Merel, who describes herself as a "wise woman and a crone", talks about how she believes anti-racism work can be delivered to white people in a way that is non-threatening and ensures that people don't become defensive.
A white male seems to become the default norm that we benchmark others upon, and we want to assimilate everyone to the same standards. The western world has built its economy on power, wealth and control and we want to compete and be better than others, and we assume everyone feels the same way. We still do not see other cultures as on a level playing field to us – it still matters where you come from and we fear the unknown. To become anti-racist needs not only a fundamental change on an individual level, but also as a culture and how do we take the first steps to achieve this? But if we were to embrace our differences would we all have more enriched lives?
Joanne sat down to talk to Merel van Haastert to discuss ‘Anti-racism work is not rocket science.’
A white male seems to become the default norm that we benchmark others upon, and we want to assimilate everyone to the same standards. The western world has built its economy on power, wealth and control and we want to compete and be better than others, and we assume everyone feels the same way. We still do not see other cultures as on a level playing field to us – it still matters where you come from and we fear the unknown.
To become anti-racist needs not only a fundamental change on an individual level, but also as a culture and how do we take the first steps to achieve this? But if we were to embrace our differences would we all have more enriched lives?
Merel lives in the Netherlands and owns her own company, ‘Solid Ground’ which conducts energy and spiritual work, where she guides people through problems they encounter in their lives. She believes when talking about anti-racism there is nothing out there that we do not know. All of the information is there, we just need to see it. She accepts that it is difficult, indoctrination built up in layers from childhood, but she believes the soul knows. Everyone is the same, irrelevant of skin colour. Young children do not have the filters to see people as different – so we need to try and take ourselves back to this.
White people find this a difficult subject to talk about and tend to take it personally, on an individual level, rather than looking at it as a system that we were born into. We forget that we have ‘white culture’ – the settled norms and values that are imprinted upon us. Similarly, we have a white narrative that we are so used to we no longer consider unusual. White becomes our privilege, and we cannot tell, as it is always there. Merel says you need an entry to see the wider scope of the world, you almost have an advantage when you are not the standard. The amount you do not fit, allows you to see and pick up on different perspectives and see other narratives.
We marginalise people by categorising them and diminish their lived experiences. White has become the default, we put ourselves in the centre of the world and then everything relates to you. There is still a hierarchy within white highlighted by our views on immigrants; we have jokes about the French, Italians etc. Racism is more than white/black people, it can be between communities, religions etc. We categorise and label people based on where they are from. Merel explains that despite 70% of inhabitants of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, being from different cultural backgrounds, the standard is still that being Dutch means you are white and from the Netherlands, and they are not considered equal citizens. As part of the systemic racism people will often hear, ‘go back to your country’ because they do not see them as being part of where they are from.
Due to colonialism, we feel a sense of entitlement to the world’s history, our ancestors have given us the idea that the world is ours. We made it our default economy, with the power and privilege that we have today gained from wealth we plundered from other cultures. We have even use science to justify our actions, with scientists studying brain sizes and determining that a white male would be more intelligent than others. We used science to promote white supremacy. We think we have evolved past all of this and that we are now racially accepting, but this is not in the past, we still set ourselves above others as western society and consider other areas as third world, who just need to come up to our level.
We are not used to thinking of white people as a group, a culture. We need to think about what this means, and what this means for the rest of the world. We do have freedom of speech, but it is still not widely accepted to go against our government, we are brought up to follow authority. We are taught from a very young age that family is everything, so people do not want to do anything that will put them outside of their group, as this can be a very lonely place. As an individual it is very difficult to affect the social structure, we have power, but it is difficult to weald this without a community approach.
Merel set up ‘Project ColorWhite’ initially to create a safe space for women but has now expanded to encompass all white people to allow them to discuss the world that they want and how to break down their beliefs and ideas around racism. She has found this quite difficult as people still carry a lot of guilt for their ancestors.
SEE Change Happen
Merel van Haastert
Wise Women at Solid Ground