I was born in a small Dutch town called Goirle, but I spent the majority of my childhood in the city of Enschede. I only knew a few black peers throughout my life so the majority of my friends are white Dutch people so during high school, I found myself in the middle of an identity crisis. Thank god there was the black internet community that taught me how to be black. For young black people the black community can be a safe haven to develop their identity in a society that seems to be against them. I ended up being the only person in my peer group who listened to rap music and followed every Love & Hip Hop franchise. I was up-to-date with every trend in the black community and not afraid to hide it. I even recall during a friend’s birthday party people started twerking for fun and they would ask me whether they were doing it right. I consider this period the honeymoon phase of my relationship with the black community.
During the first year of college, I became more and more aware of the struggles of black people all across the world. I started following pro-black Facebook and Instagram pages and I went natural. Now blackness meant that besides catching up with one internet challenge after another and reading gossip pages (that humiliate our successful fellow black man for our own entertainment), I had to stay woke and fight racism. Of course, no one is forcing young blacks to do the above, but I think it is fair enough to say there’s a certain illusion that you’ll lose your blackness if you don’t.
This is a feeling I know all too well. My mother always encouraged us to speak Dutch and do well in school, the result being that I always sound ‘too white’ and ‘too educated’ for a stereotypical black person. As a young black, I felt it was necessary to partake in certain activities to keep my ‘blackness’ high. I also felt that access to the black community was the only privilege my white peers didn’t have.
I saw the black community as a platform that taught me, as strange as it may sound, to be black. But the older I got, the more I realized every group has its flaws and my community was not an exception. For example, when it comes to attacking our own flaws like colourism, we become awfully quiet. When I felt the need to free myself from Eurocentric standards by going natural, it was very painful to learn my hair type was considered the least desired by another standard created by my own people.
On the one hand, I had to deal with being a black woman in a white man’s world and on the other hand being a dark-skin with 4C hair in a black community. Of course, I know there’s nothing wrong with my genetic features, but it bothers me that people think otherwise. Now I realize nobody is forcing me to follow irrational standards and I could choose the amount of value I give to them. To me, those standards are symptoms of a greater problem: Human beings and their unhealthy obsession with each other. Standards are made to control, predict and interpret the behaviour of others and exclude those who don’t fit the image.
I noticed during my blacktivist phase I felt a sense of pride every time I read ‘[insert name] is the first black person to [insert prestation]’ and personally attacked every time I saw a video of a fellow black person killed for literally being black. Hence the dilemma within the black community: Our love-hate relationship with the system. On the one hand, we are the first to call people out for racist acts, but on the other hand, we’re craving acceptance. We consider succeeding in the system and surrounding ourselves with the elite as an achievement. Yet we know that the same system oppresses us. Now how does one solve this issue?
I think the position of black people in this system is too complex to create a universal law that all blacks should follow. Instead, teach young blacks to create their own definition of success, beauty and consciousness and they’ll create their own path inside, outside or against this system. We can’t save young blacks for the judgments of others, but I judge myself by who I am and what I do rather than what I look like. I judge success by my own means and set my own standards. This to me is individualism.
Individualism to me means that the interests of an individual are above the interests of a collective. Standards created by others, including other black people, block young blacks from being their authentic self. I’m aware I’m not in the position to tell others what to do, but I don’t see any harm in spreading awareness on self-love, self-acceptance and self-esteem, and other concepts that can be related to individualism. Mainly because young blacks in the west seem to struggle with their self-image the most and these concepts lend well to the way we view ourselves.
We need to worry less about being black and worry more about being ourselves, because our blackness isn’t something that can be taken away from us. There is no use in posting “we have to unite” without showing love and respect to blacks in our direct environment. And in order to love and respect others, we have to learn to love and respect ourselves. We live in a world where we have been taught there is only one truth or one rule, but every history book will prove that one perspective doesn’t exclude another. Everyone has the right to create their own truth, follow their own dreams and create their own standards. We came to this planet as an individual human being and we will leave this planet as an individual human being. Making decisions based on our own truth is the most natural thing an individual human being can do. I believe one can grow if one shows gratitude and I’m grateful for the existence of the black community because without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Written by Synticha Pedro