‘This cause is greater than health concerns’

| Rense Kuipers

Following the massive Black Lives Matter protests in the United States after the death of George Floyd, there was also a protest in Amsterdam yesterday. Creative Technology student Lefika Otisitswe was among the thousands of protesters at De Dam and shares his story. ‘It was both powerful and empowering. We are tackling the problems we’ve been facing for a long time.’

Why did you feel the need to protest?

‘What happened in the United States is nothing new. This has been going on for more than thirty years, since slavery even. What’s important in this matter is the differentiation between discrimination and institutionalized racism. Not only in the United States, but also here in the Netherlands, there is a system in place that benefits certain people, while disadvantaging others.

What white people don’t realize is that by not acting out and being quiet, they are being complicit to an injust system. For us, it’s about equal rights. We’re not trying to take something away from other people. We are now tackling the problems we’ve been facing for a long time. For this to happen, it’s important for everyone to come together and make a stand, regardless of colour.’

Why protest here for something that happened in the United States?

‘The protest is not just about George Floyd. It’s about the system. And if you think of it, it’s not as far away as you think. Five years ago, there was a similar incident in The Hague, which led to the death of Mitch Henriquez. And what about traditions like Zwarte Piet? We say it’s racist for various reasons and extents, but because it’s a tradition, we’re met with resistance. And just look at the kind of hate that Sylvana Simons has to endure on a regular basis. The problems aren’t only in America, there are also enough problems right here under our noses. A lot of people are just blind to them – or they choose to be blind to them.’

How can someone who isn’t of colour understand the gravity of this?

‘You can’t feel what we feel. But you can try to understand what we’re going through. The first step is listening. Listen to the problems we have. The second step is to check your privilege, which starts with looking around and asking yourself questions. Even as a Dutch student at this university, just look around and see how many other Dutch people of colour are in your study programme. Sure, there are enough people in this country with a Moroccan or Indonesian background, but how many are your classmates? You may come to the conclusion that there is something wrong with the accessibility of higher education. The third step is coming together. Cooperation is key to start making a change.’

How did that feel yesterday?

‘I have two words for it: powerful and empowering. We had people from all colours coming together. As a person of colour, that feels so encouraging! There is a will to change and I felt it yesterday. I hope more protests will follow all throughout Europe.’

How do you feel about the health consequences, with thousands of people getting together while we’re still in the midst of the corona crisis?

‘We tried to stick to the health measures as well as possible, but at a certain point, it wasn’t possible to keep 1,5 meters distance. But most people wore face masks and gloves. We did our best to stay as healthy as possible. Still, I feel that this cause is greater than the health concerns. What we’re fighting for is a sacrifice worth taking.’