What has murdered Black Consciousness activist Steve Bantu Biko to do with the beginning of spring in the Netherlands? Don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything in school. Steve Biko has indeed nothing to do with the new season here whatsoever. Still, this didn’t stop a bunch of yuppies and hipsters to organize a party in his name to celebrate the arrival of spring on Easter Day: Steve’s Party!
The event takes place at the Steve Biko Square in Amsterdam, to celebrate not only the beginning of spring, but–according to the event’s website–also because “the new festival season is just around the corner and the terraces are out again.” And what about Steve Biko himself? Well, in the words of the organization: “on 31 March and 1 April Steve will celebrate his first party.” (Biko, by the way, was born on December 18, 1946.)
If you want to give the organization the benefit of the doubt and place your hopes on an intern just having made a stupid mistake without consulting even Wikipedia to learn who the man actually was, well take a look at the poster. It’s the iconic picture of Biko. In a celebratory mood. In an effort to be funny or cool, the entire legacy of Steve Biko has been put aside and all that is left is Biko’s face on a poster donning a ridiculous party hat.
Place to party? Steve Biko Square, the heart of the so-called “Transvaal neighborhood”, surrounded by streets that honor Afrikaner leaders such ad Paul Kruger, Andries Pretorius and Piet Retief. (The peculiar history of South Africa and the Netherlands is something we’ll post about soon. And no, it is not just the anti-apartheid movement.) We’re not making this up:
No mention of this coincidence or its significance in any of the party promotion material.
As surprised as I was with Steve’s ‘party’, so too was I surprised to read an article by the Dutch online hipster magazine Hard/Hoofd criticizing the initiative but basically saying that in case of a misplaced enthusiasm and ignorance, a mistake like this might be forgiven
since although “too often people have appropriated things without any knowledge but not everything can be brushed off with merriments.”
If you by now have turned your head to the heavens above to thank the lord for someone standing up, please just wait a minute, because the saga continues on social media. When someone on the “Steve’ Party” Facebook page asked the organizers: “Has Steve’s Party also something to do with Steve Biko himself? Or should I consider the use of his name and portrait as some kind of ironic hipster appropriation?”, the shit hit the fan. Hateful remarks were made and subsequently deleted, though we can still read some of the reactions (in Dutch). Here are two that caught my eye:
Talk about respect, I find it pretty tasteless to all publicly hate on a group of nice people with only good intentions. Since when is it wrong to organize a free party for the neighborhood?
Come on, it’s only about the name of a party; I haven’t seen any angry reaction from a negro because they too understand that this party has not been initiated because of anti-negro sentiments, quite on the contrary.
Now, this is not the first time something like this has happened in the Netherlands. Back in 2008, a postcard was distributed depicting Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who wrote the Diary of a Young Girl, wearing a keffiyeh. It was obvious that the artist tried to make a political statement with the image, not something we can accuse the organizers of “Steve’s Party” of doing. However, the public outcry back then was totally different. Even up to the point that the Dutch Jewish advocacy group “Centre Information and Documentation on Israel” (CIDI) called for the boycott of the image. According to CIDI, the combination of a symbol of the Holocaust with a symbol of Palestinian nationalism stood as a metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which the oppressed, represented by Anne Frank in this case, are the Palestinians. As a result of the upheaval, the postcard company halted the production and sale. (Though some websites still sell the prints.)
Steve’s Party organizers are having a blast uploading video trailers and hipstagram pictures on Facebook, like nothing ever happened. The only thing to conclude is that in the absence of a strong Black Consciousness lobby group in the Netherlands, chances are slim that the event will be cancelled, or renamed. Happy Easter, Steve.