By Harry French
Prior to the Christmas break I wrote a review of the restaurant Syr for the Boomerang. This restaurant is run partly by refugees with residency status here in the Netherlands, and there need be no explanation as to why such a venue would be of interest to the students of UCU. However, following my writing of this review, I reviewed my own review and uncovered a dark mechanism of white, Western hegemony that I had not formerly recognised within myself or, moreover, I had not realised I was capable of.
It wasn’t necessarily the language that I employed in the written review, it was more the action of reviewing. I was someone entering a space in order to make some kind of judgment about this space, and therefore I was automatically occupying a higher position, looking down and into this establishment. Yet I was not just there to judge the food, I was forming an opinion of Syr as a venue of social activism and of the lives of those it involved, including refugees who occupied positions there – again, from a higher position.
While writing a review of Syr, I constructed a version of Syr through my eyes
So what actually occurred while writing a review of Syr constructed a version of Syr through my eyes, a version of the food and the lives of those it affected. Using my viewpoint and worldview, the refugee employees of Syr were constructed in a new way, alternative to that of their reality. I had, and still have, no idea what the lives of these people are really like. Who are they really? What are their individual histories? Where are they from? It never mattered to me.
This was exactly what shocked me upon reflecting my actions – I had constructed the “refugee” when I had no business doing so. It is neither my responsibility nor right to construct the identity of another through a lens that misconstrues such a person, a lens that discredits truth and favours the romanticism of tragedy. A white Englishman who has met next to no refugees is one of the least ideal categories of society to do whatever such categories all end up doing. What I took from this was the importance of reflexivity and the need for having an open dialogue within yourself. We are the exercisers of the barrier mechanisms we criticise and I see self-analysis as a central way to improve the true recognition of variation and difference. This is imperative if we are to reach the societal goals we speak of so casually, as if they’re obtainable within reconstructing our own selves.