Teach them young about being different
In 1976 my parents moved from the Dutch colony of Surinam to the Netherlands. Up to that point, I was raised among people of colour. I was five and started school the moment we arrived. I had never seen so many white children in one place before. The first day of school was awful. My mum wondered why I was taking so long in the bathroom. I started crying. 'I keep washing mummy, but my colour doesn't come off. It has to come off. The kids at school say I'm dirty.'
All humans are built the same - you'd think everyone knows
1984: Secondary school was... shall we say...Interesting. Again I was the first coloured child at the school. I hated PE, not only because my hand-eye coordination sucked. The changing room was hell. One of them approached me and asked, 'Are you brown everywhere? Can I see?' To my horror, others joined in. The audacity!
1992: The university years were less traumatic. I only had to deal with simple prejudices. 'Show me some moves. Your kind of people can dance'. 'I don't want to be in your team. Your kind is lazy'. 'We can't study at my place. My parents are racist'. 'Your food is always strange and stinks'. Odd as it may sound, I could laugh it off at times. I believed what my parents taught me and saw them as ignorant. And for the first time in my life, I experienced fellow students standing up and reacting on my behalf without asking.
2007: I moved to a small town in the Netherlands. My sister, her daughter and I went for a walk. We enjoyed an ice cream on the market square. Before too long, my niece and sister went to the toilet. She came back upset, and my niece was crying. 'The people in this town are crazy and ignorant! I had to stop a little kid from touching my baby, asking why she was so brown. I explained to her that there are loads of people of colour worldwide. Then I told her mother to get her educated, and she got upset!'
Not long after that, my son started primary school. He told me that kids in his class called him dirty and told him to wash. He was the only coloured child at the school. I engaged with his teacher, and she organised a school-wide project, teaching the children about 'Being Different'. It talked about red hair, freckles, glasses, disability and skin colour as the differences.
Are things changing?
Fast forward to now. I see more awareness and community spirit. I definitely see more coloured and disabled people on TV than ever before. Will it really change what people feel in their hearts? Is the rise of extremist groups not a sign that ignorance and misinformation rule and need to be combatted urgently?