Sometimes I get asked whether I’ve ever been a victim of prejudice here in the Netherlands. I guess all the news about populism and immigration laws have left my fellow Brazilians with the impression that Europeans are throwing tomatoes against immigrants on the streets.
My answer is always the same: no, I’ve never had anyone being utterly rude to me. No one ever shouted “immigrant, go home” towards me. First, because I’m sitting on a big pile of privilege: although not Caucasian, I’m light-skinned and highly educated. Although not Western, I come from the middle class of a developing country that’s pretty much westernized. Also, I’m not a Muslim, neither do I wear any religious symbols.
I belong to the class of “luxury” immigrants that are tolerated — and, depending on the country, even encouraged to come because it’s considered good for the economy. I’m the kind of immigrant that’s not even called an immigrant, as if the dirty I-word didn’t apply to us: they call us expats. You’ll never see an “immigrant job fair” or a “real estate agency specialized in immigrants” although, in practice, Westerners with higher education and money are immigrants, too.
Most of those who are prejudiced on the inside don’t have the guts to say their opinions out loud — at least not outside of the Internet or voting ballots.
Secondly, because most people aren’t assholes and they know discriminating others is bad. Most of those who are prejudiced on the inside don’t have the guts to say their opinions out loud — at least not outside of the Internet or voting ballots.
Prejudice, at least towards privileged immigrants like me, is manifested in subtle ways. The kind of prejudice I’m susceptible to is the one people don’t even realize they’re committing. It’s when people look at me and all they see is “Brazilian”, as if the place where I was born defined me completely; as if that was the only or most important thing to know about me.
I’ll give you some examples: it’s when my Christmas or birthday gift is always something that has to do with Brazil — like a book about Brazil or set in Brazil or from a Brazilian writer. After all, I’m Brazilian so I must only be interested in Brazilian things.
I don’t mean to be ungrateful, I find it sweet that you think of me when you see something related to Brazil. But I’d find it even sweeter if, every now and then, you’d also be reminded of me because of something I said, did or like. I’m a human being with lots of traits and interests, can you see them? Can you see Marjorie, the individual, or do you only see Marjorie, the Brazilian?
It’s when people assume I dance well and can teach them how to dance samba; or that I’m having the time of my life during a heat wave. Hey, just because I was born in a tropical place doesn’t mean I love sweating! Then I explain to them I’ve never actually enjoyed the heat back in Brazil. I feel much more comfortable in temperatures between 15 and 25C — only to get the same assumption from the same person next summer.
It’s when I tell people about my travel plans and they go like “why isn’t Brazil on the list?”, and then stare at me in disbelief when I say “I don’t think I’m going there anytime soon”. Again, since I’m Brazilian, I must be missing Brazil all the time and counting the days to be there, right? It makes no sense I’d wanna do anything else with my vacation days.
It’s when people assume I’ll become best friends with someone just because they’re Brazilian too. Hey, Brazil is a country of continental proportions with more than 200 million inhabitants, there’s gotta be more than just that for me to click with a person.
It’s when you decide to start a bilingual YouTube channel and people think it’s weird I’m making videos in English. I’m Brazilian, therefore I should only talk to Brazilians.
It’s when people ask my Dutch husband about how things are going at his job, and don’t bother asking me the same even though I’m right there, beside him — I’m a foreigner, so my work is probably uninteresting and unimportant, right?
It’s when people assume the only knowledge you can bring to the table is your native language. I know someone who lives in Sweden and teaches at the University of Stockholm. She says when she tells people she’s going to the university, they usually assume she’s a student (even though she’s old enough to teach). Then, when she informs them she’s a teacher, they go like “oh, so you teach Portuguese?”. Yeah, because that’s the only thing a foreigner could ever be qualified to teach abroad.
I remember when I got my first job in the Netherlands, writing content for a website whose main source of income was affiliate marketing. So I told someone that I was working with affiliate marketing, and they interrupted me before I could explain what the position entailed: “I know, telemarketing”. Because the only job I can have is at a call center speaking my native language, where else would I be useful? Never mind this person knew I have a master’s degree.
It’s when people ask my Dutch husband about how things are going at his job, and don’t bother asking me the same even though I’m right there, beside him — I’m a foreigner, so my work is probably uninteresting and unimportant, right? Why ask?
It’s when I apply for vacancies in which I match all the demands in the job description — but then I get a reply saying “while your qualifications are impressive, other candidates were a better fit”. How can I not be a good fit if I have everything you’ve asked? Just say it, man. Other candidates were a better fit because they have a Dutch name.
But the most absurd one was when an old lady asked me if I had ever seen a pancake. I felt like saying “no ma’am, it would never occur to us neanderthals to mix milk, eggs and flour”, but she asked it with such a genuine friendly smile that I wasn’t even offended. If anything, I felt sorry for her: how ignorant do you have to be to think the Dutch are the only ones who eat pancakes? So I just smiled back, nodded and moved on.
While it might seem like all the examples above have hurt me, the truth is that doesn’t bother me much — at least not anymore. After all, that’s a piece of cake compared to the prejudice that refugees or lower-educated immigrants face. But it’s there and it’s rather frequent.
None of those people are bad — except maybe for the recruiters dismissing a suitable candidate just because of his/her name. All others meant no harm and didn’t even realize they were stereotyping me.
We are all so much more than our nationality, language, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.
If you don’t want to be that person, whether it’s towards immigrants or any other group, just stop assuming stuff about people and start actively listening to them. See them as the complex, nuanced individuals that they are; not a caricature.
We are all so much more than our nationality, language, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. We’re the sum of all those things plus our own temperament, experiences and encounters. Each one of us is unique, so curb your urge to confine people into boxes — especially if you don’t know the first thing about said box.