The Black Pete Story

I think everyone who lives in the Netherlands knows what it is about with the Black Pete story or better said: discussion. Participant or not, that discussion will always be there a few months before Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is the celebration, the tradition, the annual folk festival, where you can find Black Pete. It’s celebrated in the Netherlands and Belgium.

There was a time when I didn’t see the racism in Black Pete. I grew up with him as almost everyone here in the Netherlands. To me he was just a funny guy who belongs to the Sinterklaas celebration. And when Sinterklaas was in the country, I got presents. What child doesn’t love presents? And honestly, I even once played Black Pete in high school. Now I’m a little bit ashamed of that, but I didn’t know better. Nothing or no one indicated that Black Pete has racist elements.

Now, years later, after my facial paint incident my knowledge has broadened. I’ve talked to many people. I read a lot about the history of slavery. I studied arguments from both sides and I thought about it a lot. To this day, I’m still fed with knowledge.

My opinion is that Black Pete has to be adjusted. Instead of a black painted face with red lips, frizzy hair and gold earrings give him black streaks from the chimney.

Unfortunately, that is just one tip of all racism in the world. I think one of the biggest problems of racism is that many cultures do not mix with each other and therefore know nothing about other cultures.

And ignorance gives fear and fear gives resistance and resistance indicates a lack of understanding and so on and so forth.

“More the knowledge lesser the ego. Lesser the knowledge more the ego.” – Albert Einstein

I think we can change that by expanding history lessons in schools and to combine that with teaching about different cultures. In 8th grade (in the Netherlands I was 12 years old) I did a lecture about Martin Luther King, but the racist elements in Black Pete I did not see. And why are so many people afraid of Islam? We simply know too little about Islam.

With knowledge can arise understanding, with understanding and compassion with compassion love.

“There is no wealth like knowledge, and no poverty like ignorance.”

 

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Otterfing

Recently I had something like a blind date in Munich. We had a really nice conversation and laughed so much. She asked me if I want to join to a garden party with friends of her. It was in Sauerlach, a small village nearby Munich. Cool idea, let`s go! As we arrived, there were a lot of observing eyes on me. Who is that guy? Of course, it was a private party in a private garden. It did not took long time for me to get their sympathy because of my Bavarian accent I normally use in villaged regions. Typical questions as usual from all talking partners. Especially the owner of that house we were asked questions like: “How come that you as Turkish guy speak Bavarian dialect?” “Because I was born and grown up in Furstenfeldbruck”. It`s at the west side of Munich. “So how come that you as Bavarian guy speak German?” Laughter. The other party people were done. But this guy seemed to be more interested. He asked me about my attitude to the political situation in Turkey, about Islam, Refugees and… ah, the usual things I`ve been asked as a Furstenfeldbrucker. I always answered in an ironic way. Obviously, he had a lot of assumptions. His friends were little ashamed about his questions and comments. Even my date looked at me like “sooorrryyy”. I continued conversation. He told me things like: “I`m not against foreigners or refugees, BUT…” Breathe, Ercan, breathe. “Yes, I can remember AfD or Pegida-Sympathiser argue like this” I said with a smile in my face. I asked him where he is from, Sauerlach? “No, from Otterfing.” An even smaller village nearby Sauerlach. Absolutely never been there. After a few beer and nice conversation I noticed that I become more and more sympathic to him. As I wanted to leave he told me please not to go: “You are the coolest Turkish guy I`ve ever seen!” He hugged me. “Thank you my friend. And you are the coolest guy from Otterfing I`ve ever seen…” Laughter. See you.

Strategy is up to situation. But here it was to turn back assumptions to the sender on a humorous sympathic way. Laughing opens doors.

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What makes me a change maker?

I have a lot of trust in people. I think that this is the most important thing. To be able to trust.

I ask myself where does trust come from? In my life, I did experience a lot of good things. Along that I always was sure to be able to change things to the good. So I do trust in our ability to change when things are going wrong.

Sometimes this faith though, is shattered by current events.

In the movies I do start to cry very often, and I do feel with the characters. The same thing happens to me with people. To feel good – I need people around me to feel good. So I do care a lot about them.

Sometimes though I‘m lost and do not perceive my surrounding. It costs me to listen quite often.

I did study social sciences with in a politically very engaged environment. Getting involved in political processes and protests was an important part of my life, ever since. I made great friends and acquaintances being a political activist.

Sometimes activism was more about getting to know beautiful girls than for the cause though.

So as time went by I did find a girl to stay with during a seminar about discrimination. I became a father of two children. Watching them grow made me even more wanting to be a change maker as their future and the future of so many other children is in danger. We have to stop climate change.

All this and some details more I guess make me a change maker.

 

Listening to silent voices

For me, the first step in being able to combat discrimination is to acknowledge that it exists and what are the impacts of discrimination. We live in a global information society, so for me with access to the internet, to personal experiences and an inheritance that comes from discrimination, it is impossible for me now to acknowledge either existence or consequences. I understand discrimination because of the labels I take or am given, however, I am also part of groups in society which benefit from privilege with which I have power and by which I can take control of my life. This puts me in a position where from my place of power I can work to combat discrimination.

Many of us start from a point where we encourage participation and for people to take part in community, local decision making, control of their health and wellbeing, but this can only be half the of the story. It is more important to communicate with those who have power and control to let people in.

My role at work is about being inclusive and giving people a voice. Without a voice, people are invisible and their voices are not heard, so discrimination can take place. People are excluded from taking part in their local communities. The way that I strive to combat discrimination in my area is to listen to people or groups who represent people who are discriminated against and to take this information and knowledge about how people would like to be involved out to my target audience, talking to people, raise awareness and influence and motivate others to be more inclusive in their work and give support around good practice strategies for being more inclusive. I also find that an important strategy is to talk to people what they are missing out on by not removing discriminatory practices.

Not everyone has the same levels of access to the benefits that society can offer. Some have less access to the internet, levels of literacy, second language, wealth, local knowledge, location etc. In this case what we need to have as many access points/types as possible for people to engage so that we can hear as many voices as possible and give everyone the opportunity to take part in what is on offer.

Education is the key word

Social change is such a huge word, full of different implications. It is so huge that in some way it makes me unsure. But yes, in a certain way I think I am a social change agent.

The social change I try to determine regards the acceptance that we live in a diverse society and that people have to learn to treat others equally and respect their rights.

The key to social change is for me the education. Get people educated, make them aware of what they need and of what the society in which they live needs. Education is somehow for me more important than politics. I know it sounds strange but it has probably something to do with the totalitarian system I grew up into, system I totally distrusted.

Being a social agent meant for me over the years offering counseling to people who do not know what their rights in Austria are or how to get to them.

Being a social agent means also being a teacher, talking to young students, listening to their opinions, discuss necessary changes in the society with them.

It also means delivering workshops for institutions, which do not work with a diverse group of clients, listen to their doubts and fears and try to understand them and find together solutions for their daily work.

It means of course listening to my family, friends, neighbours and co-workers, picking up their concern about the social system of Austria and thinking together of ways to make it better for all of us.

And if I need something for the future it is you, you all again with your worries but also with your proposals and solutions. We are in this together.

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From the ground to heaven

For me it means being a mean to an end. Sometimes you don’t know if a social change action is going to be successful but you just make the most of it. Trying to make this world a bit better just by your little existence and contribution. It’s like a good virus. Your contact is something that inspires other people even if they know it was your contact/ touch. You don’t need to be visible, just do your job in the shadow. Being an example we can inspire other people.

A social change agent can be anybody, either they know it or not. If that person is trained, the impact of his/her actions may be bigger and reach further. There is the importance of being humble and try to change ourselves before we try to help others’ change.

A social change agent needs to deal with his/her ego, and understand and believe that we all are one, but with differences. He/she needs to change him/herself by introspection, learn from others, listen carefully, be openhearted, empowered, social skilled to ensure the approach, be aware of him/herself and the surroundings. But most of all, the most important thing for me is the belief that has to be behind every movement he/she makes: change is always possible and believe it until the very last moment. There must be this deep faith in human being.

There is a quote I heard a few months ago which matches a lot with me: “Que tu vida sirva para mejorar la de otros”. It means: “make your life a tool to make other people’s lives better”. My interpretation of that quote is that you can use your existence to make others better, even just by a little seed you plant today. That seed can be your example in a certain moment, a word, a training, or your whole professional career.

 

What is to be a change agent?

For me, being a change agent is an intrinsic adjective of human being…

We as people sharing the same world, the same planet, we have the responsibility of taking care of each other, to empower those who might need a small pull to be able to go on in life…

At the same time, I believe that, as humans, we have the “moral” responsibility to change what needs to be changed because it is unfair, unjust, hurting, etc…

When I was young, I heard my mom saying to someone: “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]

A change agent work, in a first stage, on the individual level… In our surroundings, there are a lot of empowering opportunities. We act within our family, with our parents, with our children, with our friends, at school and at workplace…

Everybody can be a change agent and raise awareness amongst his own community… This way, this empowered community will become more and more aware and strong enough to keep on empowering and spreading the knowledge in other groups…

We must not forget about the massive power that everyone has in his hand. We can all make the change we want to see!!!

 

Social change agent in the professional/political life

The talk in the forests with one partner of the group made me reflect on what it means to be a social agent. From my experience of volunteering with homeless people, I have always thought of a social agent as a person who offers services to disadvantaged groups. In this way, some of the job back home was to impose homeless people certain kind of rules before they receive help. These rules could be: city refuges’ timetables, quitting substances or leaving their puppets in order to get a bed in the refuges. This was a problem for a lot of them who decided not to try get in the refuges or access the social services.

Maybe the matter is not to point out at our demands in order to get them services but listen to what they need. For instance, there was a social program in the Netherlands to attend drug users. Instead of asking people for quitting drugs and then attend their homeless situation, they provided them methadone in the pharmacies –regulated doses– and after that the social workers started to work with them from a different angle.

That is what made me ask if my frustration with homeless people sometimes came from my identity of a white young male. I consider myself as a social agent and this point – change the angle – is what made me create the sculpture this afternoon in the park. I designed a ‘social change agent’ human sculpture of a person giving a hand to the other, and stretching it. The sculpture symbolized that the social change or transformation not only transforms the life of the user but also the life of the people who give the service. Also my sculpture was with bended knees symbolizing the thing that the person has to be flexible.

To sum up, my social change agent has to attend the social service user’s needs; listen to them; and try not to impose them what is supposed to be the healthy life style. For that, we need flexibility, patience and hope.

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BALANCING CHANGE

Six years ago, in the last months of school I became ill. The plan was to start my own company after school. But because I got diagnosed with a chronic illness, that plan disappeared in thin air.

Despite that diagnosis, I still tried to work for myself, because that ambition was and is still very strong. Only at the beginning of this new phase of my life, my health became my number one priority.

In those years it was very important for me to find balance between my mind and body. My worst symptom is fatigue and at first it felt like my body suddenly didn’t do what I wanted. That did mentally a lot with me. I became insecure about my future and myself.

“The key to keeping balance is knowing when you’ve lost it.”

Years later I have that balance under control. I will never have the entire control over it, because my chronic illness is to unpredictable for that. But it feels so much better than in the beginning.

With finding that balance, I’ve learned to plan and listen to my body. In my private life it’s good now, but in the spheres of work it’s still not where I want to be. I have too many ideas and basically I just want too much. Being creative and ambitious with a chronic illness is not a good combination. For now I do what I can and step by step I learn more and more how to keep balance between my ambition and my chronic illness.

How is my balance a change agent story? Because of my illness I basically was forced to search for that balance. But ultimately everyone needs balance. Balance between work and fun or rest and bustle. When I see that someone can use balance, I try to help that person with statements that always help me. “Be kind for yourself.” “One thing at the time.” “Tomorrow’s another day.” “You’re good as you are.” “Stay Positive.” For me it is now a reminder, but for others maybe something they have never thought about.

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