donderdag 4 december 2014

National Thinkshame

The phenomenon ‘thinkshame’, on which I give workshops, can not be explained simply. It often takes quite a bit of effort to get the phenomenon into the limelight, though I now know that stories of participants about their own experiences with it have the greatest enlightening effect.

But at this moment in my attempts at explanation I am societally down the wind, because thanks to the national Dutch Blackface discussion it is easier to recognize the phenomenon thinkshame, as well as the strength of its impact.

As a starting point for this piece I take the elusiveness of the discussion and the irritation it evokes with many people. By this I do not refer to the irritation of pro-Blackfacers and anti-Blackfacers about each other, but to the annoyance of many that such a discussion exists anyway. As Bas Blokker wrote: “In every conversation about Blackface there comes a time when someone says: ‘What a drag this is, let’s talk about something really important. I do not understand why we make such a fuss about it’”.

And it’s true, in such a case as the Blackface issue no major financial, economic or geopolitical interests are at stake. But yet as a consequence of the fuss people are arrested at the arrival of St. Nicholas, death threats fly back and forth, and the issue is being assessed by the Board for the Protection of Human Rights against the Equal Treatment Act.

If the issue is really that unimportant, Blokker wonders, why tempers run so high? At this point, the phenomenon thinkshame has a remarkable explanatory power. Because what happens if you let yourself get caught by other people’s grief and if you are embarrassed about the initial enthusiasm of yourself (for example, for that cozy, old-fashioned Blackface you know from your youth) – what happens then is not necessarily reasonable.

Anyway, that shame is not reasonable, because what’s wrong with the propagation of love for a popular custom? There máy be something wrong with this, so thinkshame tells us. Good intentions are not always decisive. You may have your good ideas and good intentions. But all that has no value anymore at the time that someone else is hurted by them, and you in one way or another are convinced of the authenticity of that injury. Than the other suddenly determines your playing field, even if it is – for your feelings – nothing about. There you experience a certain loss of autonomy. Yet it does not feel wrong, since there is réal contact.

But if then you start acting according to that shame, and you’re going to actively work for change of the custom in question, then the issue of the proportionality and reasonableness of your actions continues to arise. What you do then cannot always adequately be explained by the primary content of the issue. On the contrary, a sense of disproportion can keep accompany you.

Both issues – the strange shame and the subsequent action, which sometimes feels as exaggerated – can only be explained by the fact that you’re touched by the sorrow of someone else, precisely about something which you think is so nice. Any different reasonableness ricochets off at that. Blackface = black sorrow. That shock – that’s the essence of thinkshame.

For example, as writer Robert Vuijsje puts it in an interview. Vuijsje is known as an abolitionist, he wants to abolish Blackface and when he is asked the question: “Your wife is  black and your children are colored, when did you think: Blackface is not done any longer?”, He replies: “My eyes opened when a year ago I saw the Antillean Dutch artist Quinsy Gario being addressed on TV. I had never before seen my girlfriend – she has Creole parents – as truculent as on this subject. Not long afterwards I called the only black kid in my class at primary school. I even sat next to him. Whether he was called Blackface, those days, and whether he hated the St. Nicholasfestival. Yes, he said. I had never noticed. I realized then that it is not about how Í experience and have experienced it, but how black people experience it”.

In this way, the strange – however annoying – suddenly becomes clear enough.

Also see Summary of The Shame of Reason and Something small