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Preet´s thread

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

Text: Manpreet Brar

Image: Rozan Snoek

The warmth of the autumn sun is touching my skin while I unlock my bike. There’s no rush, so I can enjoy the gift of my favorite season. I am in a good mood today. I arrive at a meeting about chronic pain. A big man, with friendly eyes and glasses on the tip of his nose, a doctor, turns to me with a smile and says, ‘You study cultural anthropology, right?’ Ah yes, let’s discuss knowledge. ‘Yes, to me it really is. Especially the part about intersubjectivity. For example, if I conduct research, the knowledge and narratives being produced, and my interpretations of them, will be influenced by my background: being a brown woman in the Netherlands with a Punjabi background.’ The doctor looks at me and says: ‘Yeah but ehh, you say “brown woman”’, he points to the woman next to him ‘but she may be white and I may be white, but if you cut us open: we are all red on the inside.’ Oh no, why did you have to say that? Okay. Doesn’t matter, I am in a good mood. He looks at me and continues, ‘Do you know the slang “bounty”?’ I was born and raised in a white majority society; of course, doctor, I do ‘Yes but...’, before I can finish my sentence, he interrupts me by explaining that it means you can be brown on the outside but white on the inside. He continues, ‘It can also be the other way around because I am white…’. Oh no, my good mood is disappearing. But I am an anthropologist and I want to learn how to talk about these things. Try. Listen. He goes on, ‘I am white, but I like peanut soup and spicy food, so …’ NO. I should not act angry otherwise I’ll -once again- be that angry brown woman. I interrupt him and say: ‘Ah yeah, I understand what you are saying. I know some examples where people feel connected to certain cultural elements, for example food or music, that are associated with blackness’. So now I am just skipping over the part that this person essentialised brownness to peanut soup, and I am now essentializing cultural elements being loved by all black people. But I need to say something. ‘The only problematic thing with that is, in my opinion, that every skin colour and cultural background comes with historical baggage, right?’ He looks at me with his eyebrows raised. ‘People that are white from the outside but identify as black are being criticized, and rightly so in my opinion, because they did not suffer the same amount of oppression as the people with the skin tone they identify with.’ His eyebrows are still raised, but I am not sure if he completely disagrees. What again am I doing this for? Our discussion is cut short and the meeting continues. After the meeting, I ride away on my bike trying to puzzle why I engaged in this moodsucking conversation. I think the doctor was trying to connect with me by saying we are all red; reassuring me that I am part of his group. My anthropological background enables me to talk about how his view had racist assumptions without arriving at an ‘are you calling me a racist?’ debate. So, if not for the sake of educating people, it is for the past 'me' that could not. And all those others that feel the same. Around me I see the leaves blowing away on the autumn wind, brown, yellow and possibly red inside, and I smile. I'm still in a good mood today.

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