Saturday, May 16, 2009
Dutch novel reinforces sexual stereotypes of black women
Photo Woman Inc
In the Netherlands an author started a row by publishing a book that is sexual stereotyping black women. The book ‘Alleen maar nette mensen’ (Only decent people) is the debut of Dutch Jewish author Robert Vuistjes.
On Wednesday May 13th theatre maker Anousha Nzume, writer Clark Accord en Professor Gender studies Gloria Wekker debated with author about his book at Woman inc.
In the book ‘Alleen maar nette mensen’ (Just fine people) main character David, who comes from a intellectual high class environment in Amsterdam, undertakes a quest to find the ‘real negro’ woman. In his search he meets various stereotype black women, who are each sexy, lusty, and can be picked up for a few euro's. David’s hunting ground is the Amsterdam Bijlmer, the part of Amsterdam where most black people live.
In a column Anousha Nzume wrote about some of the stereotype passages in the novel. "Main character David believes that there are two types of 'Black' women. The Sherida chain (Sherida was a popular Surinam name); very dark skinned, wears at least size 46. Cup size 95 F. Not taller then 1.65. At least one of her garments has tiger print. She dates any man. Breezer desirable but not essential. Available in the “negro women disco". Then there is the “bounty” (black from the outside, white from the inside), highly educated with dreadlocks. Dates only white men, in the absence of negroes of a certain level. She is boring, unsociable and mainly dressed in batik. You can find her at a slavery debate."
Under a literary flag Vuijsje sketches -intended or unintended - an archetypal image of (black) women, which some consider stereotype, stigma, caricature and even discriminatory. This book was previously awarded with the Belgian literature prize The Golden Owl with the comments of the jury; the style swings as an African tit. The book is not only praised by the literary authorities, but in many Talkshow praised for its "humorous" and "sharp" analysis of the black woman.
The opinions about the book are mixed. The black local city chairman of the Bijlmer, Elvira Sweet, finds the book a stigma for the neighborhood, and for black woman. Cultural anthropologist Irma Accord finds it racist and sexist. But Mildred Roethof documentary maker of Sex Sell’s finds the book funny. Lynn Spier, social therapist in a clinic for criminal offenders and the black girl friend of the author, doesn’t recognise herself in one of the characters.
But has the author of the controversial novel really stereotyped black women? Good literature is about calling up images without explicitly writing about it. I remember an author’s advice for author wanna-bees; if you bring in a black woman in your story, it will add something exotic and sensual! So Dutch author Vuistjes just followed boot camp guidelines for starters and used stereotypes that already exits in literature, or even worse, in society.
But there's one thing that bordered me. The image of the author's black girlfriend sitting next to him at the presentation of his book. It was the image of: look I am not racist nor a bigot, because I have black girlfriend. And that of course, doesn’t have to be true.
Update: I changed the English translation of the book into 'Only decent people', that's correct translation of the book 'Alleen maar nette mensen'. After seeing the video of the author on Black women in Europe I understood what he really meant. According to the author, this is said by people in the upper class neighbourhood Amsterdam Zuid. They mean that only decent people live there, and not so called "allochtonen" (blacks and other non-western ethnic minorities.
Anousha Nzume's translation of her opinion piece
Also see Trailer: Dutch film "Alleen maar nette mensen" - Ghetto versus civilised (+ English translation)