was een belofte aan mij. De belofte was: ‘if you got 200.000 euro’s, to do whatever you want, what would you do?’ And then they said: ‘if you were in charge of the renovation of the entire museum, what would you do?’ Optimism. And then that optimism fell into bezuinigingen.
The optimism fell into trying to think about: what is so difficult about commemorating the slavery past in the present? Why do we struggle with it, as a nation, as a state, as a kingdom? What does it mean, when you say to somebody, from here: ‘go back to your own country’ – when your own country is Bonaire? Een beetje gek ding, hè? – je ‘own country’ – wat is dat? So in that moment…. O, can I stop and ask you something, sir?
Mag ik jou wat vragen? Ja? Dit is een heel ongemakkelijk moment. (…) If you were to say what is your connection to the slavery and colonial past, what would that be? How would you explain that?”
Man 1. uit publiek: “Nou, dat ik deel ben van een moederland van een koloniaal systeem. Dat zijn historie heeft, en eh, dat ons verbindt met de zwarte mensen die aan de andere kant van de wereld als slaaf gehouden werden. En dat dat dus zelf onze geschiedenis is.”
W.M.: “Ja? (…) Mag ik jou vragen?”
Man 2. uit publiek: “(…) Uh, ja eigenlijk heb ik daar niet veel aan toe te voegen. Het is ons deel van onze geschiedenis, en alleen al daarom heb je denk ik een morele plicht om daar kennis van te nemen, en eigenlijk ook de morele plicht om te zorgen dat dat in het onderwijssysteem ook eens wordt geïmplementeerd.”
W.M.: “(…) You know, actually, this is too easy. The last time I did this, what I got, was: ‘nee, that has nothing to do with me, that’s THEIR history.’ Or, I have – I taught a class, and when I taught the class and when we talked about colonialism, for the entire class, the person said: ‘but colonialism didn’t happen here, it happened over there.’ Those kind of conversations. So what makes it so difficult for us to engage with the colonial past?
My first point to you today, gaat niet zozeer – is not just simply about… whether or not…. about how we deal with is. But rather, to ask the question: why do you remember? Why should we remember? And why is It so difficult to remember?
(…) Having experienced the British commemoration of abolition in 2007… In 2007, in Britain, they did a similar thing that we did in 2013. Eleven point two or so million pounds was given to institutions to commemorate the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Almost every museum did something. They were even doing graveyards that people were digging into deeply to try and understand, who are the families of the enslaved, where are they buried? Eleven point two million. One other thing that struck me however, is that, apart from the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, or the museum in London, London Dockyards Museum, that has prominent exhibitions around slavery and colonialism – immediately after the commemoration, almost everything was gone.
Many people asked: ‘but, has the curriculum changed? Why hasn’t the curriculum changed?’ Some people asked, as well: ‘why is it so difficult for Britain to deal with its colonial past?’ But, as somebody who comes from Jamaica, I can tell you, that even though it is differently organized, even in Jamaica, a society with a ninety-two percent black population, a very small percent white population, and in between that the many mixes (…), even in Jamaica, it was hard, for us, when I was a ‘us’ there, to deal with commemorating.
I give you an example. In 2004, I was in New York. And somebody came over to me, and they said: ‘Wayne, Wayne, your country is in the Playboy Magazine.’ I said: ‘what? What do you mean, my country is in the Playboy Magazine?’ I was like: ‘o.k., and why have you been reading the Playboy Magazine?’ They implemented, they put this monument up, in Kingston, in what was called Emancipation Park. The idea for this monument, was a moment to create a park to emancipation and a monument that would celebrate the resilience, struggle and revolutionary spirits of the enslaved people.
This erupted in one of the most tense discussions in Jamaica, at the time. For almost a year, they were discussing. ‘Who made the monument?’ It was a white Jamaican women. ‘Why’ – neem me niet kwalijk – ‘why is the penis so big? And why do black people always have to be represented in this voluptuous whatever way?’ But they also spoke about the fact, that the monument was truncated, and that the violence of the enslaved, to cut them into bits, was also a part of the monument’s project. In Jamaica, where I grew up reading only Caribbean literature, as well, of a little British literature, where I knew professors who were black, I grew up with them – where blackness was, as we say in Nederlands, vanzelfsprekend – it was also a place, where police violence against blacks was also higher than the highest. Even in societies like this, where blackness is vanzelfsprekend, we have problems with this commemoration.
So my question then: how does the colonial past shape our understanding of the present? Why do we need to remember, and what does memory mean of the colonial past? One scholar who I worked with – and this are the difficult names, you don’t have to remember them – says that there is an ethic to remember.”
(…) It is the mede-plichtigheid. Het is verplicht om te herinneren, because, if you don’t remember, then you can’t see the structural inequalities that happen in your society. If you don’t name the memory, then you can’t see, that there probably in the Netherlands today are only two? – three? – black professors in the humanities and the social sciences, in all of the Netherlands. If you don’t remember, then you can’t see, the fact that most museums do not have black professionals at the highest level.
The reason we remember, is that a part of memory, is to make you mede-plichtig in creating the other future, that is possible. And that other future, is a future of… – I don’t want use the word. Cause I know that, heel veel mensen hebben een beetje hekel aan die woord – inclusion. It’s not because – I don’t think that inclusion is a problem, but, to be honest with you…..
I will stop using the word ‘inclusion’, when the cultural institutions have changed. I will stop using the word ‘diversity’, when they have changed. Cause one of the things that we do very often, is that we quarrel with words a lot. We want to chew the word out, cause the word has done nothing. But until…. – I will suggest you that diversity and inclusion, is not the problem. You know what the problem is? We weren’t interested in change, in the first place, when we started to use the word. We weren’t interested to do anything; we just wanted to use the word because it sound good.
We weren’t… because, when we start talking about ‘inclusie’, it is heel ongemakkelijk. So until we shift the politics of inclusion, to set out what we want to do, is to create that other world that is possible, then we’re going chew out words as much as we want, but nothing will change. I am interested in the changed world. And one of my favorite…”
“…favorite scholars who writes about this, is a scholar called Saidiya Hartman. And she says: if the slavery past persists as an issue in the political life, it is not because I want to talk about it over and over and over as a past, but rather, it is because, in the present, this slavery past still continues the structure, how we think about each other.
So whenever you say so me: ‘go back your own country,’ – what you’re saying actually, that what we are re-investing in, is the racial hierarchies that taught that I should be over THERE, and don’t belong here.
When you say to me – and I am now going to use een moeilijke… (…) I’m going to talk about a project of discomfort, shortly… When you say to me: ‘I don’t see race. I see equality.’ And then you ask me: ‘waar kom je vandaan?’ – then what that says to me, is that I don’t kind of belong here. Of mijn kom-vandaan is from somewhere else. (…) Wat zeg je?”
(Opmerking uit publiek. Gelach.)
W.M.: “Dat klopt, dat klopt. Ja. We come from ‘earth’, as well; we come from many places. Maar de vraag gaat hier niet over, (…); de vraag is: waarom, is it not possible for me to be here, as well? Dat is de vraag ook.
Maar… So there are many scholars who I work with, who try to think through, what does it mean and how do we create a space where all of us can belong? Where all of us can have a certain equity. The reason we remember, is to create equity.”
W.M.: “This is a concept I have myself developed – it is ingewikkeld, all of that, you don’t need to read it – which is a concept that I call ‘anxiety politics’. Anybody know, when I say ‘anxiety politics’, do you know what I’m talking about? Nee? It is a politics that we are living in right now. It is a politics of anxiety which says: ‘the Netherlands is dying. Europe is dying. The multicultural society is dying. And the reason why it is dying, because all of those people have come in.’
And we have this anxiety, angst, this kramp, that we can’t live in a society together because once we start living together, then ‘our values will die’.
Fear. Een angst-politiek. Een angst-politiek, eigenlijk, that happens to our entire political domain. If you look in the newspaper, almost every day, you have this kind of angst-politiek over ‘the Other’. The person who is coming to take away something. The person who doesn’t share our values.
What I’d like to say, something to you, cause I don’t know Rotterdam, and I was talking…. – yeah? Wil je wat zeggen? Vertel.”
Vrouw 1. uit publiek: “Het vreemde eraan is: er is nog nooit wat gebeurd. Na de slavernij, niks. Nu nog steeds, niks. Dus, die angst is zo onbegrijpelijk. Want dan moet er toch eerst iets gebeuren voordat die angst er zou moeten zijn? Maar er is niks gebeurd. Er is alleen maar vrede geweest, en ik zou zeggen, dan zouden we daarop moeten bouwen, toch?”
W.M.: “Maar, ik kan ook aan je vragen, iets anders aan je vragen: even if something happened, is it only a failure, that we live in today?
Actually one of the things that I think we should try and do, and I’m interested in this, and I just said, that I want to move to Rotterdam. Kan dat? Ja? Ja? Oke, is goed. ‘Weg met Amsterdam’, hoor…”
W.M.: “Ja. We gaan dat doen… Maar, one of the things that I… – one of the things that I ask, is: what happens in THIS room? As you talk to one another. What happens in the street? One of the things I have learned about Rotterdam, I don’t know most, all of about it, but in that street-wise, Rotterdam, is that… when we live together, it is not about angst-politiek. It’s about us living together, in a city that we say: ‘this is where we are from. This is our home. This is what we’ve created.’ So, actually, one of the things that I struggle with, is the idea that there is a political language of anxiety, that happens ‘up here’ – news, all of those things – and there is a lived experience, that happens in the streets, with our children, and our children’s children. That sometimes the politics teach us more than what is a lived reality.
I wonder, how do we learn from that urban interaction? That living-together in the city? As a hopeful possibility, rather than always living in the political sphere of anxiety? And this is not to say – I am not naïve… Ik ben een beetje dom, maar niet zó… it is not naïeviteit, om te zeggen dat als je, as we think about how we are creating life together, in this city, in this country, then something else is happening, that is different from how we describe it in politics.
Another future is possible. But to create this other future, I want to suggest…. (I can’t see with the glasses and I can’t see without it…)”
W.M.: “I want to ask you something now, though. Cause, if in 2013, four museums, four places closed, while other places opened, one of the things that strikes me today, is that almost every museum in the Netherlands is doing something on colonialism. Every gemeente, every archive, everybody is doing it. And this is where my specifism comes in. Wat betekent dat? Has something changed? Between 2013 en vandaag. Wat is veranderd in onze society, in deze samenleving, dat so many things are happening?
In Amsterdam, we used to do this events, and when we started to do them, we were kind of one of the few people doing them. Now, we can’t do it anymore, because once we do it, everybody is doing it. Ik heb, eh, somebody said to me, recently, that, you know, the Rijksmuseum is going to do an exhibition in 2020, we want to do one too. So everybody is doing it. But it is not only the Netherlands. In Germany, I have been to seventeen conferences on German colonialism. In England…. This here is an example of questions of colonialism that happened in Denmark. 2017. Every museum was doing something then as well.
What has changed in Europe, that makes the colonial past, the slavery past, so speakable, so doable? Has anything changed?”
Vrouw 2. uit publiek: “(…) Is onze stem niet wat harder geworden? Zo van, hallo, we zijn er…”
W.M.: “En wie is ‘onze’?”
Vrouw 2.: “Alle mensen van kleur, alle ‘anderen’, alle migranten….”
(Vervolgvraag en opmerking van vrouw 3. achterin de zaal. Geroezemoes. Iemand roept: “subsidies!”)
Vrouw 4.: “Misschien de vluchtelingenproblematiek? Als we nu zoveel vluchtelingen hebben uit landen waar mensen van kleur wonen, dat men is gaan nadenken over: hoe komt het nou dat ze hiernaartoe komen? Dat kan het ook hebben aangewakkerd dat er nu belangstelling is.”
(Geroezemoes houdt aan.)
Moderator : “Ja, ik hoor hier ook wat…”
Man in het publiek: “maybe something is really changing, also at the European Union, they… supple, couple of months ago, they accepted a new motion, which they… are being critical, on the whole colonial and slavery past, and the way Europe looks to Africa, and racism. Maybe there is some changing coming ahead, I don’t know. I have hope that changing is coming. And if I see all those kind of small steps, they are small steps, but together they can be, they can have a huge impact. And I believe that maybe something is really changing, that we are in a time, that, uh – you’re right, we have seen all right-wing politicians being at one side, and at the other side, we are seeing, actually, small steps, which can be introducing of change.”
Vrouw 5.: “Well, actually, I want to add to that. I think, what is changing, is the fact that diversity and inclusion is becoming marketable. Cause when I see it at my own university, you have a ‘Diversity & Inclusion Office’… So, and every faculty needs to have one, and we want to make change and blah-blah-blah, which is good, by the way, actually, I really support that. But if you look, if you go higher up in the hierarchy, nothing else changes. It’s just downwards, just like they throw a bone at us, like, o.k., you know, what, we –, hello, we have a Diversity & Inclusion Office here, so, you should be happy – but I’m not happy, why….”
Moderator: “Nou, wellicht is dat ook het volgende waar je op door wilt, toch, Wayne?”
W.M.: “Nee. Maar mijn vraag aan jullie – en dit is een mooie, actually, aanleiding voor deze vraag – is: is it… moet het de één of de andere worden? Zijn? Is it so, that, it is only symbolic politics, and nothing is changing? Or can it be so, as well, that something is changing, and it is symbolic politics?
One of the (…) reasons why I want to do this, is to hold on to one possibility. And it is what you said. This is what I mean by the ‘radical impatience’. The radical impatience, de mede-plichtigheid, the complicity, is that you are here. That you are the hope, that will make me change, as an institution. Because one of the things that… – I too am worried. Every time I get another invitation to another conference. To be honest with you, I ask myself two questions. ‘Am I the only black person who is going to talk for the entire black person world?’ That’s one question. But the second question I ask, is: ‘seriously – are you just doing this to look good? Is this a part of the marketing technology?’ Which I must tell you, that’s what museums, we – museums need to market themselves. Universities as well. Is it just a part of that?
I want to suggest to you, though, from my perspective, working within a cultural institution, working within a museum, that one of the things that I have come to learn from two projects recently, that we’ve been part of – ‘Het heden van het slavernijverleden’, tentoonstelling in het Tropenmuseum, en ‘Words Matter’ – book, that we published… – was two things, that I would not have believed when I started. I would not have believed it in 2013. I would not have believed, that so many… or not so many, it’s not a lot… and that’s why it is… that so many people within the cultural sector, are having the conversation around ‘how to deal with this difficult histories in the present’. How to give voice to the activism that is necessary to change it. But something more important than that, is how to learn to deal with ‘kramp’, in je buik. Kramp. That is a part of what I learned, standing in front of a museum, that anybody will say is the most colonial museums in the Netherlands.”
(Vraag uit publiek.)
W.M.: “To the why it has happened? I will say two things. Actually, I have an answer to that question. My answer is to the why. Why has it changed? My answer is two things. First of all, when I stand in front of an audience, I tell them that, it didn’t change because the museum was there thinking ‘oh, we’re going to change’ – nee. No, it is, actually, on the one hand, what somebody said in the back, there. That the discussion, that – the anxiety politics that emerged (…), with the vluchtelingen-discussie, maar also with, you see Brexit, you see whatever – that kind of political formation that you see across Europe now, there has grown a group of young, mostly young activists, people, young people, but older people as well, that have been committed to a fight for a future, that is possible.
And that is not ‘young’, like, you… It’s also young like me, alright?”
W.M.: “But that politics is not a local politics. It is a politics that has become global, in its force. It is a politics that, whether or not it is through new media, activism, so, Facebook – and I also am doubtful of Facebook, to be honest with you: there is a lot of activism that is the ‘like-activism’. ‘Like’, ‘like’, ‘like’, ‘like’. That does nothing. But there is also a particular kind of activist formation, and by that I don’t mean only the activists who stand in front of the placard. I mean people who are impatient with the way things are in the present.
Now, you might want to suggest, when we did this book, Words Matter, and when we were going to go to the press, there was so much fear, in me, cause, ik ben een buitenlander. And I knew that people were going to ask me: ‘you, foreigner, who are you to come here and tell me not to use the N-word anymore? (…) Do you have any right to say, use ‘wit’, of….’ Clear. Maar, one of the things that I realized as well, is that – I was in Rotterdam, actually, a ‘tint’… And I walked in, and I walked in the café, and there was a lady reading the book, Words Matter – she was reading it intensely. And she talked to somebody I knew, and said: ‘oh, I’m reading this book.’ And the guy said: ‘oh, you know that they are ones who did it?’ And she said: no… – The book lies on many museums agenda today. It gives me a certain hope, that that is possible.
And where does this hope come from? For me, it is not naivety. (…)”
W.M.: “For me, and the work that I do, one needs hope, to even survive. You need hope to be able to imagine, what that other future can do. And I want to suggest to you, that radical hope is what the enslaved knew. Radical hope is what your forefathers knew. Radical hope…. I’m going to play just this little piece of a song. (…)”
W.M. (uit het lied citerend): “Soon I will be done. With the troubles of this world. Troubles of this world. Troubles of this world.”
W.M.: “This is an image of Winti Prey. And what I’m suggesting to you here today, that the hope, that we need to find, to create the other future, that is possible, is the hope that was already sketched by the enslaved. Which is why Winti is still alive. Today, how Winti becomes creative. Communa, in Jamaica, revival, in Jamaica. Why there are African religious practices still in parts of the Caribbean. The hope, that we’ve come to know – and this is where I make myself kwetsbaar as well – is that my mother, haha – would say to me all the time, that – ‘you are going to be a doctor’. So, when I graduated, I said to her: ‘mommy, I’m a doctor – not the one you wanted…. Hahaha. I am the useless kind of doctor. So don’t get sick, I’m just useless…’
There is the hope, in Jamaica, what people do is that they build houses, and they build the bottom of the house and then they build – they have steel pipes on the top of the house. And those steel pipes is to build the top floor. And that top floor might never be build. But what it is, is the hope, that a better future is possible.
In the lives of the enslaved was that mede-plichtigheid, was that demand, was that ethic, that YOU remember, because a better future MUST be possible. Cause otherwise, we’re going to give up. When they say, ‘soon I will be done with the troubles of the world,’ you might think just of religion. But I’m not interested in religion. I’m interested in them saying: ‘I will die. My husband will die. But I’m going to fashion a future that my children can live in.’
We always say, the children are our future. Actually, not true. WE are our future. We are THEIR future. Cause, if we mess it up, then they don’t have the future. To live in. I’m interested, to ask you, how might we, two things: help to sketch that future that is possible, imagine another kind of future, that does not give in to anxiety politics, that names racism and discrimination, that battles with the structural exclusion that keep happening over and over again…
One of the things that I – sorry, just one sideline. You know, we always tell activists that they need to… they shouldn’t be included. You know, inclusion is something from… that activists should not be included. Inclusion is a white thing, if you… include. At the end of the day I agree with that. But you know, one problem I have: the Netherlands has one of the best zzp’er-regels in the world. And zzp people aren’t always the ones who have save jobs. If it is so that you want an activist to continue to be activist, and that most of the activists are people of color, then what you’re saying, is that they should continue to live precariously. So while we dismantle, change organizations, we also need to come together, create that future.
And I want to leave you with this bowl.”
W.M.: “The bowl is – somebody asked me if ‘Kintsugi’ is the word for ‘goodbye’, haha – at the end of our talk. But Kintsugi is a Japanese ceramic practice, which does something that is counter-intuitive to how we, in the Netherlands, in Europe, in Jamaica, deal with colonialism. We want to hide it, we want to put cover over it, we want to not talk about it. What Kintsugi does, is that it puts gold on the breaks, and say: look at it. Don’t hide from the breaks. Address them. Deal with them. Because, repairing historical wrongs, is not about hiding from historical wrongs. It is about confronting them in the present, and creating another future, that is possible.
I will end there. I might sing, but I’m not going to, today. (…) I will end there and ask YOU: how might YOU contribute to the other future that is possible? But I want to ask you a really big question that I struggle with now. Which is: did I just talk to you for 40 minutes of naivety?”
(Opmerking uit publiek.)
W.M.: “(…) Because, one the most difficult thing in radical hope is: how to accept that things have changed, but not to get lazy? That it is ‘better’… How do you accept that some things have changed, but really put your shoulder behind it, to say that it is not where it should be.
If our forefathers got lazy, then slavery would not be abolished.”
Gesprek met het publiek
Vrouw A.: “No, you are not naïve, and – I can agree with you, with that positive – positieve inslag. How… you manage to not become cynical, when you are working with this team?”
Moderator: “Ja, dus hoe blijf je optimistisch, Wayne?”
W.M.: “Ja, ik ben nooit optimistisch, maar… How do I not become cynical? You know, I take another approach to this (…); it is not that I’m not cynical. I’m cynical every day. I struggle every day with – how – can I – is this really true? Are the people – is this integrity? The question is not whether or not I am cynical, the question is, for me, is that I have sketched a horizon out here that I am fighting for – and no matter WHAT you do, no matter what YOU do and YOU do and YOU do, to STOP that horizon – THAT is where I am going. So cynicism is there and I question myself all the time, I question my colleagues, in my museum, I question them as well – but I know, that – that future, of equity, is what… drives me.
I don’t know if it will come. But what I know is that, we must fight for it. And that something else than it will come.
We must fight for it.”
Moderator: “Mooi, heb hier nog iemand die wilde reageren.”
Man B.: “Yes, thank you for your lecture, Wayne. I think you are talking about awareness. And it means awareness not only from the point of view from the grown-ups, and the adults, but also awareness from the, from our children, from the youngsters. When you talk about the, the urban society, to me it means that even the urban society got to wake up and there is a lot of work to do from all of those people, brothers and sisters of us, who call themselves leaders, because if there’s something that we lack, it is leadership. And I confront you with this, because this is what we experience. Not even only in Rotterdam, or an other town in Holland, but also in Suriname. O.K.? When we are aware, of what is going on, our position on earth, our position in the land, our position and culture, and what we’ve, what we’ve gained, from the false education from slavery, and to be enslaved, then there’s an EYE, which is opening, to our SELF, and this eye tells us all that we have to educate the youth so they can be aware of what WE are calling our future, thank you.”
Moderator: “Dank u. Volgens mij zit er ook ergens wel een vraag in, maar vooral een boodschap?”
W.M.: “Nee, – het is een goede boodschap. Ik heb twee dingen, en ik moet zeggen dat ik heb, de antwoord niet – aan de ene kant, ik ben eigenlijk blij, met de hoeveelheid van dingen die nu gebeurt. Dat gaat ook samen met de idee van informatie, kennis, meer kennis, die soort dingen – so, ik ben blij met wat gebeurt in heel veel musea. Ik, ik twijfel een beetje, ehm, als we praten over, younger generation, die niet weet… Cause, I think that, perhaps, one of the things that happened, with activism… – activism: it always happens like this, that – you can also say that a lot of the things that young activist, younger generations are fighting for today, you fought for in the past. But the structure, that is in place, made it necessary for them to fight again.
They don’t have to fight the same battles. They’re fighting other kind of battles. But this is an extension. One of the difficulties, I think, is that, the knowledge of earlier activisms is so… low, sometimes. We don’t know what our forefathers did. And in that, sometimes, we’re trying to re-create the wheel, in younger generations, and younger… but sometimes, it is also so, that wheel needs to be re-created again! So the question is: how? And that is one of the places that, you have many young…. Uh, I like uh, what is happening in popular music, popular culture. But also, the young people who are creating their own archives. Because they say: ‘dit is óok nodig.’
There is…. that dichotomy, I’m not so sure, I would make… – I’m going to close with something heel vervelend, maar – jouw vraag?
Moderator: “Ja, erop ingaand, hè?”
Vrouw C.: “Ja, inderdaad. Cause my question is actually attent to that question as well, as a person of youth who is working in that – field, sort of. How can we create these bridges, of this inter-generational activism? Because if we look at our culture – I’m from Surinam, too – there’s this sort of non-speaking of culture that also remains. There’s certain things we do not talk about. Knowledge that is not shared, it’s withheld for us as younger generation – to speak of, you know, I can’t speak for everybody – but to that extent… So, we do see. But, for example, when I look at my history, if I go into the, the… the depths of the indigenous ones, I will merely find almost anything. And that’s also apparent. So how, once more, my question remains, do we get this inter-generational knowledge to be shared? And, you know, institutions also only betray a certain bit, and how trustworthy are institutions, too, cause, great that we’re getting certain museums started, but, you can’t have a certain museum to my personal opinion if you’re not incorporating the people who are actually telling the stories, you know?”
W.M.: “I agree with you totally, especially in the fact that, how do you trust the knowledge of the institutions? Uhm, one of my other very anxious moments in the Tropenmuseum, was when we had the work, the group ‘De-colonize the Museum’ working with us; and they came in and they criticized – but they didn’t only criticize, they… you know, I am an older generation, so, I wanted to criticize in a room, with discussion. They wanted to criticize on Facebook and Twitter. So, for three and halve weeks, four weeks, a month, all I felt in my stomach was kramp. O jee, this is what going to happen – what it MADE happen, within my institution, anyway – and I can’t say that… – there is no institution that should go over there, and say how good we are doing. But what it made, important institutionally, is that it made it possible for institutions to say: ‘I am going to be comfortable with dealing with discomfort’. ‘I am going to be comfortable with being criticized.’ ‘I am going to be comfortable with ‘including’ other voices out there, which says that don’t know a …darn thing of what I am doing.’
And that – is a good thing. One the things we should do as institutions is not – and we tend to do this so often – we LOVE to pat ourselves on the shoulder and say how good we are.”
W.M.: “With me, anyway, my interest is to ask the question: ‘what have I learned now, and what is left to be learned, for the future?’ …Inter-generational conversation – I throw that back at you – I throw it at Wim – I throw it at… How do you – cause, as an institution, for example: if you come to me today and you said to me: ‘I’d like to organize and set up inter-generational conversation, around activism’ – I’d gladly support you. (…) You need to talk to the gentleman over there, so you can organize it together. Cause one of the things that I think we should also do as young activists, is that we should not… Angela Davis said this when she was in Amsterdam. She said: we should also be able to acknowledge the activist work that our forefathers did, and not just say to them that they didn’t do enough. The questions and answers that they were given at the time, are different from those that we are living with, even though there are overlaps. And we need to acknowledge some of this to be able to move on.”
Moderator: “Ja, hier is nog één laatste reactie.”
Vrouw D.: “So, I’m raised by my grandmother, born in 1923 in Surinam. So, I hear the stories. And 1923 is not far from 1863. So, I heard the stories. I’m 41. My sister’s grandchildren are 4 and 5. So it’s five generations, who heard the stories. And I… have enough. Of fighting; I have enough of hearing it will change; cause it doesn’t. It doesn’t change. It’s getting… It’s like we’re hearing the same story, the same one, and I’m sick of it, and how long… are we supposed to fight? Cause I had enough of fighting. I am free. I do not have to fight for what is mine. So why – how long you think, how many generations, we still have to fight? Cause I had enough.”
W.M.: “I started out, ehm, we had a conversation – thank you for that, and thank you, om jezelf kwetsbaar te maken. Dat is… Kom, I think that…”
Moderator: “Ja, dat verdient een applaus en een warming… ja, omarming.”
W.M.: “En ik… I will never say to you that, ‘I know’… I can’t tell you that I know. I can’t tell you that I know, because… I’m… I also get impatient with that idea… that a better future will come. And that I continually need to fight, or… and that it is tiring work – I know that. In a way, my ques-, my answer to you, is perhaps something else… is…. I say this to my staff every single day, that, if we want a better world – our mission in my research center, is om een better world the creëren. And one of the things that we have to do for that… I want to walk closer to you for that…
My staff needs to remember, or notice, when I am just tired…. When I can’t do it anymore. When, when… when I feel that I need to do it, but I can’t anymore. And I think, perhaps, that is why I started out, with this love-, — what I think is a lovely word – about how do we do it, together? Because sometimes, you have to take rest, you have to stop, you have to sit, and – I say it in my organization all the time: activism is love-work. You have to… there’s a certain sense about, you’re loving one another. Because, you can’t do it every day, that is true.
But I also have the other side to it, to be honest with you, which is that, I don’t know that we can give up. So the question is: how do I ensure that you can rest, for the next part of the fight, while I take that up? How do I ensure that we, in that kind of working together, knowing that we, creating this together… And let me go back to… enslaved lives. One of the enslaved-life’s things, and you notice, many enslaved lives, ehm – music, come out the work-songs. A work-song is a joint work. It is me, then you, then me, then you. It is the call and response. It is the mede-plichtigheid.
And one the things I say to everybody, that collaboration – you want to use the very, very Dutch use of the word ‘collaboration’…. Nee, er is ‘samenwerking’, but when you say ‘collaboration’ there is also a negative ‘collaboration’… with the Nazi. Accomplicity. Complicity. But I want to use ‘complicity’ in a positive way. And that mede-plichtigheid, that complicity and samenwerking, is where I say to you, that sometimes you need to rest. Because it is not for you to do anymore and you’ve done enough…”
(Een verontwaardigde beklag uit publiek.)
W.M.: “Yes, but that is… (…) Nee, but it…”
(Beklag houdt aan. Een jongen uit ander deel van publiek: “It has to be our fight!” Geroezemoes ontstaat.)
Moderator: “Nou, ik denk dat hier…”
W.M.: “…daarom… That’s why I begun with asking – sorry, om dat te doen – the gentleman, what is his relation to the colonial past? Because we see, that in a moment of thinking that the fight is only for me – the person of zwart, de zwarte persoon. The fight is not only for me. The fight is for every single one of us in this room.”
Moderator: “Yes… Ja, één ding eraan toevoegend, maar ik wil toch nog even bij jou blijven… want je zegt, ja, ‘ik wil stoppen met vechten’. Wanneer krijg jij dat gevoel?”
Vrouw D.: “Dagelijks. Uh, ik ga naar een… een cursus. En, dan hebben we een gesprek, en één van de eerste vragen is: ‘O! Hoe kam jij je haar?’ – Dat… Ik snap het niet. Waar is… Ik heb me net voorgesteld, we zitten in een cursus samen, waarom gaat het niet over de cursus? Waarom gaat het niet over, uh, ik heb misschien net verteld dat ik kinderen heb, waarom gaat het niet daarover? Maar het gaat altijd over m’n etniciteit. Daarbij is er alleen maar één identiteit van mij die ze zien. Ze zien niet eens de andere. En de irritatie bij mij is van ‘waarom moet ik mezelf uitleggen?’…”
Moderator: “Wat zou jou helpen, om daarvan af te komen?”
Vrouw D.: “Ik, ikzelf, ik blijf praten. Ik blijf het gesprek voeren en ik blijf zeggen wat ik denk en ik blijf zeggen wat ik voel: ik blijf in gesprek gaan en ik… ik vind het jammer, mag ik even inter-…. Ik vind het jammer dat er altijd gelachen moet worden. Waarom moet er altijd gelachen worden? Het was vreselijk! Het waren vierhonderd vreselijke jaren. En er mag best wel over gesproken worden, dat het vreselijk was, dat er martelingen waren, en dat er echt mensen… dat er genocides waren; er mag over gesproken worden, want zo was het.”
Moderator: “En dat is eigenlijk ook, waar we het hier over hebben, en wat Wayne ook bekrachtigt door te zeggen: ja, er is hoop, maar daar moet zeker ook over gesproken worden. Deze man hier links wilde ook graag nog iets daaraan toevoegen…”
Man E.: “Het gaat om de beginvraag, van, ‘wat is je link met het onderwerp’, en ik vind het heel heftig om te zeggen, maar mijn familienaam komt in het archief voor. En… Maar wel aan de andere kant, als administrateur, als ambtenaar. Dus op dat moment word ik ook geconfronteerd met een verleden wat ik eigenlijk helemaal niet kan dragen, want ik wil daar natuurlijk niks mee te maken hebben, maar ik heb er kennelijk iets mee te maken. En, en… Jouw woorden…. Ik denk dat de waarheid gezegd moet worden. Ik denk dat dat jouw rol is. En….”
Vrouw D.: “(…) …en ik denk dan, ook ik draag mijn voorouders en dingen, dus ik zeg niet, van, ‘ik heb er niks mee te maken’ – ik draag ze, ik neem ze met me mee…”
Moderator: “En eigenlijk is dat ook zijn reactie, hè, dus luister naar wat hier gezegd wordt…”
Man E.: “Ja, dat, dat is wat ik bedoel te zeggen, ook al wil ik er niks mee te maken hebben, ik word ermee geconfronteerd, en, en, en dat mijn familie daar dus ook misschien een rol in heeft gehad….”
Moderator: “En wat je misschien niet hebt gehoord, is dat hij zegt, niet zozeer dat het er niet is, hij grijpt het ook aan; hij erkent het. Acknowledge.”
Man. E.: “Dat, dat is een van de redenen, dat ik hier, denk ik, ook nu moet zijn, om deze verhalen aan te horen, en, en, en… ik moet het aanhoren, ik moet begrijpen wat jij zegt. Dat…”
Moderator: “Ja, niet alleen aanhoren en begrijpen, maar luisteren…”
Man F.: “Ik wil uh… Ik wil haar een stukje geven, vragen, of het effe mag, van Wayne.”
Moderator: “Wayne? Voor dat we gaan besluiten, mag ik de heer hier nog eventjes het woord geven?”
Storyteller Paul Middellijn: “Memre na ten di feti, so mek wi kan shi ley di prani esde fu prati wi di tron pisi fu tide nain den tamara, memre na ten di ben leyri wi… Memre na krey di ben teri wi… Memre na strey di ben fri wi memre den di dede gi wi Arki na sten fu wi di libi pasa naini ala grontapu arki fa en opo tenapu arki boskopu… bari wroko. Memre na ten di feti, somek wi kan shi ley di prani esde fu prati wi di tron pisi fu tide nain den tamara. Memre! Memre! Memre!”
W.M.: “Ja…. There was recently… (…) I was in a discussion in Leiden, and another person…. Her husband said to her, in public he said: ‘Things are a-changing. Things are different.’ And she said, as well, to him: ‘You can say that all you want, but how long must I wait? For them to change?’ She kind of said to him: ‘You’ve been saying that for twenty years now.’
In a way I understand that, the feeling… but one of the things that I’m hopeful for, one of the things that I’d like to see, one of the things that I’d like us to do – and this is where, I doubt it every single day. But still, I want to see it. Is that, as a society, as a city, as individuals in this room, that every one of us here can commit to the fact that is something that all of us need to change. That I am responsible and you are responsible. Stop saying that it is the history of somebody else. Because one’s wealth was another person’s pain. And if we can commit to that kind of action, than perhaps the other world is possible. Cause it is not for me alone, or you alone to create it, it is for us to create it together. And if anything else, I want to leave that with you. How can we ALL be radical activists, radically impatient with the inequality, the racialization, the racism, that is here – to be able to fashion another future, that says that all of us are and we have the right to be here.”
Moderator: “Another future is possible. Wayne Modest!”