"I do see skin colour because the world sees mine."
Updated: Jan 23, 2021
Words by Yves Lacroix, photos by Massimo Marigo.
The mood at de Griend, where the Black Lives Matter protest is taking place in Maastricht, is good. About 1,400 protesters are peacefully sitting on the marks dotted out by the organisers to make sure the 1.5 metre measures are followed. The crowd stretches out so far that when the people in the front have stopped clapping, the people in the back have only just begun. The amplifiers aren’t good enough to carry the sound all the way to the back, but here and there some protesters have brought their own boomboxes to make sure everyone can still hear the speeches through the live stream. Only a relative few police officers seem to be present compared to the huge number of protesters and most of them seem to just be there to have a friendly conversation.
Demonstrations in Maastricht are notorious for their low turnouts, making today's protest a rare sight to see. One of the organisers and the first speaker of the demonstration is Magali Schleifenheimer (20). The #BlackLivesMatter protests happening all over the world are a very personal thing for her. She has to deal with racist remarks on an every-day-basis. Even just a few hours before the demonstration she could hear a group of young men laugh at her and drop the "n-word" while grocery shopping at a local supermarket.
"I was on the phone with my sister a while ago and I told her we would get through this. But after the phone call I completely broke down" she tells me before the protest starts. Those same emotions seem to rise to the surface again later. During her speech, she’s having a hard time holding back the tears while summing up the many unnecessary deaths in the United States. "I am tired" she says. She corrects herself. "We are tired!". Her speech is met with applause, whistles and fists in the air.
Magali Schleifenheimer – founder Black Lives Matter Maastricht
When I ask her what the goal is she says: "raising awareness". She points out that society doesn’t want to be racist. "We seem to think that for something to be racist, there has to be a racist intention. But that's not true. That's why raising awareness is so important" she says. "I just hope white people who were here today will go home and understand the pain and anger that many of us feel". Referring to the many non-coloured students and even elderly people that showed up today to just listen. "We can’t change society in two weeks, but it definitely needs to work for it".
"We seem to think that for something to be racist, there has to be a racist intention. But that's not true"
Jonathan Brandsma (22) has had similar problems. When he was asked to speak at the Black Lives Matter protest he was hesitant. "At first, I didn’t want to do it. I felt like I didn’t have anything to say about it. But within the hour I had completely switched around. I quickly realised I did have a story to tell and felt responsible to share it", he says.
His speech covers his reasons to be there today. He talks about being called an ape at a young age, about the difficulties of having a job and of the anger he felt realising his mother was experiencing the same. "My goal was to educate, but above all, to make it relatable".
Jonathan Brandsma, speaker at Black Lives Matter demonstration, de Griend, Maastricht
He acknowledges that the Netherlands is different from the United States. "Here people don’t get shot. But racism in itself is still a huge problem". The situations he describes in his speech are the perfect examples. When I ask him what he hopes the #BLM movement will achieve he thinks for a moment. "I just hope that we, as a society, start working on this problem. Right now, I wouldn’t want my future child to grow up in a society like this. I hope that these protests help in creating a world where future generations don’t run into the same problem that we are facing right now".
"Here people don’t get shot. But racism in itself is still a huge problem."
While showing support to the protesters in the United States and the rest of the world was the main goal, the organisers had some demands as well. First of which is a halt to the decriminalisation of police violence, referring to a new law in the making that makes it harder to prosecute Dutch police officers for using violence. Also, a formal investigation should be started regarding a recent racial profiling case in the park. Lastly, they demand that Maastricht University publicly speaks out against Zwarte Piet.
With a turnout this high Maastricht has shown that the city definitely has the right intentions. Whether the demands that were put forward today will be met is still yet to be seen.
Black Lives Matter demonstration, de Griend, Maastricht, the Netherlands
For the full album of our photo coverage of the event today, which we have donated to the organisers and attendees, head to our Flickr account.