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)

14 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. I will also mention this on my blog on the 25th and link back to this post.

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  2. hi! i found this post through black women in europe. i've written about the issues surrounding the book as well, quoting you quoting nzuma, because my dutch isn't good enough to translate myself. i've linked back here and given you full credit. hope it's okay!

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  3. This is quite disheartening for black women world over, and The Netherlands in particular. I'd imagine that, given that the author has a black girlfriend (presumably a "bounty" or maybe not, as then she'd have to be boring) this makes him some kind of expert on black women (because black people are never experts on there own culture and society). And with the book's glowing reviews and critical acclaim, what's the betting that it won't be adapted into a film...?

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  4. ieishah

    Of course it's okay!

    You can also translate the book title to "Only fine people" or “Only neat people”. According to author, this is said by people in the upper class neighbourhood Amsterdam Zuid. It means that is only fine people live there, and no so called "allochtonen" (blacks and other non-western ethnic minorities). In the Bijlmer - of course - there are no fine people. I saw on the video on black woman in Europe.

    Unfortunately the book is a big hit in The Netherlands, some see as a realistic view of the multicultural society.

    I've read your interesting post about the subject!

    mswoo,

    You’re right, the fact that has black woman doesn’t make him an expert, but I think he got the expertise from his black woman.

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  5. I'm a black woman from England. I have to say, this book says much more about its author and those that have praised it, than the stereotypes that feature in its story. I think the big revelation here is not the rediculous profiling of the various black women, but simply how little those who hail it as a realistic reflection of multicultural society, have evolved. The book's stereotypes show a primitive understanding on the author's part. There is a reluctance at times to use the words 'primitive' and 'Europe' in the same sentence, but on my infrequent visits to Holland, i can honestly say that the only description for some of the brutal osbscenities that have been shouted at me as i go about ordinary every day life, can only be described as primitive. Feel sorry for the author - he will never have access to the multitude of black women that might dispel his backward ideas - and those women that he has used as muses to support his vision, should continue to keep his company - they deserve each other. In the mean time, the rest of us black women go unscathed from the insulting ideas this book promotes, knowing quite clearly, that we do not fit into any profile that comes from a rigid unenlightened mind and certainly one that lacks the ability to understand any level of complexity. His writing sounds very lazy to me - though i must admit, i will never know, since my preference is for properly researched fiction and literature.

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  6. Hi,

    Anousha Nzume here. Very interesting to read all of your comments. The situation in the Netherlands is really a weird and specific one when it comes to race. 'We' (foreigners) have to be able to take 'a joke' and if we don't like the 'joke' we are perceived as 'politically correct'
    I will try to translate my article and post it.
    Thank you for your concern and understanding.
    Greetings from the Nehtherlands,
    Anousha

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  7. For anyone who is interested,
    I have tried to translate my article that was published in the Volkskrant. You can read it on my blogspot:

    http://anoushanzume.blogspot.com/2009/05/novel-robert-vuijsje-elicits-colonial.html

    Greetings from Holland,
    Anousha Nzume

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  8. Thanks for posting the translation

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  9. I am also a black woman from the Caribbean. After reading the book and also the commentaries, i decided to posst my views.

    Unlike the majority who have read and commented negatively, I have to say that during the casual reading of the book, I found that there were more truth to what the author was saying or portraying than the negative comments which are being written.

    There are a few things, i do agree with the masses, but the majority of the points and generalizations made in the book were 'spot-on'! I consider myself well educated, well bred and above all very independent - BUT the generalizations used in the book were over-board; however, I could relate to most of them, if not all. The reason being is that reality is a sad but true one! In my opinion, the categories/classes of women, sadly to say, has been lessened or diminished over the years due to the 'materialistic factor'! Most women today want it all, and would do what ever it takes to have it all, to say the least!

    I am aware that blacks are the minority, which is also a sad reality but within that minority, there is a majority who create a negative image for black women in general. From the viewpoint of a this author and also myself, the generalizations is only that....generalisations, but in my opinion, they are not 'far off', if not 'spot-on'!

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    Replies
    1. I'm black and from Africa. I watched the movie recentaly and couldn't agree more with you. I haven't read the book but the reality in the film, was sucking. What can i say...i did love it.

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  10. I love to read the opinions of others, I have been living in the Netherlands for 20 years and am originally from the United States. During my first year I never understood why older Dutch people always said to me in the summer, that I must love the hot and humid weather. I thought to myself, how do they know that I am from the southern part of the united states. Later I realized that they assumed immediately because of my brown skin and african features that I was from Suriname. This was quite amusing for a while because when I became better in Dutch I was able to say, well actually I am American, I was astonished at how interesting I became to them. Black that's ok, but from America they suddenly had a different view of me as a person. Incredible because I got that reaction for a long time. Someone even once said to me that I had a nice butt, and it was not like Suriname butts. Sounds biased to me. Funny how even though Surinames and African Americans are in the long run related, Dutch people saw be differently or was willing to accept me as a black American in another way. I don't get it. I am also from african descent just like Surinames, and I know that Suriame is quite a melting pot, just like America. I am also not like one of the two women in the book. Totally different and dam proud to be BLACK....well read,well travelled, music lover, socially adapted, and a good mother...and not at all an OREO...

    peace to all

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  11. You got that right. Western BS!! And I thought things were a little bit better in the UK.***SMH*** I'm American. And none of this s__t would be tolerated over here.

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