One of the mistakes I notice in my own Western culture, that most other cultures don’t seem to have, is excessively permissive parenting. This is what destroyed the relationship between me and a former girlfriend. Her parents never seemed to get angry at her, if she did something wrong her parents would just feel sorry for her. Her mom wanted to be her best friend, rather than her mom. I could not go along with that, so I was the first person she encountered who got angry at her for what she did. Suffice to say she did not tolerate that.
I had this issue with a friend a few years younger than me recently too. He got caught drunk driving recently, so he lost his driver’s license and his girlfriend had to pick him up. He told his mom through a text message and showed it to me. His mom just told him how terrible she thinks it is this happened and that she feels sorry for his girlfriend who had to pick him up in the middle of the night. In contrast, I grew up with a mom who told me she would break both of my legs if she ever heard I stepped behind the driver’s wheel drunk. It fell on my shoulders to tell the guy he’s an idiot whose arrogance is going to blow up in his face one day. In contrast to my former girlfriend, he appreciated it, so I still regularly speak to him. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be my responsibility to play dad for friends.
My suspicion is that people who grow up with excessively permissive parents, a phenomenon that seems almost unique to the Western bourgeoisie, develop a tendency towards narcissism. To fit into the bourgeoisie you need to be arrogant, willing to promote yourself in job interviews, to clients and to potential spouses. For this reason Western bourgeois parents don’t mind turning their children into narcissists. The world starts to revolve around yourself and you never stop to think about the impact you have on others. Society is something that exists to serve you, you entirely lose track of the obligations you have towards society. This expresses itself differently in boys than girls. Girls want to be thought of as special, as hip, as trendy. Upper class young women in the 19th century US would wear new dresses every year, to distinguish themselves from the nouveau riche who were not kept informed about the latest trends among the old money families. This is how modern fashion started out. These young women become willing to make themselves appear as special, hip and virtuous, at the cost of other people.
What’s hip and trendy today? Social justice. How did the social justice movement come about? On the one hand exist minorities, who have grievances towards the majority. On the other hand exist white girls from upper-middle class families, who want to be fashionable. Some of these girls might genuinely lie awake at night about the plight of others, but for women, virtue determines their status. A woman wants to be thought of as innocent. Minorities understand this, so they are skeptical of the motives of young upper-middle class white women. Black Lives Matter activists often hold protests from which white girls are excluded, because they realize the motives of these girls are insincere: It’s not about black people and the discrimination they experience from the police, it’s about her and her virtue. I wholeheartedly support every effort by emancipation movements to exclude young upper middle-class white women who see these movements as an opportunity to be hip.
I bring this up, because of an experience I want to share. I walked through my city of birth today, a multicultural city with people from all corners of the world. The feast of Saint Nicholas will be held soon. Most European people have a tradition of a demonic helper, a devillish figure who accompanies the saint. Dutch people are stuck in the awkward position, that we decided in the 19th century that it would be a good idea to turn this demonic figure into a black man. Perhaps it happened as a consequence of an effort to fit the holiday into a culture that was fractured back then along religious lines, as Catholics who genuinely venerate saints were part of the underclass back then. Perhaps it happened because influenced by enlightenment thinking we considered the idea of dressing up like demons to be primitive. Suffice to say, this causes a lot of controversy these days. At this point, after numerous physical conflicts between proponents and opponents, you can say that it’s a national scar that’s starting to tear our country apart.
It’s probably self-evident outside of the country that this situation we have is unsustainable. Traditions are difficult to change however and the hostility against this tradition was interpreted as the latest symptom of political correctness gone too far by many indigenous Dutch, who felt their very ethnic identity was being undermined. The thing to understand however, is that it also became a traumatic experience for many. Black parents who let their children participate in the holiday began to question whether this is an annual ritual meant to humiliate black people. At this point, most people are just hoping for an end to the growing conflict, not so much because they favor one side or the other, but because it has turned into a painful annual experience and they would rather just get along with everyone. I too, would rather just get along with everyone. After numerous doses of large amounts of Psilocybe mushrooms and San Pedro cactuses, I have limited room left for hostility in my mind.
The surreal experience I had was as following. I saw a number of men dressed as Black Peter, the black-skinned helper of the saint, as well as the white horse of saint Nicholas. I also saw a young black woman with her children, who were playing with the horse and being entertained by the men in costume. Now, before those of you outside of this country insist that this woman must be crazy, think of the following: The children are inevitably exposed to this conflict. Parents want their children to be innocent and happy. I don’t want my children under any circumstance to grow up, under the impression that the people around them hold an annual celebration meant to insult them. Thus, for everyone it is best that the children are not confronted with the dark historical undertone. The children should realize that the men dressed up in costume want to entertain all the children, the children should spend their childhood not tainted by exposure to the traumatic collective awakening of a nation to its sordid history.
So far so good. But then on the other side of the street later on, I noticed a young white woman walking along, of typical bourgeois stock. Long and slender due to healthy nutrition, even complexion free of spots because of a carefree upbringing. In addition, she was wearing a bag proclaiming “zwarte piet is racisme”, or “black peter is racism”. Now, there are a few reasons this offends me. To start with, for her to do so means continually ripping open a wound in our collective psyche. I want to be able to go about my day without being reminded at random moments of a grand societal conflict around our heritage from an era when some were turned into second class citizens through birth.
Second, there is nothing young wealthy white girls can do to heal the collective trauma by proclaiming that the tradition is racist. To start with it means insulting everyone who ever sought to entertain you as a child, by proclaiming that they participated in a racist ceremony. In that sense it is an expression of ingratitude. Second, you’re reinforcing the impression in black people’s minds that the tradition is meant to dehumanize them. A wealthy young white woman who is genuinely so concerned about the welfare of others would be better off explaining to black people that her uncle, teacher or her neighbor who dresses up like a black man is really just a man who is not consciously aware of the insult it means to others, that he genuinely from the depth of his soul believes he is merely entertaining children. If you tell people “yes, my uncle, teacher, neighbor and parents are big mean racists, but I’m not like them, I’m innocent and enlightened” how do you expect a black parent to comfortably go about their day? How do you expect them to feel comfortable having their children raised by white teachers? What you are doing instead, is merely elevating yourself as morally superior at the cost of the society you live in.
Finally, what makes this an expression of narcissism, is the fact that a grand national trauma around our collective heritage is reduced to a slogan on a bag, a fashion item. This is not an opportunity for you, for me, or anyone else, to feel special, to demonstrate that we’re better people than others. This holiday isn’t meant for young nulliparous bourgeois white girls who spend their days getting a useless Mrs degree. It is ultimately only relevant for (grand)parents and children. For this reason, I try to stay out of this conflict and merely just patiently wait and hope that people come to their senses and figure out a way to move on together. What I certainly will not do, is fan the flames of a conflict that causes so much hurt.
My suggestion to young wealthy white girls is thus to please find another way to show the world how special and virtuous you are. Buy a handbag showing you only eat fair trade chocolate. Buy one that proclaims you drive an electric car, or that you donate your money to UNICEF. Wear a T-shirt that says although you are far too virtuous to ever take drugs yourself, you don’t accept throwing people in jail for it. It has the added advantage of letting me know you’re too boring to talk to. Tattoo onto your forehead that you promised your mom never to do anal. I think you get the point.