“Ending Zwarte Piet is a good cause, but I think we have bigger issues in this country”

On the 25th of May 2020, a black man named George Floyd was killed in The United States by white police officers. What followed was a whirlwind of protests and global support for Black Lives Matter.

More than ever, people devoted themselves to showing how big the problem of racism is around the world. A lot of people in The Netherlands also partook in this movement.

One of them is April Geoffrey, an eighteen year old Dutch-Nigerian student and activist from Rotterdam. She started an Instagram page, named “saytheirnamesmarch” to generate support for the movement in The Netherlands. Furthermore, she gave speeches at the protests in Rotterdam and The Hague and gave several interviews concerning the topic.

The beginning

April has been a supporter of Black Lives Matter for a longer time. She says she first found out about it in 2014 when Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy, was killed by a white police officer because he carried a toy gun. However, she says that back then “it was more an American thing.” While she did see racism as a global issue, she was often ignored when she tried to bring it up. “I mean I was twelve in 2014. A twelve year old can’t do much.”

All of that changed in 2020 with the death of George Floyd. “I thought maybe this year I can actually do something.” Thus, she started a WhatsApp group with some of her friends, with the intention of organizing a protest. She says: “It went really fast. I think a couple of days later the group had reached its maximum amount of participants. Eventually, I thought that I wanted something long-term. Something that I could hold onto after the protest. So, we created the social media.”

The page quickly gained a lot of followers. Consequently, she and her team got quite some media attention. “It was very overwhelming. Mostly because it all happened so quickly one after the other.”

Racism in the Netherlands

There was plenty of media coverage and attention. This raises the question whether it actually brings about change. April thinks that some things have changed. However, “the changes are pretty small and I hope for some bigger changes. That is also what we need. Now I see that the focus in The Netherlands is mostly on ending Zwarte Piet, but personally I think that that is not the core of the problem.”

Zwarte Piet has been the center of discussion for quite some time. As we get closer to December, the discussion grows again. April would prefer it if Zwarte Piet vanished completely. She explains: “It is not just the skin color, but also the earrings and the clothes.”

Some Dutch people have a difficult time accepting the fact that Zwarte Piet is a racist caricature. Moreover, in The Netherlands, racism is usually painted as an American issue. April says that this is just wrong. “Racism started here in Europe, and it was brought to the US. The VOC brought slaves to America not the other way around.”

She says that the people who say these things cannot look past their privilege. She explains using an analogy: “It’s like being born without or with an arm. The person who has both arms cannot imagine what it is like being born with just one. The other way around is the same. The person with just one arm does know that there are certain privileges attached to having two arms.”

The future

Since the summer, the media attention on racism and Black Lives Matter has slowly died down. However, this does not mean that racism is no longer an issue. April says it won’t be eradicated soon. “Racism and discrimination have been around forever, and the system is really old. I think it might take centuries to break it down.” Thus, she will keep fighting for a world where everyone is treated equally.

April and her team have several plans to attract a bigger audience for their cause and keep the movement going. “We want to start making videos about the process of organizing the protest. We also want to start a blog maybe.”

The main goal, however, is to organize a march or protest — which, due to the pandemic, has now been moved to the 22nd of March.