“Diversity is always there, even when you don’t see it. Everyone has an ideal and a story. All of those stories are important. You surrender your uniqueness because otherwise you will be judged for it. You adapt. The challenge is to stay yourself, to know I’m okay, my way is also allowed to be there.”
Aminata Cairo, ambassador cultural diversity for Diversity Day 2020.
Aminata: “In the Netherlands we have learned not to talk about racism, but we lack the safety to do so. That insecurity not only applies to people of color, but also to people who come from the countryside, have an accent, are introverted, and so on. Shut up and stop being so difficult’ is what we hear.”
Three years ago, Aminata started as a Lecturer in Inclusive Education at the Haagse Hogeschool. This made her the first lecturer of African descent in the Netherlands. Recently she resigned her position.
Everyone should be able to sit where they want to
Aminata looks back on her time at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a good feeling. “I came in with a very different vision and was given the confidence to start working on it. My vision is that everyone is affected by systems that promote inequality. Together we are part of that system: the dominant and the other. The other gets used to always having to sit at the back of the bus, so to speak. If he/she goes to sit at the front, the others call out: ‘Where are you going to sit, come back with us. The dominant person who sits in the front of the bus reasons: ‘You may be in the back, but be thankful that you are at least allowed to ride with us. Equality means that everyone can sit where they want. So if you want to work on creating a climate where everyone gets the best out of themselves, you have to address the system.”
“When inequality or discrimination is an issue, people here often point to foreign countries. You then hear ‘conditions like in America don’t happen here.’ The systematic denial and failure to recognize a lack of security makes it very difficult to talk about racism and inequality in the Netherlands.” That’s why Aminata started giving lectures throughout the country. By doing so, she wanted to lay a foundation for being able to talk about inequality without immediately getting caught up in the cramp. She consciously wanted to create a speaking field first. “This topic involves deep emotions. Only when you can really listen to each other are you able to hear where the system is not right.”
We’re in the system together
Making the organizational culture more inclusive – her assignment within The Hague University of Applied Sciences – had to go further than that, Aminata thought. “Diversity was sincerely supported with intention and passion, but that stroke to the system remained difficult. I concluded that I was not the right person to take people along in that. You see that more often in companies that strive for an inclusive culture: they focus on interventions, but addressing the system remains difficult.” She therefore chose to continue as an independent from now on. She wants to work with people who can and want to go into depth, even if it is on a small scale. She used to want to be a child psychologist, but saw: you can support the child, but you send it back to an unsafe family situation. Then it is better to work with that situation. Aminata: “By focusing on the system, you can really have an impact.”
You can be there
A great inspiration for Aminata to always be yourself is Patricia Hill-Collins, author of Black Feminist Thought, among others. Four of her maxims Aminata always carries with her:
- Knowledge doesn’t just come from books. Are you looking for knowledge: go to your grandmother. She may not have written books, but she sure has wisdom.
- Knowledge is exchanged by entering into dialogue. That means: you, too, always have value.
- You are allowed to have passion. You are allowed to be there.
- You are allowed to say whatever you want, as long as you can substantiate it.