Privileged nonsense: Inspire! Entertain! Inform!
I came across “I am Expat” a site aimed at well, expats living in The Netherlands. Although I am technically an expat (i.e. an expatriate foreigner living in The Netherlands), I am not really one. As I have mentioned before on the distinction between western and non western foreigners living in the country and how there are specific laws to target us “non western” folks, an expat, from a purely legal perspective (meaning “the laws of the country are different for someone who is classified as an expat than they are for me”) does not have to deal with integration courses, language requirements and the current discussions on possible ethnic registrations if the newly formed government gets away with the idea.
The reason I dissect websites like “I am Expat” is because they are part of the Dutch Cultural PR machine that presents a homogeneous view of the country to the outside world. These sites, always in the English language, are more often than not written in an upbeat tone, full of optimistic tidbits of colorful data and throughout the past 10/ 12 years (when they first sprung, coincidentally with the slow rise of domestic xenophobia), they have made a consistent effort to portray the country under nothing but a positive light. They organize events sponsored by the Amsterdam municipality, they promote job fairs aimed at attracting well educated foreigners to the country and basically present a washed down version of life in The Netherlands as a foreigner. The fact that there are categories of “foreigness” as I explained in my post linked above is conveniently never mentioned. Instead, these sites attempt to attract the kind of foreigners that are publicly presented as “good for the country”, “good for our economy”, “enriching” and “fundamental for the knowledge based economy”.
So, there is this post in the “I am Expat” blog “Writing about your life in The Netherlands” and, as it is bound to happen, I get anxious reading the advice. Basically, this is the gist of the post:
A piece of writing needs to do one or more of the following:
All of them worthy goals but certainly only applicable if one is going to write about clogs, dams, bicycles and tulips. That someone tries to universally dictate what constitutes “good writing” while living here is not only oppressive but narrow minded as well. I am a foreigner living here, however, this is what I want to achieve when I write about the country:
- Make people angry about the systematic political status quo aimed at alienating and further subjugate those like me
- Move people to take action (inspiration without consequent action is the realm of the negligent, and a subject I have consistently protested about, specifically in regards to conferences, festivals and other events where people passively listen to “inspiring” talks, get all fuzzy warm and go home feeling good about themselves)
- Help those who read my writing see a different reality from the one they might face on a daily basis (or see the world through my eyes, as narcissistic as it may sound, but solely based on the fact that I do adhere to the principle that “the personal is political”).
- Question everything and not accept anything (not even my words, for that matter) at face value; analyze our reality in this country with a magnifying glass and try to leave our subjective notions aside to realize that there is not one set of paradigms, but instead a kaleidoscope of multiple sociopolitical and cultural realities co-existing
- Challenge the notion that there is one single way of being “Dutch” or one “Dutch Culture” (certainly there is a dominant form of “Dutchness”, but it is not the only one and to deny the expressions of those who are not ethnically Northern European as “Non Dutch” is not only colonialist but oppressive).
The laws of the country say I am not an expat. I am a proud non western allochtoon, but I call this country mine and this is home to me. Telling those like me that we should “inspire, inform, support or entertain” obturates loud dissenting voices. Those voices are as necessary as the native ones. And I am not shutting up.
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