Black Pete in the Netherlands

What the F is going on?

I have been dreading this moment ever since we moved to the Netherlands earlier this year: The 6th of December, Saint Nicholas Day.  Putting it simply, Saint Nicholas Day in the Netherlands is the equivalent of Christmas.  On the eve of Saint Nicholas Day children receive presents.  So yes, this is a big deal for kids. They are looking forward to it every year. And although this is not part of our tradition to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, everybody is talking about it and you can see signs of the celebration everywhere in town.

Now you are probably wondering, why are you such a grinch Claude. Christmas and its equivalent cannot be bad. This is underestimating the power of racists. Why? Picture this:  Saint Nicholas (Father Christmas) is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and colourful Moorish dresses commonly known as Black Pete.  Yeah, Black faces are either considered racist around the world. But not in the Netherlands. 

A court ruling was issued today, 16th of November: TV broadcasters will not be stopped from showing the character’s “racist characteristics” on TV.  One broadcaster even justified airing images of Black Pete because “some Petes go down the chimney a lot, therefore they turn properly black.” Look once again at the cover photo. How many times do you have to go up and down a chimney for your skin to be so black, for your hair to curl, and your lips to triple in size and get bright red?  This is beyond stupid, yet a lot of Dutch people see nothing wrong with Black Piet.  Let’s say that the chimney can curl your hair, mask your whole face with the blackest soot and inflate your lips… let’s say that this is even remotely possible… Why do you have to be so realistic with a fictional character that can be at the same time everywhere in the Netherlands and give presents or kidnap naughty kids – for real this is part of the story.  Santa Claus goes up and down chimney with a huge belly and is sparkly clean, and that does not bother any kids in the world!

This is so messed up that even the United Nations have decided to speak out: The UN has called on the Netherlands to change a character that it said had been “experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery.”

So what to do? We initially planned to leave the country and avoid seeing any Black Petes, but this craziness lasts a long time. It started on the 14th of November and will go until at least the 6th of December.  First, we had hope. Especially when my son’s school announced that there will be no Black Petes, only soot Pete

Soot Pete example

If you tell me that this guy went down the chimney, I’ll trust you. His hair is messy but not curly, and his face just has soot. I would still ask how come his white neck fan is so clean… but you know…

But, it would be too easy if everyone had half a brain.  There are still Black Petes dolls in a few stores in town. My wife saw them first on her way to the library. Let me present evidence 1

Black Petes in our city

What did she decide to do? She went in and talked to the shop owner and asked “what can your customers do for you to remove Black Petes from the window”.  This sentence and approach in itself is a good case to review for negotiations:

  • Be the change you want to see: Don’t complain about it, do something against it.  It only takes a few seconds. And like in all negotiations, if you do not ask, you will never get.
  • Say the unexpected: The owners probably expected her to complain, be mad about it and repeat what they have heard already 100 times.  Instead, catch them by surprise. Make them feel awkward.
  • Be solution focused: Double whammy. Not only you surprised them, now they are really confused when you are only focusing on potential solutions (next year we are planning to carry appropriate soot Pete dolls to give away to shop owners – yes, leaving them no excuses)

The great surprise my wife got? on her way back from the library, one of the 3 stores she stopped at removed the dolls. This gives me hope, even though the best school in town, which is right at the end of our street allegedly had a primary school teacher say “we are not only white on the outside, but also on the inside” in reference to the school having only white pupils. But that is for a different blogpost.

Comment below what you think should be done about Black Pete.

Why I continue to write this blog…

It has to do with Charlamagne Tha God

Charlamagne Tha God  he is a successful radio presenter. He has the #1 hip-hop radio show on the planet, the “Breakfast Club”. He is also the author of 2 best sellers: Black Privileges and Shook One.  I read both books in no time! They both are probably the most influential self-development books I have read. Up there with the books from the great Tony Robbins.  Scrap that, better than Tony in my eyes. Why? Because I can more easily relate to Charlamagne. Because he is Black, true, but also because we both seem to have experienced similar experiences. Well, you know… kinda… because he is a multi-millionaire and I am nowhere close.  The other thing is that he keeps it 100.  He talks about something that people do not talk much about in the Black community: Anxiety and how therapy helps.

If you grew up in a Black environment, you probably heard things like: “Why would I go to a shrink, I am not crazy” “Praise God and everything will be fine” “shrinks are only there to steal your money”.  Ask yourself, do you know a Black person who has seen a therapist (or talked about it)?  I did not until Charlamagne.  His stories were so vivid, that I decided to look into options to take care of my mind, the same way I take care of my body.

I train hard at the gym. 3 to 4 times a week. Not 3 reps of bench pressing and spending the rest of the hour chatting to my friends.  A good training is when I feel on the edge of passing out. I have a trainer, I am surrounded by people who are just as motivated and hold me accountable. This is how I give my best.

Now compare this, to what I do for my mental health. True I meditate. At best 3 times a week for 15 min.  True, I belong to a Mastermind group where we talk about deep topics every month. True, I have the most supportive spouse who helps me to express myself and supports me. True, I have wonderful friends I can talk to.  Yet, if I compare it to my ultra-strict training and eating habits, I am nowhere close.

Why does it matter and how does it relates to negotiation. By now, you understand that this blog is more than simple bargaining.  This is about how can you be your best self, have a clear mind and make the right moves every day!  So here is how therapy can help:

  1. We all suffer in some ways from PTSD. If you are like me, you probably thought that PTSD was for war veterans.  No it is not.  Many things can cause trauma.  Like seeing people beaten up real bad for no apparent reasons, or people shot with a bb gun again for no reason, or a gang setting fire to a bus so that the rival gang is stuck and beaten up.  These are things I have seen. And I thought it was no big deal. In hindsight, the way I scan rooms I enter, the extra awareness I have in many situations to this day probably come from these experiences.
  2. Talking to a therapist sounds healthy.  Better to prevent a problem than to cure it.  If everything is great today, excellent.  Still, you probably have some crap from the past that you never dealt with. That you compartmentalized somewhere. Again, around me, people who could just move on where considered tough. I am now convinced that tough people pay the price sooner or later.  And what does it mean anyway to be tough? To be heartless like some of the old school heroes in movies? Rather, I believe in what Charlamagne quoted “to share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable, to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength”.

I am looking for a therapist now. Preferably through an app and that would not cost a crazy amount.  Ideally, I would like to match what I spend on my body on my mind. Not that easy… It seems we are a long way to have a therapist at each street corner, like we do for gyms.  Still, I will try and invest in myself, my whole self. You should too.

 

I loved childhood neighborhood, but I do not want it for my kids

What’s wrong with me?

I grew up in the French “banlieue”. Actually, up to age 5, I lived where the famous movie from Mathieu Kassovitz, “Hate” was filmed. The movie is about 3 friends in their early twenties from immigrant families living in an impoverished multi-ethnic French housing project (a ZUP – zone d’urbanisation prioritaire) in the suburbs of Paris.  Yes, not exactly postcard scenery.  After that, we moved to a “nice” neighborhood. It was 2 min drive away.  It was a huge upgrade, still as a teenager, not many people wanted to visit…

I truly loved my childhood neighborhood. Even in hindsight. I would not change a thing.  I grew up with great friends that are still my best friends 30+ years later.  We played sports all the time, we had each other’s backs in all kind of situations.  We created fun out of nothing.  The parking lot, a car’s sound system, a good playlist some rum and there you have it the best bar in the neighborhood.  A ping pong table in the parking lot, and you have the county championship.  Some chalk to draw the court, 2 tennis racquets, a ball and you have the neighborhood’s French Open.  There was never a dull day.

Now I am building the future of my 2 kids.  It would be logical for me to reproduce my childhood environment.  After all, I really enjoyed it.  So why am I building the exact opposite environment for my kids?  Nobody will be playing loud music on the parking lot or do anything else for that matter on the parking lot. While the parking lot was the place to be when I grew up, There are no parking lots close to our new place.  Kids probably go for rides on someone’s boats or ride their horses.

Now let’s think about what my younger self would say about the lifestyle I am planning for my kids… yeah, it would not be pretty.  So why do I want that lifestyle for my kids?  Moreover, I think that some form of hardship growing up is a real plus.  By 18, I developed a Spiderman-like feel for danger.  I was super aware of my surrounding. Can I see the hands of all the people who just entered the parking lot?  What’s their body language telling me?  I could also remain calm in any situation and see actions in slow motion.  School bus on fire when it is time to go home, no stress, just adrenaline.  Spot the lookouts, understand who they are after and get away from them.  Oh, and drag my friends, who grew up like I want to raise my children because they are walking in the wrong direction.

So, once again, why do I want to keep them away from these lifelong learnings?  I do not know. This is the honest answer.  Maybe it is because the risk is too high. While I turned out good, several of my friends did not.  Maybe because it is normal for parents to offer the best opportunities to their children.  And while my mom offered me the best she could, I want to build on that and do the same for my children.

The short answer is that I do not know.  And I wonder if it matters to know why. The real question is: How to give my children a well-rounded childhood?  Probably encourage them to make the most of the privileges they enjoy.  Push them to aim higher and build wealth for themselves and the community.  All that while finding ways to lift up people from the banlieues, because their dad came from there and if nobody had helped me to come up their lives would be very different.

Photo by Raoul Droog on Unsplash

Why minorities should strive to be wealthy?

If Blacks were the wealthiest community in the US, do you think we would be shot by the police?

Obviously, nobody is trying to be poor.  But the reality is that white men account for the majority of the wealth. Only 3 out of 536 billionaires in the USA are Black.  And only 8% of the millionaires are Black.
There are loads of systematic reasons why minorities are poorer and it will take some time for that to change.  However, regardless of how tough the situation is, there are always some actions that can be taken.  Not saying it is easy, but it is worth trying, if not for you, for your children.
Where to start? let’s begin with a comment I have been hearing for the past 10 years: “I do not want to be the wealthiest of the cemetery”.  This is a French saying translated into English. So let me unpack it for you.  It means that when you die, you are not taking your wealth with you, so you should spend it all while you are alive.  For a long time, I agreed with that principle.  The result? I would make it rain in the club, and enjoy everything money can buy.  Now I am thinking about it differently.  I want to be wealthy (not rich), and I want other Black people to be as well.
Why?  It is not because I am greedy or anything of the sort.  It is because I believe that our community needs a lot more wealthy members to positively influence the lives of the entire community at the local, state and federal level.  I am not talking about a Beyonce or a Jesse Jackson that are figures people will loop up to.  I am talking about your uncle being wealthy, I am talking about your childhood friend being wealthy.  I am talking about people who know the community, are still connected through the community building their wealth and spreading it.  They are the people who would influence the community daily life. And when I say life, I literally mean life.  Let me put it in perspective to truly understand what is at stake.  If Blacks were the wealthiest community in the US, do you think we would be shot by the police?  My guess is that it would have stopped real fast. Or actually, it would not have even started in the first place.

So yes, I am stacking my money now. I am encouraging others to as well. I am trying to build businesses with friends. I am investing in real estate in a nice neighborhood, where I expect my investment to grow.  I am not driving a fancy car, actually, I am riding a bike. And it is not because I have changed, It is not because I forgot where I came from. It is because I want to play my part in lifting up the community. I believe, like Tony Montana, “first you get the money, then you get the power”.

Photo by Javier Reyes on Unsplash

I SHOULD NOT BE HERE…

But here is why I am

I should not be here. It is not me saying it, it is the statistics:

  • Single Black mom, hospital nurse working night shifts

I should not be here. It is not me saying it, it is the French education system:

  • The career advisor was pushing me towards a vocational degree with “unclear” prospects, at best

I should not be here. It is not me saying it.

  • It is my neighbourhood friend: “Why are you reading this magazine for managers, you can’t become one”
  • It is my family: “You should prioritize job stability, the private sector is too rough”

PEOPLE WHO HAD GREAT INTENTIONS FOR ME. PEOPLE WHO WOULD FIGHT FOR ME DID NOT THINK I SHOULD BE WHERE I AM TODAY.

This is what I heard growing up. And it may be easy to dismiss this in hindsight but when you hear it every day, you see it every day, it gets in your head.

So why am I here? I could not have made it alone. Among the 1000’s of people who expected me to fail, I was lucky to meet a handful of people to guide me in France. Most of them looked like me, but not all. They encouraged me to aim higher, they showed me paths I did not even know existed.

Fast forward 10 years later and I experience a whole new level of support in the US. Instead of a handful of people, I meet 100’s of people like me through Black networks and we all support each other. I realize how much can be done together. And it all started with an idea. “Let’s have a Gala” said the President of the Black Ivy Alumni League.  What I saw next was a pure surprise.  People raising their hands, saying they have a mailing list with thousands, another one saying that they have access to several VIP as they work in PR, other having access to liquor sponsors, and so on. Suddenly we went from an idea to a plan with clear steps to make it real.  This is how many members got inspired by the GM of the Knicks doing a keynote, and many more.

Some parts may seem superficial… but when you heard for the majority of your life that you should not expect to amount to much, and suddenly you see this wave of successful people, who look like you, you get inspired. And I am convinced that inspiration is the key to achieving purpose in life.

PRIVILEGES

The good, the bad and the ugly

I’ve been thinking more about privileges since I got my first child, 4 years ago.  It has been a real journey:

  • THE GOOD: I want my kids to benefit from what I have worked so hard to build.  This is giving him a head start.
  • THE BAD: My kids having a head start means some others will be at a disadvantage compared to them.
  • THE UGLY: I am quick to argue that some people with privileges should let them go, while I am working hard to create privileges for my family.  It feels like I do not walk the talk. Not a nice feeling for something who strive to be authentic, 100%.

Let’s rewind this.  First the definition of privilege.  The best way is this video that went viral: 

It is all about the head start you get based on your life situation.  On top, consider this comment that someone wrote on the video.  That is the sharp point for me:

Okay now do the race with blindfolds! Let’s tell all the black kids that there are obstacles in front of them, at every step of the race encourage them to go slow or that it is too hard and dangerous to proceed. Now tell all the white kids that the way is clear and you can go as fast as you like, encourage them the whole way and tell them to run as fast as they can and reach their full potential.” 

Other people having some form of a head start is part of life – unfortunately – and it won’t go away.  What should not be a fact of life, is the people starting already behind being held back by school counsellors telling them to aim low, or by the world showing them that it is not worth trying.

This is how I am planning to avoid the ugly part of my kids having privileges.  Through this blog, and organizations I am involved in, I want to have a positive impact on my community. I want to encourage everybody to reach their full potential. I want to show that does not matter how many 1000’s of people are expecting you to fail, it only takes a handful for you to be successful.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

What is the first thing people would ask if you tell them you got a better job?

Check out what my auntie told me

Now I am back in Europe I see my family more.  During my first trip back home, about 10 family members visited. Among them, was my closest aunt.  I am very close to her in many ways. We lived together for probably 10 years, she looked after me and we are also connected in the sense that we are the 2 most educated people in the family.  This is an important point in this story. We both were lucky to have the opportunity to study.  When I met her face to face, I was thrilled to tell her about my new job! It was opening a world of new opportunities to me.  But to my surprise, when I told her “my new job is much better than my previous one” her response was “Is it more relaxed?”. I was stunned.  It took me a sec to process.

My worldview is “better” = learning+new opportunities. It seemed that in her mind “better” = work less+less stress.  I can explain why. She is actually working a lot, she is stressed and probably making more money than her humble religious lifestyle requires.  She is also closer to retirement age.  All that combined, I can understand her worldview.  The part that bothered me was the impact it can have on people around and in the community.  I have a basic issue with “something” being enough. In my mind there is only one way, and it is up.  Not because I am greedy or because I want to be the richest person in the cemetery.  Rather because this is what I believe it takes for my kids and their kids to be well-off.  I also believe it contributes to giving Blacks a voice. Let me put it simply. If Blacks, as a whole, was the wealthiest community in the US, the killing of Blacks would stop, or would not even have started in the first place.  Maybe it is pure utopia to imagine that Blacks could go from the poorest to the wealthiest community.  Maybe it will take 500 years for it to happen.  Still, it is 10x more energizing to me than thinking of spending 5 stacks on bottle service in Miami every week…

I got carried away here.  My main message is we should all aspire to build wealth.  Using a Chris Rock quote to explain the difference between being rich and wealthy: “Shaquille O’Neal is rich, the guy who is writing Shaq’s paycheck (when he was still playing basketball) is wealthy.

Having the mindset of building wealth, even without being wealthy, is a major step to building the community’s influence and levelling the playing field.  So when you see someone excited about his/her life prospects, encourage them, even if you do not understand it.  You need to fuel the wealth mindset.  Even if that person that person does not become wealthy, that person will be fulfilled and may fuel the mindset of someone else.