When a white privileged man does self-reflection, we’re going in the right direction

Dutch anthropologist, writer and journalist Joris Luyendijk publishes his new book soon and in the run-up to the publication, he appears in two Dutch national newspapers this weekend. The title of his book is “The seven checkmarks” which refers to seven characteristics he holds that make him a privileged human being. First of all, he is male (1), white (2) and heterosexual (3). Secondly, he went through pre-university education (4) and he obtained a university degree (5). Thirdly, at least one of his parents is highly educated, earns good money or is successful on a social or cultural level (6). And lastly, at least one of his parents is born in The Netherlands (7). 

Not fitting in

It took Luyendijk two and a half years to finish the book and in the interview for Volkskrant Magazine he explains how his experience of working at The Guardian for two years made him write it. As a blogger for the British newspaper, he interviewed bankers in the City of London which led to his book ‘Swimming with sharks: my journey into the world of the bankers’. He applied his own journalism method of taking his audience on a path of discovery to learn more about the banking world after the financial crisis of 2008. Eventually, The Guardian didn’t even review his book, although the anthropologist isn’t sure if there is a reason behind that decision. What’s clear though is that he didn’t fit in with the editors of the newspaper. He felt unhappy and insecure during his years in London. It was the first time in his life that he was down on his luck. Until that point, his career had been going smoothly. 

the foreign correspondent

Luyendijk is well known in The Netherlands and especially in journalism. I remember reading his book “People Like Us: misrepresenting the Middle East” which had a huge influence on me because of the accurate description of what the work of a foreign correspondent looks like and the enormous power of the Israeli government communication department on the conflict with the Palestinians. A few years ago I attended an evening in a theatre where Joris Luyendijk talked about the topic of his new book. It was fascinating because the auditorium was packed with privileged white people, including myself. But he attracted full house on a Monday evening in a medium-sized city which in itself was a prelude to success. 

an initial impetus

In the essay he wrote for NRC this weekend Luyendijk is open about the fact that he is one of the privileged white men ruling the world. And at the same time, it’s a nuance to the familiar ‘all white people’ statement that’s been repeated so often in the inclusion debate. What the journalist is saying isn’t new though, let that be clear. He stands on the shoulders of giants, of antiracism activists and intellectuals who have been saying these same things for ages. But unfortunately, and that’s something Luyendijk reflects on, things become a real truth when a white man is saying it. I’m curious about his next steps because Luyendijk states that his seven checkmarks “aren’t a theory, it’s an initial impetus”.

Worst case scenario

In the best case, his book offers new vocabulary to the entrenched patterns in the inclusion debate. And because he has exclusive access to the privileged group he is part of – he speaks their language, he went through a process of self-reflection – he is able to create real change. In the worst case, he dives into a new topic after this book and leaves the issue for what it is. He will be invited for expensive talks at corporate businesses and will be adopted by the privileged as their own diversity guru.
I wish Luyendijk a lot of humbleness and especially good listening on the rest of his journey. Hopefully, in a few years, I’ll attend an evening of him about decoloniality as part of his new research for a book about decolonizing your mind. Something like that. For now, I’m really excited about his new work and hopefully, it will be published in English soon. 

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