Sometimes in life you meet someone who is just a tad more positive. Someone who seems to have a certain strength that makes you look up to this person. A person like this inspired and enriched me with interesting knowledge. Fatuma is her name and she is a very bright young woman who – I firmly believe – will never even consider giving up on others and their rights. I guess you won’t be surprised when I tell you that she wants to specialize in human rights law as well. She does, however, wear a headscarf and is colored, unlike most Dutch people, which changes a few things. Does this mean that she is treated differently? Different than somebody else even though she has undeniable merit? Sadly, yes. The bias-colored glasses strike again against our beloved equality.
Living in the Netherlands, a former dominantly Christian country, is a different experience for someone who doesn’t fit in according to the norm. But, having moved here when she was still very young made it relatively easy for Fatuma to adapt to the Dutch language and culture. Zooming in on her credentials, it’s obvious that she did well and that her Somali and Ethiopian background isn’t holding her back, it might actually have helped her to become this ambitious young fighter she is now. Besides that she’s also very proud of who she is, even if it seems to attract certain types of discrimination. She is, however, not very surprised that she experiences discrimination: ‘’I have the whole package for discrimination. I am a black Muslim woman’’ Fatuma says, and apparently that’s all that someone needs to become subject to discrimination. This might partially be due to the demographics of the Netherlands. Statistics show that about 81% of the citizens is Dutch, 10% non-Western foreigner and 9% Western foreigner (Garssen, 2005). This means that the majority of the society is white and that when we look around, we primarily see a bunch of white people. We can’t really blame the young minds for being confused about color, but what should we expect from (educated) people who can read and think for themselves?
‘’I have the whole package for discrimination. I am a black Muslim woman.’’
So, what does it mean to be considered a so-called foreigner in practice? According to Fatuma, people seem to have a way of approaching her that’s slightly off, just like the things people can say. A more specific example happened in the third year of high school when she had to call an office in order to arrange a job shadowing day, to find out if she really did want to become an architect. Well, it turned out that people with a Dutch name are welcome whereas someone who has a ‘’foreign’’, non-Western, name isn’t. Something she had to find out the hard way by being hung up on after repeating her surname. An unnecessary event followed by more. Like one that happened recently which may have been one of the more painful experiences. Fatuma applied for a job at a well-known restaurant and a week after her application the owner called saying that he wanted to hire her – on one condition – that she would remain invisible during weddings and events, because of her headscarf. She wasn’t allowed to be seen. Think about how that would make you feel. Would you still feel like you are good enough? Would you accept those terms?
Knowing these things happen quite often in Fatuma’s life, I asked how she responds to the prejudice and I was impressed by her capability to maintain a positive attitude towards others and herself, ‘’I respect that there are other viewpoints or opinions than mine. I also expect people to respect my views and opinions, even if they don’t agree with it, just like I would respect their opinion.’’ I also asked her what she would want others to know, what she would want to teach you. Her reply was rather striking and I think this lady definitely knows what she’s talking about and there’s no way to put it better than using her own words.
I know it’s hard to believe, but you and me, we are not that different. This little fabric on my head doesn’t define the things in my mind. This beautiful melanin that colors my skin doesn’t change the color of my blood. The fact that I am female doesn’t make this world’s cruelness easier for me. We all carry this thing inside that no one else can see and we also laugh in the same language. You and me, we are not that different you see. Try to have a look from my side of life. Look through my imperfection and then maybe you might see the beauty in you and me.
Garssen, J., Nicolaas, H. & Sprangers, A. (2005). Demografie van allochtonen in Nederland. Centraal Bureau Statistiek.